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What works besides the demo derby?

The answer to the age-old question, ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ is easy when it comes to the Harrison County Fair: It’s the chicken, which then lays eggs (if it’s a hen) throughout the week-long event while the hen is on exhibit.
But a better question would be: How do you increase fair attendance, especially on those nights when the grandstand entertainment doesn’t include the smoke, fire and noise of the demolition derbies and big truck and tractor pulls?
Members of the Harrison County Agricultural Society have been trying to figure this one out for years. Do you take a gamble and spend big bucks on a big-name act that doesn’t involve engines and hope your gate receipts exceed your expenses? Or do you wait until the public shows more support for what you’re already doing, so you know they will be there when something new does come along?
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. You try new things until you find something that works while continuously asking for public support and feedback.
The Harrison County Agricultural Society’s ‘fair board’ tried that to some extent this year. They brought in The Fox Brothers, a class act from Nashville, Tenn., whose venues include the Grand Ole Opry.
Unfortunately, not many people were willing to give them a chance. Fair board president Carl Whitman hoped at least 500 people would be in the grandstand last Wednesday night, but he was lucky if half that many listened to the great tunes and funny commentary by the group.
We know that not everyone in the county enjoys watching grown men crash their cars into each other. The roaring engines of tractors and monster trucks doesn’t do anything for some people.
So where were those people last Wednesday night?
There were some factors that could have kept them way that night. Wednesdays are traditional ‘church night’ at the fair, and meteorologists had predicted severe storms with possible strong winds.
It did rain in parts of the county, but it was dry all evening in the county seat.
Fortunately for the fair board, a big turn-out occurred the next night: the grandstand was packed, as usual, for the mini-car demo derby. Whitman said it may have been a record crowd; he couldn’t get one more person on the grandstand for that event.
Not everyone went to the fair Thursday night to watch the grandstand headliner; the Midway was also packed with people, mostly teenagers and couples with small children.
But it’s that kind of support for the state’s oldest consecutive county fair that’s needed to generate revenue that the fair board can use for numerous things, such as improving the buildings and grounds (they have finally replaced all the seats in the grandstand), and pay for good entertainment. Who knows, maybe they can get somebody like country newcomer Gretchen Wilson to play here. (Remember, Dolly Parton played here with Porter Waggoner ‘ twice ‘ before she hit it big.) Organizers of the old Harrison County Popcorn Festival brought in some well-known acts its last few years, too.
If there are things you don’t like about the Harrison County Fair, we encourage you to get involved. If you have ideas or suggestions, contact a fair board member. Volunteer to help with maintenance of the grounds, such as painting or mowing. Free labor leaves money for other expenditures.
Whitman, who’s completing his first term as fair board president, said he is willing to work with anyone. Give him a chance.
And next year when the 146th annual Harrison County Fair rolls around, attend at least one day to show your support. If the entertainment doesn’t appeal to you, check out the exhibits; with so many, there’s bound to be at least one by someone you know who is a 4-H member, Homemaker or someone in Open Class.

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