State fair final day draws record crowd: Total attendance 2 percent above last year

The midway rides, when rain wasn’t an issue, kept spinning throughout the Delaware State Fair. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — The 99th Delaware State Fair — which wrapped up last Saturday — both increased its total attendance from last year and broke its record for highest single day attendance, according to fair management. This while suffering both oppressive heat and intermittently heavy rain.

“Weather certainly was a challenge this year,” said state fair spokesman Danny Aguilar. “Six out of the 10 days had rain for a total of 6 inches, but we found that folks seemed to strategically plan their days between the raindrops. The final day, our single best, was great. A lot of people came out to see the demolition derby, which was a great way to finish the fair. Overall, management felt that it was a big success.”

The record breaking attendance day on Saturday attracted 48,653 patrons, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 79 attendees. Similarly, the carnival recorded its best single day’s receipts in carnival related ride activity. The number of corporate sponsors for the year — 69 — was also a record breaker.

Total attendance over the 10-day fair rung in at 291,316 attendee — constituting a 2 percent increase from last year’s figures.

Mr. Aguilar attributes the success to a fresh lineup of events and entertainment. Musical acts like Toby Keith, Brett Eldredge, Chris Young, Lauren Daigle, the Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band and Travis Tritt drew fans to the M&T Bank Grandstands, he said.

Entertainment features like the Craft Beer Festival, comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, a Monster Truck & FMX Show and the Demolition Derby also drew big crowds, noted Mr. Aguilar.

Even some first-year events seemed to draw added attention. “The Plaza” and the Free Entertainment Tent were merged this year to create the new “Hertrich Plaza.” The upgraded entertainment stage with new sound and lights was designed to showcase free nightly performances by bands “Redhead Express” and “Vocal Trash.”

“Yoga with Goats,” where dozens of pygmy goats and yoga participants interact during an exercise session, made its debut at the state fair this year.

“It ended up being a very popular free event — all the spaces in it were preregistered,” said Mr. Aguilar. “Friday was great, but on Saturday it rained so we had to move it inside, but it was still standing room only because people were so interested and curious to see what Yoga with Goats was all about. It definitely is something we’re looking to continue for next year.”

As expected, fair staples like livestock, 4-H, Future Farmers of America (FFA) and other forms of competitive exhibits dominated the fairgrounds, said Mr. Aguilar. The fair received and processed over 41,000 entries this year coming from 3,089 exhibitors.

The Junior Livestock Auction facilitated the sale of 125 animals for slightly less than $198,000 that was distributed to junior exhibitors who owned the top placing junior market animals.

Confederate flag controversy

Despite an otherwise smooth fair, Mr. Aguilar noted that there was mild controversy surrounding two separate vendors selling confederate flag paraphernalia.

Fair organizers were alerted to the fact that the vendors had “offensive” items for sale and responded by requesting that the vendors stop selling them. The vendors complied, Mr. Aguilar said.

“They actually weren’t even vendors we work directly with, but a subcontractor to the carnival,” he said. “We fixed it quickly, though, and didn’t run into any problems.”

A policy enacted in 2015 restricts fair vendors and their subcontractors from selling anything deemed “offensive.”

“Anything offensive isn’t to be sold on fairgrounds and the confederate flag is certainly in that category.” said Mr. Aguilar.
Beyond a single inquiry by a reporter, fair staff didn’t receive any official complaints about the confederate flag apparel being sold by the vendor, noted Mr. Aguilar.

The big centennial

Mr. Aguilar noted that staff has already been actively planning the 100th for a year and a half.

“We have a committee put together with our board of directors and the plans have been in the works for awhile,” he said. “We’re working on booking talent for the centennial, setting up grounds entertainment, special activities and commemorative collector items.”

Currently, Mr. Aguilar says the state fair has offers in with four separate entertainment acts they couldn’t name because of pending negotiations.

“We’ve got our fingers are crossed and we’re hoping they accept our offer,” he said. “All I can tell you is that they’re names that people would definitely be very excited to see perform at the fair.”

Dates for the 100th annual Delaware State Fair in 2019 are July 18-27.

Seeking to fill up the fairgrounds entertainment calendar, Mr. Aguilar also noted the upcoming “Rock of the 70’s” + B3 (Bourbon, Beer & Butts) barbecue on Sept. 29 and The Great Delaware Pumpkin Carve competition/festival on Oct. 26.

“We’re continuing to work on the fairgrounds as an entertainment destination — soon we’ll have year-round events,” he said.

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