By Kalea Hall
and Jordyn Grzelewski
Wednesday marks the start of the 2017 Canfield Fair, a Mahoning Valley tradition for 171 years.
For that length of time, fairgoers have celebrated agriculture with a fair farewell to the growing season.
Through the years, the fair has adapted with new festivities, but it has also kept the traditions going — keeping families coming back year after year.
This year’s theme, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” pays homage to being a fair of many generations.
“I think it says a whole lot,” said Andy Frost, president of the Canfield Fair Board. “We are preserving the history of the fair. We have the traditions of the fair [but] there’s a lot of transition. We are looking to tomorrow.”
The fair is looking to tomorrow with plans to start building an 81,000 square-foot Junior Fair Coliseum and Event Center. The $5 million to $7 million complex with a show arena/event center and ancillary buildings and barns will bring the Junior Fair together in one site.
The dairy and beef breeders in Junior Fair had to be relocated to the southeast end of the fairgrounds because of the loss of space at the northeast end.
The new complex will be located where antique tractors, Old McDonald’s Barn and sheep and goat barns currently are found in the fairgrounds’ southeast section. Those fair features will be relocated to the northeast section.
“Our junior fair consists of a lot of kids,” Frost said.
In total, 1,500 Junior Fair participants bring in more than 22,000 exhibits. Five years ago, the fair had 11,000 Junior Fair exhibits.
The project will go out to bid after this year’s fair.
So far, $2.2 million has been raised. Junior Fair participants are raising money. This year, they are bringing back horse and pony races at the grandstand to help raise funds. The races will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday. They will be in between the regularly scheduled harness races in the grandstand.
John Mellencamp, of “Jack & Diane,” “Hurts So Good,” and “Small Town” fame, will headline the Sunday night concert at the grandstand.
George Roman III, fair events director, said fair officials are “very pleased” they were able to bring Mellencamp to the fair.
“That’s our biggest show. So far it has the biggest ticket turnover, and that’s good,” he said. “We’re pleased that it’s going very well.”
As The Vindicator previously reported, Mellencamp – a 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – last played in the Mahoning Valley in 2006 when he brought his tour to the Chevrolet Centre, the downtown arena today known as the Covelli Centre.
Mellencamp’s special guest for the show is Carlene Carter, a country singer/songwriter and daughter of June Carter Cash and Carl Smith. Tickets for the show cost $39.50, $49.50, $59.50, $69.50, $79.50, and $99.50.
About 6,000 tickets have been sold for the Mellencamp concert in the grandstand that seats about 9,000.
Also performing at the fair this year is country singer/songwriter Chris Young, who will play at 7 p.m. Monday at the grandstand.
For the first time at the fair, concert tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
“We were doing it ourselves and just felt that we needed more exposure with a national-type company,” said Roman. “It’s working out well.”
On Friday, the World’s Largest Demolition Derby will be at the grandstand, and on Saturday the annual Canfield Fair Championship Truck & Tractor Pull will take place there.
KEEPING IT SAFE
The emergency response time at the Canfield Fair is three minutes anywhere on the fairgrounds.
“We are right on top of it,” Frost said. “We have our own dispatch center.”
Last year, emergency personnel noticed several senior citizens not keeping themselves hydrated, so this year the fair has hydration and cooling stations Wednesday through Friday at both ends of the fairgrounds.
After the recent fatal ride accident at the Ohio State Fair, fair board directors expect the rides to be checked with microscopes for any potential defects.
“Bates [Amusement] has been here for a long time, and they are very cautious,” Frost said.
In addition to Bates checking its rides, state officials from the Ohio Department of Agriculture also check the rides before they are given approval to run.
“These operators know the feel of that machine,” said Dave Dickey, vice president of the fair board. “If they hear something or feel something they shut it down immediately.”
The fair board keeps to the traditions but also looks to add new features to keep people coming back.
A new interactive program this year is Canfield Fair Ag-Venture, which takes participants on a tour of the agricultural side of the fair. Participants receive a stamp inside their Canfield Fair program for each stop they make on the 11-stop Ag-Venture. Prizes will be given at the last stop.
Last year, the fair had its highest attendance since 2010 with more than 310,000 fairgoers. But that figure still lags behind the more than 500,000 people in attendance in the 1970s.
The attendance decline is attributed to the loss of population, schools starting earlier and football games and other events that take place during the fair’s five-day run.
“You really don’t have to spend any money after you come in,” Frost said. “There [are] so many free exhibits.”