Shenandoah County Fair to emphasize free fun

By Josette Keelor

Changes at this year’s Shenandoah County Fair make fair organizers hopeful of greater attendance and community participation.

Previous years have focused on musical acts on two stages every night, but now headlining events in the Grandstand will include lawn mower pulls and ATV drag races and many more free events.

The idea, said General Manager Tom Eshelman, is “trying to get back to affordability.” Part of that attempt will be seen in the elimination of the traditional Sunday night Grandstand concert that he said used to cost $30 to $40 in addition to fair admission.

“We’re not going to do that this year,” he said. “We’ve added a community day, and it’s geared toward the fire departments.”

The fun starts today when Grandstand Motorsports entertainment will feature ATV drag races for $5 admission, a first-time fair event, which Eshelman described as four-wheelers racing side by side.

Family Fun Day on first fair Saturday will include a greased pig contest in the Lilly Show Barn at 8 a.m., seed spitting contest at 9 a.m., a kiddie tractor race and barrel hoop race at 9:30 a.m., and other morning events like a rolling pin toss for women, animal sounds contest, Frisbee toss, sack race, three-legged race and wheelbarrow race.

“Having the pig races is huge and I’ve wanted to have this community day,” Eshelman said. “Just to come out and say we appreciate for $6 there’s a lot going on on the grounds, there’s a lot to do. There’s a lot of things to do that day.”

At noon Saturday, the free young farmer’s tractor pull event will kick off a day of events leading up to the evening’s featured event — the modified truck and tractor pull. Admission to the evening event is $12.

Saturday will also include a noon dedication ceremony of the new 24-stall Charles H. Robbins Sr. Equine Barn.

On Sunday, the youth lawn and garden tractor pull event held in the Grandstand will be at 10:30 a.m., followed by Fireman’s Day, featuring the Conicville Fire Department lawn and garden pull at 11:30 a.m. and the Shenandoah County Firefighter’s muster and competition beginning at 7 p.m.

That evening, area fire companies will compete for a trophy cup through events like the bucket brigade, the midnight alarm and firehose aiming competition.

“It should be very entertaining to the crowd [and] it’s free to the community,” Eshelman said. “It’s good family filled entertainment. It’s come out and root for your favorite fire department, and it should be a cool night.” Eshelman said he hopes next year companies will return so the winner can defend its title.

Monday and Tuesday nights will feature The Nationwide Demolition Derby, a crowd favorite now open to all fairgoers, not just in-county residents. Admission to the derby is $14 each night.

Wednesday, Grammy-nominated and Grand Ole’ Opry member Trace Adkins will perform chart-topping hits like “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing” and “You’re Gonna’ Miss This.” Grandstand seating is $40 and track or premium seating is $45.

Country singer Mark Wills with an opening by the Virginia Dreams Center Stage Show will perform Thursday night, Eshelman said, “And then Friday night is a huge treat, never before anywhere around here, and that’s the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.”

The band, which performs an eclectic mix of country crossover music, is known for hits like “Fishin in the Dark” and “Mr. Bo Jangles.” Grandstand seating for Mark Wills is $15 and track or premium seating is $20, and for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band it is $25 and $30.

Then next Saturday, the fair will say goodbye to summer with a 50th anniversary tribute night of music by the Beatles, with international tribute band The Return, whose members look and sound like original band members Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Concert tickets are $15.

Other free events include Old McNally’s Pig Derby, sponsored by Shenandoah Animal Hospital and Muhlenberg Motors, with three shows daily; the daily Bar C Ranch Petting Zoo, sponsored by city National Bank; and chainsaw carving at the 4-H livestock shows and exhibits. Bar C also has camel rides, which require an admission fee.

The fair began in 1917, said Eshelman who admitted community confusion in recent years has contributed to changes in the fair lineup.

Most fair organizers are volunteers, he said, and only he, a fair secretary and maintenance staff are employed by the fair outside of part-time staff during fair week.

“But no, there’s no one board member that receives any cash,” he said. “I think the public needs to know that, I really do, ’cause there’s a lot of speculation out there.”

The midway opens at 1 p.m. on weekends and at 5 p.m. on weekdays, with armbands available for rides. Livestock and craft shows take place throughout the day, and most days offer themed activities or discounted admission prices.

Each night at 6 p.m. will also feature a different free musical performance on the Comfort Inn of Woodstock Free Music Stage. The lineup is Many Nights Ahead on Saturday, High Ground on Sunday, Brian Buchanan Monday, Luke Lucas and New Brew on Tuesday, the Just 4 Fun Band on Wednesday, Thrashin’ Hollar on Thursday, Five of a Kind next Friday and Johnny Cash tribute band Cash Express next Saturday.

On Tuesday’s Children’s Day, children 12 and younger get in free and armbands prices for rides are $15 from 1 p.m. until close. Wednesday for Senior Citizen’s Day, fair admission is half price until 4 p.m. for senior citizens. Veterans will enjoy free admission on Thursday until 6 p.m. Prices do not include Grandstand events.

General fair admission is $6 for adults and $2 for children 6 to 12. Armbands for rides are $18 on weekdays and $15 from 1 to 5 p.m. weekends and $20 from 5 p.m. until close. On the first Friday, all rides are $1 each, presented by First Bank.

For a full fair schedule, call 540-459-7300 or visit http://www.shencofair.com.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com