By Linwood Outlaw III -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- As clouds and brief spells of rain began to alter festive moods on Saturday morning, it seemed as though opening day of the 92nd annual Shenandoah County Fair would not begin on an upbeat note.
But, sunny weather soon emerged, and fair organizers took a huge sigh of relief.
"We were delighted. The weather looks like it's going to cooperate now. It didn't look good this morning," Bill Ortts, vice president of the fair committee, said later that afternoon. "This is what we call a typical fair day. It's not too hot. The sun is out. And, we have plenty of participation."
Organizers held a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m. to officially get the fair underway. Some families arrived a few hours earlier to participate in a slew of contests, including a three-legged race, horseshoe pitching, kiddie tractor and barrel hoop races, and, of course, the traditional greased pig competition.
"There was very good attendance for that. It grows every year. It started out four or five years ago with ten pigs. We're up to 80 pigs now, and we could have used more this morning," Ortts said.
Ortts said fair officials are hoping to draw upwards of 50,000 people this year. "The economy is on everybody's mind, there's no question about that," Ortts said. "But, we didn't raise our gate prices."
Adults will be charged $6 for daily admission to the fair, while children between the ages of 6 and 11 will be admitted for $2. Youths 5 years old and younger will get in free. Veterans, meanwhile, will be admitted to the fair for $3 until 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Senior citizens aged 65 and older will also gain admission for half price until 4 p.m. on Thursday, and the same rate will apply to ladies on Friday.
The discounts are there to be taken advantage of. But some patrons, such as 38-year-old Bryan Whetzel, haven't let the current state of the economy affect their plans this summer. Whetzel, who attended the fair on Saturday with his wife and their young daughter, recently took his family on a trip to Kings Dominion. He said he is not necessarily on a tight budget when it comes to taking trips that require some travel, but that events closer to home like the Shenandoah County Fair make "staycations" more appealing.
"It's a chance to see old acquaintances that you know. That's pretty much the extent of it," Whetzel said.
With the aromas of hamburgers, funnel cakes and other traditional carnival foods spreading through the air, people were out in droves on Saturday afternoon, enjoying the rides and playing games. A truck and tractor pull show was also scheduled for Saturday evening.
Fort Valley resident Pam Murphy, who was on hand to help promote a new dental clinic for youths being offered by the county, said she particularly enjoyed the horse show. "I love seeing the animals," Murphy said. "Thank goodness it didn't rain. I'm glad there was a little bit of a breeze."
Underneath the activities tent, children were getting their faces painted, the Sportsplex of Winchester was giving free demos, and others were practicing their martial arts skills. Front Royal resident Eric Freese, known on this day as "Erik the Viking," participated as a fair volunteer to teach Viking culture. "The more I read [about Viking culture], the more fascinated I become," said Freese, dressed in traditional Viking garb. "There are over 650 names and words in our language that are of direct Viking descent."
If the rain stays away, Ortts said, this year's fair should be a success. "We're hoping to have good weather. That's our number one priority," Ortts said. "If we have good weather, we'll have a good fair."
The fair will wrap up on Saturday. One of the premier attractions will be a performance by country singer Kenny Rogers at 7:30 p.m. at the grandstand on Friday. Other events being featured throughout the week include livestock shows, harness racing and a demolition derby. For ticket prices and a schedule of events, visit www.shencofair.com.