For nearly a century the Manatee County Fair has been entertaining children of all ages with livestock, live country music, midway madness, fabulous food and other fun stuff.
The 97th annual edition, which has a Hollywood theme, starts today.
Here are five things not to miss before the gates close Jan. 27.
John Wayne: Duke rides again. The Western movie icon of such films as "The Searchers," "Rio Bravo" and "True Grit" will be strutting around the grounds Jan. 25-27. Yep, he's probably the main reason behind the fair's theme of "Manatee goes Hollywood." Here's to hoping the American legend looks you straight in the eye and says, "Young fella, if you're looking for trouble, I'll accommodate ya."
Sixth annual Barbecue Competition: On Jan. 26, a dozen teams will compete for top barbecue honors. That means attendees can watch, smell and maybe learn some valuable secrets as beef ribs, this year's meat, are slowly cook over wood, charcoal or wood pellets. Contestants, which pay a $50 fee, will start work at 9 a.m. with judging beginning at 4 p.m. and the awards ceremony at 5 p.m. The charities of the top three wining teams will be awarded $500, $250 and $150 respectively.
Live music: From Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams at 8 p.m. Friday to country-rap star Colt Ford at the same time on Jan. 25, there are a slew of acts, mostly of the country variety, performing during the fair as part of the "main stage entertainment" series.
ROCK-IT the Robot: He's a nine-feet tall robot, or "high tech body puppet" if ya wanna get technical, who walks, talks and dances with the crowd. ROCK-IT can shake, rattle and roll better than your average fair-goer and has his own built-in boom box playing everything from pop to his own robo-boogie. Be warned: ROCK-IT is a romantic and loves to lip sync as he serenades and pantomimes to classic love ballads and opera. He'll be strolling the grounds daily.
Kids Pedal Tractor Pull: What better way to get the children to calm down than having them haul heavy loads all in the name of good, ol' fashioned fair fun? Make little Johnny work hard enough and maybe he'll quit trying to get you to spend next week's paycheck at the midway and finally call it a day. Of course, you don't have to be a parent to enjoy watching youngsters push their pedal power to the limit. Tractor pulls take place at various times daily.
Details: Jan. 17-27, Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1303 17th St. W., Palmetto Admission: $8 for ages 13 and older, $7 for age 55 and older, $5 for children ages 6 to 12; free for kids age 5 and younger. Parking is $5.Information: 941-722-8951 or www.manateecountyfair.com
Wade Tatangelo, features writer,can be reached at 941-745-7057.