Thinking about going to the Manatee County Fair? Even if you’ve never been, even if you don’t think of yourself as a county fair kind of person, you’ve got to be at least toying with the idea of checking it out. It looks as though the weather’s going to be pretty great, at least for the first half of the the fair, and it’ll be nice to get outside after the frigid spell kept us all bundled up for five days. You can take selfies that show that you’re hanging on a warm sunny day in January, post them on Facebook and make your relatives up north envious. You’ll run into a lot of your friends and neighbors there, everybody will be in a good mood.
If all that isn’t enough to tempt you, here are 10 other good reasons to go to the year’s Manatee County Fair.
1. Dennis Lee. If you’ve been to a state or county fair in the past quarter-century there’s a good chance you’ve caught Dennis Lee’s show. He plays at fairs all over the country, seemingly non-stop. He must never sleep in his own bed, if he even owns one. The guy’s a great entertainer, and he’s made a specialty of appealing to the distinctive crowds that fairs attract. The music’s solid (almost all cover versions, heavy on the Elvis and other classics) and the comedy’s pretty appealing. Even if it’s not up your usual entertainment alley, his shows offer a pleasing respite from the constant walking and standing that the fair usually demands. He plays every day — on some days he strolls the fairgrounds — so it’s easy to catch him.
2. Show-Me Safari Pig Races. What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? A racetrack full of pigs. Pig races have become a staple at state and county fairs. There’s even one touring show that has pigs swimming competitively. Show-Me Safari Pig Races don’t have water races, but they have three breeds of racing pigs. The breed don’t race against each other, because apparently segregation of the breeds helps preserve the integrity of the sport. These shows can be a real hoot. There’s no explanation on the fair’s website about why these swine are called “safari pigs,” but discovering that might add to the fun. They race several times a day through the fair,
3. Phil Vassar. At 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, country star Phil Vassar performs at the fair. Vassar has had a ton of hits as a solo artist, including “In a Real Love” and “Just Another Day in Paradise.” But if you don’t pay close attention to such things, you might be surprised to discover how many hits he’s written or co-written for other artists, including Jo Dee Messina’s No. 1 hit “Bye, Bye.”
.Vassar has had a ton of hits as a solo artist, including “In a Real Love” and “Just Another Day in Paradise.”
4. Youth livestock shows. If you’re a city-slicker you’re unlikely to have much inclination to attend this kind of thing, but it’s really interesting to check out. Whether you’re talking about goats, swine, steer or poultry, a lot of the animals are impressive to look at, and you can see them up close, pet them and talk to the kids who raised them. The kids are really nice and they’ve devoted a significant portion of their lives to raising one animal. Don’t get too attached to the livestock, though, because much of it will be in grocery stores within a few days. If that would bother you, there’s also a youth dog show.
5. Sixth annual Whip-Popping Contest. Noon, Jan. 20. This just has to be cool. And where else are you going to see a whip-snapping contest?
6. Belle City Amusements Midway. Barely worth mentioning, because for a lot of people the carnival rides will be the main reason for going to the fair. Wristbands for unlimited rides are $15-$22 depending on the day.
7. Third annual Corn Dog Eating Contest. 1:30 p.m. Jan 13. Yes, it’s disgusting. But you know it’s fun to watch, and it only takes a few minutes.
You’ve kept your New Year’s resolution to eat better for a week and a half already. Time to reward yourself with ridiculous amounts of delicious fat and sugars,
8. Third annual Hog Calling Contest. 12:30 p.m. Jan 13. If there are any wayward hogs in the vicinity of the fairgrounds, they should come running when the county’s best hog callers square off.
9. Amazing Anastasini Circus. There’s no shortage of circus entertainment around here, but this particular company could be something special. It’s an Italian circus that’s been operating since 1877. That’s 42 years before Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was born, so it’s one of the oldest circuses in the world. Performances throughout the fair.
10. Fair food. You’ve kept your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier for a week-and-a-half already. Time to reward yourself with ridiculous amounts of delicious fat and sugars, unpolluted by anything green and healthy.
Details: Jan 11-21, Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1402 14th Ave. W., Palmetto. Daily adult (13 and up) $8, daily senior (55 and up) $7, daily military (with active status I.D.) $5, Children 6-12 $5, Children 5 and under free. 5-10 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Noon-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14, noon-7 p.m. Sunday, Jan 21. 941-722-1639, manateecountyfair.com/about.htm.