PALMETTO -- The iconic Manatee County Fair begins its 97th run Thursday at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.
This annual assemblage of zany rides and attractions, the best of locally produced arts and crafts, student livestock projects, music, and, of course, fair food, runs through Jan. 27.
Youth agricultural exhibits are the backbone of the fair, and this year is no exception with 450 entries, including steers, heifers, swine, horses, dogs, rabbits and poultry and goats, said fair Manager Dan West.
Arts and crafts are also popular, with more than 2,000 entries in the Chaires Building for the public to enjoy, said Eileen Hoffner, director of the Arts and Crafts Department at the fair.
The list of arts and crafts includes jewelry, computer drawn art, ceramics, Legos, crochet, dolls, quilting, needlepoint, woodwork, spinning, weaving, textile art, foam art, recycled crafts and others.
Special pricing days are attractive to some and they will continue this year.
Today's opening day features $4 admission for adults, which is half the price of the usual ticket. Children ages six to 12 get in for $2.
Jan. 18 is "Kid's Day at the Fair" and all students get in free from noon to 3 p.m.
Jan. 22 is $2 Tuesday for everyone.
The most popular special price day is Senior Day, which is Wednesday, Jan. 23.
"On that day, everyone age 55 and older gets in for $5 and we will have the local Suncoast Mummers and Yesterday's Band to entertain," West said.
This year's fair theme is "Manatee Goes Hollywood," which is driven home not just with movie posters, Hollywood road signs and other geographical reminders, but also strolling characters from the Silver Screen.
"This year's fair will probably have more strolling characters than we ever had," said West. The fair cut back a bit on big-name entertainment this year to procure a lot more strolling and stage acts.
"We will have Barney from Mayberry at the fair from Jan. 17 through Jan. 21 and, for the last three days of the fair, Jan. 25 through Jan. 27, we will have a John Wayne impersonator who not only strolls but does recitations," West said.
Captain America, a Marvel Comics character, will be on hand all day Saturday, Jan. 26, for his only appearance, West added.
For many, concerts are the highlight of the fair and this year's fair has a broad selection.
The first Friday night (Jan. 18) features Don Williams' country music concert at 8 p.m.
"Don has been around a long time and has a lot of Manatee fans," West said. "He has been in country music every since I was alive."
Saturday (Jan. 19) is Bluegrass Music Night at the fair with two groups taking the BrightHouse Networks stage, including Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys kicking things off at 7 p.m. and Marty Raybon and Full Circle following at about 8:30 p.m.
"Both groups are great performers," West said. "Marty Raybon used to be the lead singer with the group Shenandoah."
Sunday (Jan. 20) features a pair of Christian music artists, including Josh Wilson at 6 p.m. and King and Country following Wilson.
The last big concert of the fair is 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and features country rapper Colt Ford.
Many times, the most fun is found away from the normal attractions.
West's pick for "hidden jewel" of the fair this year is the Sea Lion Show, featuring real performing sea lions.
"It's a wonderful show," West said.
"I saw them in Massachusetts. They have about four sea lions that perform all over the nation. The funny thing is that they are based in Myakka City."
The Belmont Magic Show is a full-blown magic show that has its own stage and will perform all during the fair.