For nearly a century the Manatee County Fair has been entertaining locals with all manner of food, fun and competition.
The 96th annual edition starts today, again in Palmetto, promising another memorable year of livestock, live country music and midway madness.
There’s a large labyrinth of special events, spectacles, rides, edibles and entertainment to explore before the gates close Jan. 22.
Here are six things not to miss.
Butter sculpting by Jim Victor
Is there anything truly better than butter? You can spread it on bread, use it for baking, making sauces, frying stuff and even creating works of art.
Yep, buttery, life-sized bovines and people have been popular attractions at state and county fairs since the 19th century. It’s a tasty tradition. Just don’t go dipping your kettle corn in it!
Details: 1st Manatee Bank Exhibit Hall, daily
Show-Me Swine Racers
Who wants to watch horses or dogs running around a track -- from way back in the stands -- when you can have little piggies scurrying toward the finish line right at your feet?
The proximity to the aroma. So, y’know, probably best to finish off that delectable funnel cake and cheeseburger combo before pulling for your favorite porker.
Details: East Midway Walkway, daily
Apopka native John Anderson has written and recorded numerous country hits overs the years ranging from the wonderfully silly “Swingin’” (1983) to the powerful, pro-Florida native anthem “Seminole Wind” (1992).
Anderson remained a favorite on country radio from the late 1970s to mid-1990s with “Wild and Blue,” “Straight Tequila Night,” “Money in the Bank” and “I’ve Got it Made” also among the numerous songs that should bring back fond memories for fair-goers when the singer/songwriter performs Saturday.
Details: 8 p.m. Jan. 14, Bright House Main Stage
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.
Details: Close to Gate 3, various times daily
ROCK-IT the Robot
ROCK-IT is a nine-feet tall “robot” (or “high tech body puppet” if ya wanna get specific) 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.
Details: Strolling act, various times daily
Second annual drum line competition
Last year marked the first drum line battle at the Manatee County Fair with students from five local schools competing.
Lakewood Ranch High School, which received the most applause, won $300 for their school and a traveling trophy to keep until this year’s event.
“It feels amazing,” then freshman Ben Foster, 14, told the Herald. “Next year we are going to come back and try to do it again.”
The other schools, Manatee High School and Bradenton Christian School, were runners-up and participated in second drum-off with Lakewood to pick the winner after all three schools played against Southeast High and Bayshore High School.
Stop by the main stage Tuesday to see which team takes home the trophy this year.
Details: 6 p.m. Jan. 17, Bright House Main Stage
IF YOU GO
What: Manatee County Fair
When: 5-10 p.m. today and Jan. 17, 5 p.m.-midnight, Jan. 13 and 19, noon-midnight Jan. 14-15, 20-21, noon-10 p.m. Jan. 16 and 18, and noon-7 p.m. Jan. 22.
Where: 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.manatee countyfair.com
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Visit heraldbuzzworthy.blogspot.com.