PALMETTO -- Haileigh Sexton and Delaney Handel walked through the Manatee County Fairgrounds together Thursday evening, their faces illuminated by colorful lights above. It was opening night of the 2016 Manatee County Fair, and the best friends decided to attend together.
"We actually always go together, don't we?" the 15-year-old Haileigh asked her friend.
Delaney, 14, nodded in agreement.
Thursday was the official kickoff of this year's fair, "Fair of the Century," which marks 100 years since first Manatee County Fair was held in 1916. The evening seemed to be bursting with sights, sounds, and smells as locals strolled around the fairgrounds. There were fat slices of pizza, corn dogs, french fries, deep fried pickles, and chicken on a stick. Squeals filled the air as children and adults alike were whirled through the cool air on rides. Workers at game concessions tried to coax people to compete for stuffed animals or other prizes.
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For Haileigh and Sexton, it felt like time traveling.
"It takes us back to the past," the Myakka City resident said. "Always getting together with your friends and just coming out and having a good time."
Lisa Haley, 46, stood nearby with her husband, Ed Haley, 54. The favorite part of the Manatee County Fair, Lisa said, is the food.
"We've got to get one of those jumbo elephant ears for the wife. She loves those," Ed said. "That's our bucket list right there -- just the giant elephant ear."
Asked if they planned on going on any rides, the Cortez couple shook their heads.
"No rides," Lisa said with a laugh, looking over at her husband.
"'Cause in our declining years, we find it safer," Ed said as his wife laughed some more. "Our orthopedist has advised us not to do it."
Earlier this week, the National Weather Service predicted continued chilly weather for the Bradenton-Sarasota area through the end of the week. The forecast seemed to have scared some people into staying home Thursday, said John Manno, safety manager with Belle City Amusements Inc., which brought the rides to the Manatee County Fair this year.
"In reality, it turned out to have been a very nice night but, weather-wise, the news forecast will make or break you," Manno said as he sat at a bench. "People don't want to leave the house if they hear it's going to be stormy and it's going to be rain, rain, rain."
Sisters Christina Hill, 10, and Aliyah Shannon, 11, came to the Manatee County Fair with a friend. Both had already ridden their favorite rides at the fair.
"The only real ride I like is the Ring of Fire, but I really like the bumper cars," Aliyah said.
Christina said she liked the Freak Out, a ride that swings riders high in the air while spinning them around.
"The thing I like about Freak Out is that it goes in circles and then it goes up," the fourth-grader explained. "It's like, we go down and then our body like pushes up. Our stomach gets a tingling feeling."
Dan West, manager of the Manatee County Fair, spoke positively of opening night.
"We know that everybody enjoyed The Bellamy Brothers," he said, speaking in reference to Thursday night's entertainment by the American pop and country music duo consisting of brothers David Milton Bellamy and Homer Howard Bellamy. "It's packed. There are people sitting all around the bleachers."
The weather has been nice, West added.
"It's just been a really nice day here at the fair," he said. "That's for sure."
The Manatee County Fair ends Jan. 24. For more information, visit www.manateecountyfair.com.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.