Fairs & Festivals

Something for everyone at the Manatee County Fair

County fairs are a wonderful throwback to the era when family farms and ranches dotted the landscape and nurtured America. Fairs are also a lively return to the time when simple pleasures predominated and high-tech wizardry could only be found in comic books and novels.

Yes, fans, the 2011 Manatee County Fair kicks off its 11-day run today with the theme of “Capture the Magic.” This year marks the 95th edition of the fair, a strong showcase of the county’s agricultural industry and heritage.

Magic indeed. Fairs are the greatest cheese factory around today -- cheesy in the most delightful way. Pig races? Cool, bring ’em on. Cotton candy and corn dogs? Both taste great at the fair. And old-fashioned midway rides? There’s no better way to get dizzy.

One of our fair favorites is the horse showmanship competition among members of 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America. Contestants display admirable skill and command of their animals.

Youngsters also compete in steer, swine, dairy and other livestock contests, vying for the coveted titles of “Grand Champion” and “Reserve Grand Champion.” As experienced fair hands know, cows and heifers can get a little excited in the show ring and provide some extra entertainment in the resulting scramble for control.

Showmanship awards, ribbons and rosettes will also be awarded to the young winners in the plant competition. Plus, the Master Gardeners of Manatee County and the Manatee County Extension Service will have a variety of gardens on display that demonstrate the principles of Florida Friendly Yards, offering consultations and workshops on those practices.

The creative arts competitions and shows also attract a host of adults and children vying for ribbons in such categories as quilting, cooking and arts and crafts.

While such traditional events will forever remain the fair’s foundation, organizers continue to beef up the schedule with new ones -- this year adding a drum line competition. The barbecue competition is entering its fourth year followed by the decade-old baby pageant and the 16-year-old cheerleading contest.

Zebras, camels and kangarooes are not exactly common farm or ranch creatures, but those and other exotic animals can be found at the fair’s petting zoo along with far more traditional pony rides. Youngsters will also enjoy the pedal tractor pull competitions, free to children ages 4 to 12, and the puppet shows.

Entertainment can be found just about everywhere, what with strolling musicians along with stage shows. We were especially intrigued by the modestly titled act “Steve the Pretty Good.” Think magic and comedy. Watch some hapless soul get sawn in half. Or float in the air. You might see Steve strolling the grounds with his act, or even get dragged into a performance. We’ve seen him use a power saw, by the way, so be wary about joining that particular act. Steve executes it well.

With this delightful breadth of activities and offerings, everyone should find something to enjoy. See you at the Manatee County Fair.