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2012 Manatee fair sets all-time attendance record

PALMETTO -- Do Manatee County residents love their warm weather or what?

An all-time attendance record of 172,400 poured through the gates during the 11 days of the recently completed Manatee County Fair, motivated by some of the best January weather in memory, fair manager Dan West announced Monday.

In the 96 years of the fair’s existence, the previous largest 11-day attendance was 155,000 in 2006, West added.

“This year’s attendance was an 11 percent increase over our best ever year,” West said. “No one can ever remember the weather being so comfortable. It was impeccable. Everyone was in a festive mood here for two weeks, from volunteers to vendors to fairgoers.”

The fair, which ran Jan. 12 through Sunday, had only one rainy afternoon, on Wednesday. But even that afternoon wasn’t cold and 1,100 were on hand for a Harry James Orchestra concert, West said.

The largest-attended events included a concert by John Anderson and a concert featuring both Craig Campbell and Eden’s Edge, West said.

The 2012 fair set some other records.

“I believe the 134 hogs we had this year is a record,” West said. “Another record was the 107 dairy animals we had in the barn.”

Arts and Crafts also established a record for number of admissions, with more than 2,000.

“We also had a larger number of rabbits and poultry than anyone can remember,” West added.

Nick Baden, a long-time Manatee County resident, fair participant and volunteer, heaped praise on the 2012 Fair, calling it “the best ever” Monday.

“The unique thing was the perfect weather, which we usually don’t have,” Baden said. “It was just perfect. It’s the best fair we have ever had.”

Baden and West praised the hundreds of volunteers who make the fair click every year.

“It’s truly a grass-roots event,” West said. “This is our community.”

Baden began entering county fairs in the 1940s, long before he graduated from Manatee High School in 1957. He made cedar chests, boats and other items.

This year, besides being a volunteer in the arts and crafts building, he carved powder horns and won ribbons for them.

“It’s not about the ribbons,” Baden said. “You enter because this is a showcase for the community and we are all part of the community.”

Of course, like everyone else, Baden enjoys 11 days of fair food, for which most family physicians are willing to grant a pass.

“My heaven is Susie Q’s Myakka Booth where I get swamp cabbage,” Baden said. “Swamp cabbage features the heart of the sabal palm, which is very good for you. Susie boils it cracker style, with pork and onions. Delicious.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.