Swine show, traveling acts highlight fair’s opening night

The smell of the deep-fried food filled the air, music blared, lights flashed, kids squealed with delight, and from across the fairgrounds the swine squealed in the show pen.

The 2017 Manatee County Fair was officially open.

After months of planning, the gates finally opened to the public. Hundreds strolled down the Belle City Amusements Midway, scarfed down their favorite fair food, or walked away with a new pet fish after winning a carnival game.

“Everything’s going really smooth,” Daniel West, fair manager, said. “We opened a tad before 5 o’clock and did a soft opening, and everything seems to be moving pretty smooth.”

In the Mosaic Arena, hundreds more sat and cheered as the children paraded their pigs through the pen at Thursday’s swine show.

Madison Roberts, 8, showed her pig, Charlotte, in her first fair. Madison won her class with the 232-pound swine and then went on to win her division.

“At first I was nervous but she didn’t run in the area,” Madison said of Charlotte.

Madison was still a little nervous while awaiting her final class of the night, but spent the time making sure Charlotte had plenty of water.

“When I picked her out she was very small. I was excited to pick her out and excited to take care of her,” Madison said.

West said there were more than 150 exhibitors in Thursday’s swine show.

Outside the hustle and bustle of the Mosaic Arena, the crowds along the midway stopped to admire the traveling acts and pick up food along the way.

Faye and Rick Davis were seated at a table along the midway enjoying their shared dessert. Rick said he enjoys coming out to the fair, as a “country boy from Ohio” — where county fairs are intensely popular — it reminds him of his childhood.

“We like to come out pretty close to the first night of opening so we can see the livestock and walk through the tents and things,” Faye said.

Like the Davis’, Gary Vreman and his daughter, Abby, along with Addie Neri, came to see the animals. Vreman said they had family members who would be competing in the swine show, and they came to support them.

“Every year we come; it’s very cool,” Vreman said.

West was excited to see the the strolling acts that made their way around the crowds Thursday night.

“I’ve been watching the strolling acts. They just do so well. You just see groups of kids around those strolling acts like the magician a while ago. ... They’re all good. It’s just watching those kids interact with those strolling acts that tonight has been very noticeable,” West said.

One thing everyone noted was the favorable weather for opening night, which brought many of them out to the fair.

Temperatures were in the 60s throughout the evening. While it may have been a bit warm for the swine and those seated in the arena, those milling around the grounds were pleased with the warm evening temperatures.

The Manatee County Fair will run until Jan. 22.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh