Scenes from opening night of the 103rd Manatee County Fair
Wet and chilly weather fouled the final day of 103rd Manatee County Fair.
Due to the soggy conditions, rides did not run, ticket prices were reduced to $5 each and the gates closed a couple of hours early at 5 p.m.
Still, it didn’t stop a few brave souls from making most of the day.
Some, like Alexis Manna and Kallyah Carter of Sarasota, came for the food.
The pair walked huddled under an umbrella as they scouted for the perfect snack.
Other fairgoers chowed down on cheeseburgers, funnel cake and candy apples.
Some food vendors were already shuttered for the day; anyone looking for cow chips, frog legs or gator bites at Susy Q’s was out of luck.
Across the lane, a lemonade vendor blared Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Next door, employees at “Dad’s Caramel Corn” dumped water off a sagging tent awning.
The electronic fowls of the Barnyard Cackle Review could not draw a crowd, but the plucky hens told their jokes anyways.
Vendors said that despite the lousy weather on Sunday, 2019 was a very good year at the fair.
Volunteers from Church on the Rock of Palmetto sold food at four different booths, including the renowned strawberry shortcake station.
“Some people tell us they pay admission just to get the shortcake,” said volunteer Sheri Ketner after serving one of the first customers of the day.
The church has provided shortcake at the fair for more than 20 years, starting in a small tent and eventually upgrading to a permanent booth, according to Debbie Connor.
Ketner and Connor agreed that big crowds throughout the fair season made up for the slow closing day.
The biggest event of the day went on as scheduled at 3 p.m. A crowd piled into the stands in the Mosaic Arena for the high school cheerleading competition. Varsity and junior varsity squads from all six Manatee County public high schools showed up to put on a show.
It was a quiet afternoon in the Show-Me Safari petting zoo tent, where Jay Phillips sat and chatted with employees over a carton of french fries.
At the back of the tent, a lamb that was born on the opening day of the fair seemed to be settling in just fine.
The baby painted desert sheep groomed itself with its hooves resting on the hindquarters of one of the grown-ups.
Phillips and his crew display animals and conduct pig races at state fairs all around the country, including the Ohio State Fair, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Alabama State Fair.
Of all of them, Phillips said that the Manatee County Fair is one of his favorites.
“It feels like being at home with good people,” Phillips said.
Phillips said that business was good at this year’s fair.
Now, he and his crew of sheep, goats, alpacas, cows and more will head back to Missouri for three weeks before coming back to Florida for the Collier County Fair.
“The animals will get to run around and play for awhile,” Phillips said.