BY BRITTNEY HENTON
Acrobatics, magic and canine tricks — this year’s Vermilion County Fair and Expo offers a lot of free entertainment options for visitors.
Gates open Tuesday at the Vermilion County Fairgrounds, just north of U.S. Route 150 west of Danville.
Vermilion County Fair President Rick White has been on the fair board for roughly 40 years. During that time, fair attendance has resembled a rollercoaster ride, rising as high as 20,000 and, at one turn, dipping to as low as 3,000, White said.
“I don’t think we catered to the public’s needs, quite honestly,” White said. He said after fair-goers entered the gates, they would automatically turn around and have to spend more money for entertainment in addition to costs for food and carnival rides.
“Two or three years ago we started changing our direction.”
That new direction means when fair-goers step foot on the fairgrounds this year, they will have the opportunity to take advantage of at least $12,500 worth of entertainment, essentially for free.
White said due to the economic challenges of the area, the fair board wanted to give members of the public something reasonable after they paid their $3 to enter the fairgrounds.
“We want people to feel they got their money’s worth if they don’t spend another dime.”
The two free shows include a high-flying acrobatics act as well as a canine variety show. Each show will run twice nightly and on Saturday as well.
The High-Flying Pages Aerial and Animal Show will feature a flying trapeze act, hula hoops, the Russian Swing and a ballerina on horseback.
White said in his four decades on the fair board, he doesn’t remember the fair ever featuring an acrobatics show.
The second major act includes the playful antics of dogs that have actually been rescued from shelters. Johnny Peers’ Muttville Comix will feature a mix of comic timing and choreography by man and man’s best friends.
“(Johnny Peers) goes to the Humane Society and trains dogs from there,” White said. He added that the canine act was something “we felt would be real appealing to smaller children.”
In addition to the big shows, White said a local talent, David Boothe, will offer a bit of “razzle dazzle” to the atmosphere.
White said families eating at picnic tables might find themselves enjoying an impromptu card trick as Boothe, a Danville magician, roams the fairgrounds.
“He’s pretty fantastic,” White said. He added that Boothe will perform tricks for about three hours each night. And Boothe might also work the crowds at the grandstand events. He will also offer giveaways to fair-goers from local businesses.
Another business-sponsored “act,” will include the freelance microphone stylings of Dan Wright, emcee for the fairgrounds.
“You put him in front of a microphone, and he’ll entertain,” White said.
White said last year’s fair attendance reached 15,000 people. He wants those that saw the fair decline previously to give them another chance.
“It’s not the same fair that it was five years ago.”
A younger crowd
White said the fair’s main focus is to offer something for the youth attending.
His nephew Asa Ray, 9, said he’s been going to the Vermilion County Fair probably since he was 2 or 3.
“It’s pretty cool,” Asa said. “There’s lots of rides and games and stuff to do.”
The Rossville youngster has harvested some fun memories during the years. His most memorable fair food: the stand that has really good french fries. His favorite game: “Probably the game where you shoot the water in the target and the thing goes up and the winner gets a big prize.” His favorite ride: the Tilt-A-Whirl. Why? “It goes really fast.”
“If a child can come out there and have a nice time for the evening, I feel we’ve done our job,” White said.
He added the fair will give away at least five bicycles a night. The bikes will be for youth, but anyone can be entered into the giveaway by taking advantage of the carnival rides.
“You buy a ride ticket, you get a bike ticket,” White said.
Another thing White encourages young people to do is to participate in a 4-H project, which allows children to create something and come away with the “hey, I did that!” feeling.
“It teaches them not only responsibility but the rewards that are out there for seeing something through to the end.”
White said it’s awfully easy to stray away from the basics.
“Kids need to realize there’s more to life than computers and television sets.”
White said the children participating in 4-H also get another dose of responsibility when they have to take their turn waiting on the public in the food building. He said he’s watched kids during the years participate in 4-H and then go on to become parents.
“You see those kids grow up, and now their kids are doing it,” White said. “It makes you feel like it’s worthwhile when you see those things happen.”
While the fair will offer plenty of action for the kids, it also will provide something for the grown-ups. White said this year the fair is reinstating its racing program.
“The track has been idle for the past two years,” White said. American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) flat track racing will take place at 7 p.m. Friday night in the grandstand.
Also, drivers in a demolition derby will start wrecking things at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Another major Saturday night event will be the Southern Fried Fest, a live blues, rock and country music concert starting at 7 p.m. The $10 concert will feature The James Jones Trio, Renegade, The Matt Poss Band and national recording artist Jason Charles Miller.
White said while the grandstand events do cost extra there is still plenty people can do that won’t cost them a thing. Besides the big shows, another free event for spectators includes a ranch rodeo Friday night said Matt Woelber, third vice president for the fair board.