By Ed Kobak, Redoubt Reporter
A heavy dose of sunshine merely gilded the full slate of fun offerings at the Kenai Peninsula Fair over the weekend.
Music is a draw of the fair, and though there were bands playing all weekend long, it was the atmosphere that brought the listeners to Ninilchik, in keeping with this year’s theme, “Country Nights and Carnival Lights.”
Executive Director Lara McGinnis is continuing her vision of adding new events and entertainment to the perpetual fair favorites, keeping the successful, down-home country feel.
Friday was Kids Day, with free admission for youth with a donation to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Nearly 400 kids were treated to cotton candy, compliments of the fair. Sunday was Senior Day, with anyone 60 and older getting in for $3, which was a popular draw judging by the long line at the entrance gate.
The first day was also billed as Red Shirt Friday. Everyone wearing that color was invited to the rodeo grounds in the afternoon, where they stood in formation of a heart to honor servicemen and women for their dedication and sacrifice.
The Alaska’s Got Talent performance entertained the lively crowd Friday evening as the night got in full swing with the swelling crowd.
The addition of a midway has been particularly popular, with throngs gravitating to the games and rides all weekend to experience carnival thrills on the Zipper, Flying Swings, Tilt-a-Whirl, Tea Cups, Merry-Go-Round, Super Slide and a Ferris Wheel.
The agriculture and horticulture exhibit areas held to the theme of “Sow It, Grow It, Grow It,” with a variety of displays of vegetables, flowers and more.
The livestock and farm animal exhibit areas, complete with a petting zoo and horse-riding area, were a hit with the kids. The 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America were well represented with many young members bringing their animals to be judged, and some to be auctioned. The Central Peninsula Garden Club, Matti’s Farm, USDA and Kenai Peninsula Farm Bureau were just some of the sponsors for the judging, which included cattle, goats, swine, sheep, rabbits and poultry — everything but big-horned animals, as they were over in the rodeo grounds during the bull-riding events.
No country fair is complete without exhibits that are a feast for the eye and the mouth. This was no different, with expertly made preserves, baked goods, quilts, ceramics, Alaska Native arts, fiber arts, photography, woodworking, sewing, needlework and even weaving with a working loom submitted for judging and display.
The rodeo Saturday and Sunday filled the stands with spectators for barrel racing, the obstacle course, bull riding, calf roping and more.
Brad’s World of Reptiles in the Coho Hall had steady traffic all weekend for the not-too-squeamish who wanted an up-close view of lizards, iguanas, snakes and the like.
“Steve The Pretty Good” kept the crowd entertained with his brand of comedy magic, and the always-popular Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs retained its title as one of the favorite fair events, with kids and adults placing their buck bets on their pig of choice for a chance at fair prizes.
Educational booths and exhibits adorned the fairgrounds. Perusing the vendor exhibit hall of crafts and hobbies, one of my favorites was the display of drones. If you had $800 to $999 to plunk down you could be the happy owner of a drone with a Wi-Fi camera that can reach altitudes of 1,500 feet.
And what fair worth its deep-fried salt doesn’t have food? From the usual fair fare of burgers, dogs, fries and elephant ears, there also was an eclectic variety from which to choose. Alaska seafood was offered, with beer-battered or grilled salmon and halibut proving very popular. I sampled the fried clam sandwich prepared to golden brown, the way I like it, served on top of a bed of delicious homemade coleslaw.
Corn on the cob and fresh ice cream made by a John Deere-powered churn had a lot of takers, and Homer Lions Club sold out of the 360-plus pounds of turkey legs it was selling by 1:30 p.m. Sunday, with many clamoring for more. The Lions’ deep-fried Oreo topped with whipped cream was also a big hit.
For adults looking for some liquid refreshment, a beer garden was flowing all weekend long, though it wasn’t as packed as at music events this summer, which were less kid-oriented.
While not the focal point of the fair, the music was eclectic and nearly constant. The weekend’s headliner was Home Free hailing from Minnesota and billed as America’s first Country a cappella group. Local favorite Conway Seavy drew a crowd, as did Seward’s Black Water Railroad Co. The duo of Washboard Willy and Lloyd Mabrey had a John Denver-esque folk set. Among the other performers were Alaska Native singer Byron Nicholai, Jack and Sue and the Worship Crew, 150 Grit and Cupit Yaratat.
After this weekend’s successful event, attendees will have to look forward to see what will be in store for next year’s rendition of “The Biggest Little Fair in Alaska.”
Ed Kobak is a freelance entertainment, adventure travel and sports writer, book author and media coordinator for Twin City Raceway. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.