County Fair needs support to improve

The Union County Fair is experiencing growing pains.

Over the past several years, fair organizers have added new events to make it bigger and better each time.

One thing that has been missing for quite a while, however, is a featured or headline act of some sort (in addition to the rodeo’s traditionally closing the fair each year).

Younger people may not remember, but at one time, Alan Jackson performed at the Union County Fair (admittedly, Jackson was just starting and not as well-known as he is now).

Another year, when professional wrestling was very popular, Jerry “The King” Lawler and other wrestlers performed at the fair. So great was the interest that it was said people came out of the hills to see that event who had not been to town in 20 years.

But, eventually, the fair board stopped booking more expensive attractions.

One reason may be that the popularity of the fair waned for a while in the face of competition from TV, easier travel to Memphis, more events in Tupelo and a general increase in the assortment of activities most families find themselves involved in.

More to the point, the board simply did not have the money to spend as booking fees for entertainers rose.

On top of that, they knew that booking an expensive act was a gamble because of weather. The only place for a stage was the open arena area and a good rain – or perhaps even the threat of rain – could result in the loss of many thousands of dollars over a cancelled show.

Union County Supervisors eventually approved the construction of an arena building, which solved the weather problem – but only to a degree.

The arena is suitable for a wide variety of events, but it still is a semi-open structure with fixed seats on two sides and a dirt floor.

Many concert performers are not willing to appear in that type of setting.

But even if they are, the benefit of having an arena is offset by the limit on seating.

The maximum number of seats that could be used has been estimated by some at 3,000. That’s a lot, but not in terms of a major concert.

This year the fair board is showing interest in adding some top-ranked entertainment act to the 2013 fair.

In fact, they have communicated with a group that is quickly growing in popularity and would almost certainly result in a sellout for the closing night of the fair.

But the expenses for booking the act plus renting a stage, advertising and other costs could be in the neighborhood of $45,000. A bit of elementary math reveals that to recoup this expense alone with only 3,000 seats available, tickets would have to sell for $15 each.

That’s a far cry from the free entertainment at the Tallahatchie RiverFest, but early indications are that most people would be willing to pay $15 a ticket for entertainment of this caliber.

To pull this off, the fair board would need money up front provided as sponsorships in addition to that usually needed for the fair.

If you think this is a good idea, it would benefit the community, and you already support the fair, consider supporting it a little more. If you have not supported the fair, consider doing so. Sponsorship for a big-name act would certainly increase your level of status in the community and having such an act would bring considerable additional money into the New Albany area.

If the fair does successfully manage to book such a group this year, it will be much easier to do something similar again next year, and the year after that.

The Union County Fair will still be good even if they don’t add the extra entertainment, but the board is trying to think big and that’s something we need more of here so we should support them.

It means spending money, but it will increase tourism, visitor spending, economic growth and improved quality of life.

Help if you can, but act quickly or the opportunity will be lost.

J. Lynn West