Greased pig is out, hog-calling in

Fair lives, with a few changes

September 15, 2006|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to the Sun

Don't show up at the Anne Arundel County Fair this weekend looking for the pet parade or the turtle races.

And no, the greased pig chase is not making a comeback this year.

Liability concerns have forced organizers to be careful - and clever - in choosing the homegrown events and contests that help define the fair.

The 57th annual edition, which opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday, includes such classics as livestock judging, tractor pulls and carnival rides. Mixed in are such crowd-pleasers as the cutest-kid and hog-calling contests, and more contemporary offerings such as karaoke and remote-controlled car racing.

FOR THE RECORD - An article that appeared in the Sept. 15 Anne Arundel edition incorrectly reported the length of the Maryland Renaissance Festival at the Anne Arundel County fairgrounds. It opened Aug. 26 and runs weekends through Oct. 22.
The Sun regrets the errors.

That balance may be why Anne Arundel's fair in Crownsville hasn't seen a drop in visitors in recent years, despite the county's continuing shift from agrarian to suburban. Attendance has hovered around 30,000, hitting 39,000 during dry, warm weather last year and falling to 25,000 after Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

"Nothing drains our spirits more than to have this [rain] happen on the weekend," John Kasenski, fair president and manager, said.

The fair, a nonprofit, also has the challenge of competing with the Maryland Renaissance Fair. The two share an entrance, and the Renaissance Festival, which used to end by Labor Day has been extended until October to accommodate its increasing popularity.

And since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the fair lost many sponsors, who used to contribute more to the fair's musical acts.

"That pretty much dried everything up," Kasenski said.

The fair can't afford to pay for national country music acts anymore, Kasenski said. Before country music had more crossover success, the fair could afford to pay between $10,000 and $15,000 for a national act. It can cost more than $40,000 now, Kasenski said.

The fair committee had a $130,000 budget this year, an increase of $14,000. The money comes from a state grant as well as ticket sales and sponsors. Fair officials spent nearly $50,000 this year to install bleachers, expand handicap parking and repair the roof of the community building, said Kasenski.

Volunteer organizers would rather cancel an event than face a lawsuit or pay increasingly high costs for liability insurance, for which it pays at least $20,000 a year.

The turtle races stopped a few years ago because the turtles were found to carry salmonella, a bacterial disease that can cause sickness in humans.

The fair canceled this year's popular pet parade, where owners dressed up their animals, because it was too much work trying to verify whether the animals had had all their shots, said Ruby Schwinn, exhibit hall manager. She suggested reviving the greased pig chase, but said liability issues have squashed that for now.

To keep the crowds returning, the fair is trying to respond to modern interests. Since the fair created better display space in its exhibit hall in 1998 for the fair's photography contest, interest has shot up, said Charlie Ruby, chairman of the photography department. The fair had 300 entries this year, up from 212 last year, he said. Over the next year, Ruby and others will decide whether to create separate categories for digital and film entries.

But this year, entries in the home arts categories were down by a third, Schwinn said. She attributes that to a mild winter last year - people were less likely to stay inside and do needlepoint.

Fairgoers said they hoped the fair didn't change too much to try to bring in more people.

Beverly Willard of Annapolis said her 14-year-old daughter Caitlyn won $100 for her fair entries, which ranged from knitted scarves to baked goods.

"I like that she's doing these sorts of activities," Willard said, "because I don't think kids do that anymore."

Part of the fair's charm is that it is a throwback to a more innocent time, said Derek Thomas of Crownsville, who celebrated his 45th birthday with his kids Wednesday at the fair.

"It's always friendly," he said.

Fair schedule

The Anne Arundel County Fair is open on Route 178 in Crownsville through Sunday. Besides the carnival rides, livestock, and garden and craft exhibits, highlights include:

TODAY

6 p.m.

- Antique tractor pull

8:30 p.m.

- American Made performs

TOMORROW

9 a.m. to noon

- Scarecrow making workshop, followed by contest judging at 1 p.m.

9:15 a.m.

- Cutest kid contest

1 p.m.

- Children's tug of war

3:30 p.m.

- Pie-eating contest

4 p.m.

- Hog-calling contest, followed by husband/wife calling

6 p.m.

- Garden tractor pull

7 p.m.

- Livestock sale

8 p.m.

- Poison Whiskey performs

SUNDAY

9:30 a.m.

- Dog obedience show

2 p.m.

- Watermelon-eating contest

3 p.m.

- Cake auction

3 p.m.

- 2nd Conspiracy performs

4 p.m.

- 4-H Compact Tractor, operator contests, car contest

5 p.m.

- Deuces Wild performs

Fair hours:

today from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Admission:

adults $5; youngsters ages 6 to 15 $2. It does not include carnival rides or games.

Information:

call 410 923-3400 or visit www.aacountyfair.org .

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