It’s that time of the year again, when the heat is simmering, the lights are glowing, and the Ferris wheels are spinning. Late summer and early fall is the season for festivals in the Ozarks, but why exactly do county and local festivals take place in the dog days of summer?
According to Ozark Empire Fair official Vicky Hayward, it has to do with school breaks and the timing of the Missouri State Fair.
“Usually it’s for, obviously when the families are, when the kids are out of school. But you know, there are some that run concurrent with school days. But for us, we always precursor the Missouri State Fair,” says Hayward.
But that’s not the only reason. Marla Calico is the chief operating officer of the Springfield-based International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
“From a tradition standpoint, they were more closely tied to the coming end of the harvest. So that, animals were at the peak condition, crops, garden produce were at the peak condition, to be displayed for the competition. And agriculture remains at the heart of it,” says Calico.
Regardless of the heat, local fairs are a popular pastime among local citizens. According to Hayward, last year the Ozark Empire Fair brought in over 150,000 attendees. She says this year’s event looks like it may keep up with or surpass last year’s numbers.
“We had, 156,000 was our attendance last year. And so far I think we are tracking at that or better, you know, we never know until the fair is over, because we could have a day where the weather isn’t so cooperative. But so far attendance has been very well this year,” Hayward says.
The popularity of fairs isn’t just local either; The IAFE has association members across North America, South Korea, and Australia, many of which have seen a rise in attendance in recent years.
“Generally their attendance is trending up; we do kind of a monitoring every year. And for the last six years, at the end of the year, of all of the reports we have been able to gather generally 65-68 percent are reporting that their attendance is increasing,” says Calico.
And every year local fairs in the Ozarks work to bring in new and exciting events. This year the Ozark Empire fair has offered a selection of educational entertainment.
“We have our new ag ventures day camp. And that is a promotional thing we are doing with Missouri State, we are partnering with them to promote youth agriculture livestock and pasture to plate,” says Hayward.
But it’s not all new and out with the old either, Hayward says some mainstays are just too popular to move away from.
“We do have one that comes back year after year, the Hedrick Pig Races, because they are so popular. They do five shows a day,” Hayward says.
The Ozark Empire Fair ends this weekend, but a few more local fairs are just around the corner. Howdy Neighbor Days in Pierce City runs August 12-15, and the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion will be held September 25-27.