BROOKSVILLE — Several changes are in store as the 60th annual Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show opens today for a nine-day run.
But just how different the 2011 version will be from the first fair in 1951 has proven difficult to ascertain, said fair manager Sandra Nicholson.
Records supposedly were kept. But opening a trunk revealed only a single fair contract from a midway provider in 1976 and less than a handful of old newspaper articles and photos.
A yellowed, undated clipping carries a recollection by a former fair secretary who attended the first fair: "It was a relatively quiet affair without rides or a midway, one dominated in those days by a 4-H atmosphere replete with livestock shows and home ec contests."
Oh, if the original organizers could peek in on this year's program, their eyes would no doubt pop at seeing a belly dancing troupe, beat-up cars making their way to an auto graveyard, and monster trucks and tractors roaring while kids scream in delight from atop the Ferris wheel.
Also on tap: a clown with a pack of goofy dogs known as Muttville, a youth beauty pageant and young star search, the Kountry Klassic Kloggers — with dancers ages 50 to 80 — and an opportunity to fish for trout in a concocted pond.
Musical entertainment will dominate the stage, and programming has evolved from the traditional country-western of a county fair, said entertainment chairwoman Mona Premerol. Expected to draw a big crowd is a group known as 7 Bridges, a tribute band that performs hits from the Eagles.
"They were here last year," said Premerol, "and people just sang along. People asked them to come back."
The other headline group will be the Alabama Blues Brothers, Premerol said.
Local talents have been invited to gain some audience exposure. Among them: voice, dance and stage protege Matthew Romeo, 11; country vocalists Mackenzie Rae and Maddie Rose, both with new singles produced out of Nashville; guitarist and singer Terri Lyon; 14-year-old Steffanie Ranae, a vocalist who will open for 7 Bridges; and the AK Dance Away dance studio.
Other new perks
• Daily cooking demonstrations, with samples, by area restaurant chefs in the Jackson Building next to the auditorium.
• Fireworks on opening night.
• A demonstration of soccer on horseback by members of the All Creatures Great and Small 4-H Club.
• A greased pig contest and a mutton bustin' contest (sheep riding) for kids.
Agriculture remains an anchor for the fair. Livestock entries by 4-H clubs and FFA members number 76 market hogs; 46 market steers; 42 beef breeding cattle; 67 poultry specimens, including chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys, with 14 market poultry cages of three birds each; 61 rabbit entries with three entries of three-per-cage market rabbits; and 72 entries in a sanctioned Boer goat show. There's also a goat milking contest.
In a trial endeavor, all meat livestock will be auctioned in a single sale beginning at 3 p.m. April 16. Previously, sales for primarily hogs and steers were conducted on two separate evenings. Poultry and rabbits were added last year.
"We had buyers who said they couldn't come both nights," Nicholson explained.
Buyers will be treated to dinner in the Cattlemen's Restaurant next to the sale arena.
As for grounds and building improvements, Nicholson pointed to a number of changes.
The main entrance to the fairgrounds has been moved farther down Oliver Street to facilitate traffic coming off Broad Street.
A parking lot on Broad Street across from the fairgrounds will no longer be available, but on the fairgrounds' 33 acres, Nicholson said, plenty of parking can be accommodated.
Both the livestock barn-arena and the small-animal barn have been remodeled "to make it easier for the animals and for the public to see," Nicholson said.
This year, steers will be housed in a large tent behind the barn-arena.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.