By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
“Proceed to Party!” And that they did as spectators poured into the Great Jones County Fair and Food Fest grounds on July 18-22. This year’s fair was quite a huge success, as explained by Fair Manager John Harms. In fact, Harms said the crowd that attended the Toby Keith country music concert on Saturday night, July 21, was the largest crowd the fair had ever seen in its 160 years! Something to be proud of for sure!
After two years of weather-related issues, this year’s fair saw no sign of rain except a few small drops here and there. In 2010, the fair ended its week early due to flooding after the dam at Lake Delhi failed from excessive rain. Last year, in 2011, the fair, again, had to deal with rain as well as a massive windstorm.
After several years of no stock car and harness races, spectators were treated to a full afternoon of harness racing on July 20 and two days of stock car races on July 21 and 22.
With only a couple days of extreme heat at the start of the fair, with temperatures reaching the upper 90s, Harms said they had the 4-H and FFA kids take animals home early as a precaution.
“This year, the weather was completely taken out of the equation,” said Harms. “We didn’t have to battle mud, wind or rain,” referring to the two previous years’ weather situations. “It was a stroll in the park, literally.”
Harms said the fair has hoped for perfect fair weather for quite some time. While the rain held off during fair week, the dry conditions are not helping area farmers who need precipitation the most. In a statement released by the Jones County Fair via their Facebook page, they expressed the fact that the weather cooperated during this year’s fair, “but regret it at the expense of the farming community who needs rain. Agriculture remains our life’s blood and 4-H/FFA is the heart of this fair.”
With sun beating down on the stage on Tuesday evening, July 17, 11 fair queen candidates stood across the stage awaiting the announcement for this year’s fair queen and princess. Nicole Monck was honored as this year’s Miss Congeniality, voted on by her fellow candidates as the most outgoing. The 2012 Jones County Fair Queen is Holly Salzbrenner. The 2012 Fair Princess is Becca Dirks. Both girls were kept busy during the fair, attending 4-H and FFA shows to hand out ribbons to the kids and champions of the animal shows. They also toured the grounds, greeting and meeting with fairgoers and attending concerts.
Rock music performers Heart opened the concert series on July 19. Lynryd Skynyrd took to the stage after Heart. Music could be heard all over town.
The start of the country music concerts was on July 20 with Josh Thompson opening for Blake Shelton. On Saturday, July 21, Thomas Rhett took to the stage to open the night for Toby Keith. The track for both country concerts was standing room only, literally.
Prior to Rhett’s performance, dozens and dozens of young men and women took to the stage to take the oath of enlistment as they were sworn into the United States Army in front of tens of thousands of people on the track and seated in the amphitheater and hillside. At the close of Toby Keith’s performance, he invited several men and women in uniform to sing his patriotic hit “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” The night ended with the crowd shouting “USA” in unison.
Harms said he received a lot of positive feedback on this year’s fair during the week and continues to see and hear great comments following the fair.
“The artists, their managers and people associated with them all had positive feedback,” Harms offered. “They like coming here and our environment works well for them. They were all excited to be here.” The fact that the Great Jones County Fair has a permanent stage for concert entertainers is a plus, taking into account the devastating incident that occurred at the Indiana State Fair in August 2011 when a windstorm blew their temporary stage to the ground.
Harms said Toby Keith summed it up well when it said we have a “kick-ass stage” at the Jones County Fair.
With a great week for the fair, one issue Harms alluded to was the poor cellular phone service. Expecting to receive cell phone signal boosters to provide more service with the thousands of people using their cell phones in the fairgrounds, Harms said that did not happen.
“The towers didn’t get here,” he said. “That was disappointing.”
Throughout the week, those associated with the new Jones County Youth Development Center provided guided tours of the new, under-construction building. Part of the facility was used to house the 4-H food stand during the fair, as the old building was taken down to build the youth center. The indoor food stand was a relief to many, especially during the first few hot days of the fair.
“People were happy to see the progress of the building,” said Harms. Those who are from out of town were even pleased with the progression of the facility and the fair in general.
“People were impressed with our operation,” Harms said. “We’re moving forward.”
With the 4-H exhibits on display inside the Berndes Center during the fair, visitors to next year’s fair will be able to see the displays, projects and exhibits inside the new youth center, built for the youth of Jones County.
The Jones County Fair thanks all who participated in this year’s fair saying, “It is you who put the “great” in our fair!”
“It was a big success,” Harms said with pleasure. “Everyone was happy.”
The 161st Great Jones County Fair and Food Fest will take place on July 17-21 in 2013.
PHOTOS: Top: At the close of the Toby Keith concert on July 21, he invited Army men and women on stage to help him perform “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” Monticello’s Shannon Sproston with the 411th Engineer Brigade sang along with Toby Keith. Bottom: Country music favorite Blake Shelton wowed the crowd during the Jones County Fair on Friday night, July 19. Shelton sang his own hits and new songs as well as classic rock hits. (Photos by Kim Brooks)