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Monday, April 19, 2021

2021 Spring State Fair

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Screams of terror blaring throughout the midway.

Smells of turkey legs and funnel cakes being dipped into scalding-hot grease.

Scenes of pigs racing each other.

You can experience all of that – and more – at the 114th State Fair of Louisiana. However, you don’t have to wait until October, which is when the fair usually starts.

April 29 through May 9, you can enjoy the first-ever spring State Fair. What Covid took from us last year, precautions will give us back this year.

“What I think that the spring fair does is it shows people that with certain restrictions, with wearing masks, with social distancing, with getting vaccinated, there is a path to normalcy,” said Liz Swaine, chairman of the board of the State Fair of Louisiana. “I think that has just created this wonderful light at the end of the tunnel. People feel better about themselves, about their community, about their ability to work and make money. I think it’s given people a whole new outlook on life.”

“Devastating. Absolutely devastating.”

That’s how Swaine described the financial hit the State Fair of Louisiana took by having to cancel last year’s event.

“It scared us to death,” Swaine said. “We had no idea when we were planning for the normal fall state fair whether we would be able to have one in the spring or this coming fall. There was so much that was a mystery to us. We were looking at our bank balance dropping by the month. We were on the precipices of making some very difficult decisions about staffing, furloughs, where we go from here. We were in the same boat as so many other businesses and individuals. It was a very trying time.”

Chris Giordano, longtime general manager of the State Fair of Louisiana, said cancellation of the fair caused the organization to lose 82 percent of its yearly revenue. At the same time, monthly operating expenses (staff, maintenance, insurance, etc.) remained about $75,000.

“Going into the pandemic, we had $700,000 in reserves,” Giordano said. “We have spent $150,000 of that reserve. Actually, we’ve been quite fortunate to have (only) spent $150,000 of that reserve to this point. But we were also supplemented with a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan, which was just under $100,000, which has already been forgiven. We received another PPP loan a month or so ago, which will also be forgiven because we are spending it according to the rules of forgiveness.”

All Hands On Deck

Giordano and his team had to submit to the state a re-opening plan for the spring fair. After a few modifications, the governor gave the official approval on March 12 – just seven weeks before opening day. That meant securing carnival rides, food vendors, entertainment and suppliers in a short amount of time.

“It requires our small staff to work extended hours, including weekends,” Giordano said. “But we are on top of it. I feel pretty good about it.”

That’s a lot better feeling than Giordano had last September when the 2020 fair was canceled.

“When we got the official notification that we were approved to open this year, the feelings were excitement, relief,” Giordano said. “We are able to earn revenue again for this organization that is suffering financially. I have to admit, there’s a little anxiety as well. You asked for it, you got it. Now, you gotta go get the work done to get this fair open.”

“Getting this fair open” means keeping alive an event that last shut down in 1918 – the year of the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

“This is kind of a history-making fair,” Giordano said. “We did not want to totally cancel our 114th edition of the State Fair. Instead of having our 114th edition last fall, we’re having it this spring. We’ve made it through world wars and great depressions. We didn’t want to totally cancel the fair. This gives us an opportunity to have that 114th edition.”

Same, But Different

In many ways – but not all ways – the spring fair will look and feel the same as the fair you are used to enjoying. There will be rides, food, entertainment and livestock exhibits. But think quality, not quantity. And think taking a seat to eat your favorite fair food.

“The state fire marshal has requested that instead of walking and eating – so if you buy a turkey leg, if you buy a funnel cake – you will need to go to a designated dining area and sit down and eat, as opposed to walking and eating,” Swaine explained. “That will be a slight change. We think that by the fall, hopefully, hopefully, that will be lifted.”

When it comes to free concerts (free with your state fair admission), there will still be some familiar names. Regional and national entertainers will headline the weekends. They include fan favorite and country music singer Frank Foster, who will play the first Saturday night.

“He kind of got his start at the State Fair before he got popular,” Giordano said. “We actually booked him the first time at our fair as an opening act for a band, and we had a huge crowd of people that showed up for Frank Foster, then when the main band went on, everybody left.”

During the week, local bands will take center stage. One reason is to save money. Another reason is to help artists whose income has also been hurt by the pandemic.

“Most of our local bands don’t do that for a living,” Giordano said. “They have day jobs. But it’s one of their hobbies and what they do with their friends for extra income. We thought it would be nice to give those local bands an opportunity to get back to doing what they like to do, which is playing music."

If you’re into looking to the sky and holding your breath, you may want to check out the Nerveless Nocks Thrill Show.

“The Nerveless Nocks are a circus family that has been operating here in the United States for many, many, many, many years,” Giordano said. “They are bringing two old-fashioned sway poles to the fair this spring — poles which go in excess of 100 feet in the air — and they do aerial thrill acrobatics at the top of these poles.”

In the mood for something a little less tense? Giordano suggests watching the GASCAR Crazy Animal Races.

“Very similar to racing pigs,” Giordano said, “except it’s a mixture of different species of animals that race, such as goats, pigs and other animals.”

A Two-Fer

While the spring fair is meant to help make up for not having last year’s fair, it is not meant to take the place of this year’s main event, scheduled for Oct. 28-Nov. 14.

“That’s our belief,” Swaine said, “especially if we continue on the road that we’re on now, with the numbers of people we are seeing vaccinated, with the hoped for continued drop in (Covid) cases, especially in Louisiana and our area.”

“Hopefully, if things keep trending the way they are,” Giordano said, “and we are able to get a real grip on this Covid, if we get to a point in the next few months where we are almost 100 percent open or 100 percent open, then when we open this October, the full fair will be back in place.”

To learn more about the State Fair of Louisiana, including hours, admission costs and events, you may visit www. statefairoflouisiana.com.

ON STANDS NOW!

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