Despite attendance appearing to be down many days of the 2021 Kansas State Fair due to the ongoing pandemic, operators of the carnival on the fair’s midway reported Sunday they expect it to be a record year.
“It’s been up pretty much every day, with the exception of one,” Tom Thebault, president of the Astro Division at North American Midway Entertainment, advised the fair board on Sunday. “I suspect it’s going to be hitting another record here before all is said and done. The report yesterday didn’t have the Dillons' (tickets) or presale. Usually, on Saturday we have a number but it wasn’t quite ready.”
“I believe 2019 was a record-breaking year for the midway also, so it’s quite a good trend to see,” Thebault said. “Honestly, we’re seeing that everywhere we’ve gone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fair, the street or playing a mall. Breaking records at malls is the weirdest thing. Evidently, people got abused for a year being told to stay in the house and they’re ready to get out and get back to life again as we know it.”
In 2019, carnival ridership at the fair was up more than 20% overall, despite a 20% hike in ride prices. There was no fair in 2020.
Thebault noted that their contract with the fair is up this year, both for the carnival and the Sky Ride, so they’ll be working on a new contract and hope to finish it while operating in San Antonio, he said. The two contracts were previously staggered. They’ll try to renew them together this year, he said.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Thebault said. “We go to some places that are a short drive and people are very difficult. It’s a long way here, but we’re grateful to come out here and be appreciated and work with the people that get it. A lot of people that work on the midway are exhausted. If you can imagine handling getting people on and off rides all day, day after day, some with short handles. It adds to the stress. But we’re getting it done and hopefully, we can leave on a high note.”
Several of the board members commented on Saturday’s traffic into the fair, with cars and people backed up at times on all sides of the grounds. Several board members also volunteered in ticket booths for several hours and complimented the staff on their abilities. The ticket system went down about 7:30 p.m., but the vendor quickly restarted it, Schulz said.
“It was crazy,” board member Dylan Evans said of the crowd.
What’s crazy, new fair General Manager Bryan Schulz said, is that the fair stops selling gate tickets at 9 p.m. and opens up the gates.
“With the carnival going until midnight and lines at 9 p.m., we’re missing the boat big time,” Schulz said.
Schulz understood that the carnival shuts down at 10 or earlier most nights, if there are not enough patrons. But, he said, he’ll work with Thebault to ensure the carnival stays open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays so they can consider charging admission later.
“When you have a line down the main avenue at 8:35 (p.m.) waiting to get in at the free time we’re missing really big,” he said. “People won’t come in (at) 9 and pay for an hour, but if we say we’re open until midnight or 11:30, they get a couple of hours.”
Board member Holly Lofton said she again visited with vendors.
“I wandered around for an hour and a half and I visited with a lot of vendors,” Lofton said. “They were very pleased. A lot were having a record year for sales. It’s been great.”
The Saturday afternoon Nelly concert was just shy of 5,000 people in the grandstands, Schulz said. He didn’t indicate whether that covered the cost.
He said there was a delay in opening the gate for the show, but that things went well.
“He (Nelly) gave me a hug,” Schulz said. “I was told if he walked off without saying anything that wasn’t good, but I got a hug.”
There were about 1,000 people for the performance by American Idol winner Chayce Beckham in the People’s Bank Arena.
The unhappy people
The unhappy people, “very unhappy,” Schulz said, were those who didn’t appreciate the evening’s Ron Diamond hypnotism show being canceled for the Beckham show.
There were also some concerns, “handwritten notes,” said board member Sarah Green about the low number of entries on static exhibits.
That was likely due in part to the early entry deadline – by Aug. 20 for open class – and the fact that special needs programs didn’t enter any painting or photography exhibits this year.
Lofton said there was also disappointment only six people created quilt blocks for the veteran’s quilt, “which meant someone else made all the blocks.”
Besides working ticket booths, several board members spent hours on Saturday cleaning trays and tables in Cottonwood Court.
Schulz suggested each vendor be required to supply at least two volunteers to clean tables next year, though staff would be willing to continue to clean trays.
The Kansas Highway Patrol report included 11 medical calls on Saturday, five criminal cases opened and two “incidents.”
Sunday’s meeting included a 10-minute executive session with the board’s legal counsel via Zoom, but the board took no action.