GRAND ISLAND — Executive Director Bill Ogg feels good about this year’s Nebraska State Fair, which opens Friday.
“It’s my job to be the cheerleader for the fair,” Ogg said. “But I am genuinely excited about this year’s fair.”
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Concerns about social gatherings due to COVID-19 “are really more behind us than they were last year,” he said. He thinks people are hungry for the ”wholesome social interaction” that the fair delivers.
A lot of big-name country artists are touring the country this summer.
But Ogg is pleased the fair’s entertainment lineup is “diversified enough that people are responding fairly well to our concert offerings.“
Tickets certainly remain, but Ogg said the fair is close to covering the cost to book entertainers as part of its concert lineup.
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The fair hopes to at least break even on its concert costs, which total about $750,000.
“But that’s just one spoke of a large wheel for the fair,” Ogg said.
The numbers look good for open-class exhibits, which will include 3,500-plus entries in the fair’s education department. That’s almost a thousand entries more than 2021, Ogg said.
The 4-H and FFA livestock entries “are very much on-par with 2021.”
This is the third Nebraska State Fair for Ogg, who has worked at fairs in other states.
One thing that makes Nebraska’s fair different is the income it receives from the Nebraska Lottery.
“It allows us to host a fair that is 40% larger than what we could sustain (through) operating revenues,” Ogg said.
The fair’s $10 million budget includes $4 million in annual lottery funds.
In addition to bringing in attractions, that money allows the fair to provide more in awards and prizes than it would be able to without the funding. “We can do those kind of things without chewing my nails (worrying that) I’m going to make payroll every month,” Ogg said.
Ogg has learned a lot about fairs over the course of his career.
He’s surely learned what works.
“I’ve learned a lot what doesn’t work,” he said, laughing.
While there’s some uncertainty in putting a fair together, Ogg enjoys his job.
“I genuinely love this job,” he says.
Communities can have rodeos, concerts and motor sports events anytime during the year.
But a fair combines those activities with competitive exhibits involving livestock, baking and quilts.
“That’s what makes a fair the attraction and reunion that it is,” Ogg said.
Two of the new offerings at this year’s fair combine feats of athleticism with water.
Dogs will run, fly, catch flying discs and swim in the Super Retriever Series show. The canine extravaganza will be the fair’s first weekend. “I think that’s going to be cool,” Ogg said.
Ogg is also excited about the Flying Fools High Dive Show. Tremendous athletes, Ogg said, will dive from 80 feet in the air into 12 feet of water.
Three high-dive shows a day will be presented throughout the fair. Ogg believes that people might want to see the show more than once because “it’s pretty impressive.”
For the second year in a row, Happy Together will be the concert at this year’s Older Nebraskans Day.
The concert begins at 2 p.m. on Monday in the Heartland Events Center.
“They were very well-received last year,” Ogg said.
The oldies show brings together eight acts, some of which change each year.
While the Turtles, the Cowsills, Gary Puckett and other acts will be back, some will be different.
Ogg likes the variety of this year’s fair concerts.
A stop in Grand Island was one of more than 50 concerts canceled this year by Lady A. The group made the move to support singer Charles Kelley in his path to sobriety.
Normally, one country entertainer would be replaced by another. But the surplus of strong country acts on tour this year made the fair “think about something totally different,” and “maybe try to attract an audience that has been underserved this summer,” Ogg said.
The fair decided to replace Lady A with Flo Rida on Sept. 3.
After three or four days of tickets sales, “we’ve already sold 70% of the tickets that we had sold for Lady A,” Ogg said. So the response has been “not bad.”
With Flo Rida, “we’ll have the opportunity to entertain and attract some folks who otherwise may not have been motivated to come to the fair,” Ogg said, referring to people in their 20s and 30s.
Four of this year’s concerts will take place outdoors, at an area set up near the Fonner Park racetrack. The only music act at the indoor Heartland Events Center will be Happy Together.
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Beyond the concert series, the fair will feature music, dancing and entertainment in a variety of genres, from polka to Latin music, Ogg said.
More than 4,000 hours of entertainment are presented to fairgoers at no additional cost once they’re on the grounds.
Organizing a fair each year is a balancing act between keeping things the way they were and doing something new.
Many people, for instance, want to see a favorite concession stand “in the same place that they remember,” Ogg said.
Knowing what to change and what to keep can be difficult, Ogg said.
This year’s fairgoers will notice that some things have changed.
“We’re really working hard on strengthening the entire Fonner Park campus, if you will, to move our people and our guests around — give them a chance to be entertained, be educated, stay longer,” Ogg said.
Changes are meant to strengthen parts of the fairgrounds and reduce heavy traffic in others. One goal is to give people more experiences sooner once they arrive at the fair.
On the calendar, a noticeable change is the Veterans Day program, which traditionally has been on Labor Day. This year it will be on Tuesday.
Local veterans “wanted a day other than Labor Day,” Ogg said. “They felt they would have better participation on a weekday than they would on that Monday holiday.”
Still, moving the veterans program allowed the fair to do something different.
An equestrian-themed circus called Cirque Ma’Ceo will be presented in the Heartland Events Center on Sept. 4-5. Admission is free to the troupe’s five performances.
Videos, photos: The 2021 Nebraska State Fair
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