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State fair opens with attendance increase

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Indiana State Fair attendance is officially up so far this year thanks to a pair of opening-weekend concerts.

Those concerts, however, took place in downtown Indianapolis, so crowd at the Indiana State Fairgrounds may actually be down a little.

Through Monday, attendance for the first four days of the event was up 3 percent from the same four days last year, topping 205,500, fair spokesman Andy Klotz said.

The fair has set an overall attendance goal this year of 875,000, a figure based on the average number of visitors the past five years.

The fair is attempting to rebound from last year’s tragic stage collapse, which killed seven people and injured dozens more as high winds knocked down stage rigging Aug. 13 prior to a Sugarland concert.

Fair officials canceled several big concerts in the wake of the disaster and closed for a day, leading to an attendance drop of 8 percent from the previous year.  State Fair revenue fell from $11.9 million in 2010 to $8.4 million in 2011.

Headline concerts this year were moved downtown to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Barry Manilow and Train performed shows over the weekend. Journey follows on Wednesday and Blake Shelton plays Aug. 17.

Last year, there were no major concerts held during the first weekend of the fair.

Ticket sales for the downtown concerts will be included in the fair attendance, but many of those who attend the concerts may never show up at the fairgrounds. Along with their tickets, the concertgoers receive free admission to any day of the 17-day event that runs through Aug. 19.

Fair organizers expect many to take advantage of the admission offer, Klotz said.

“I’ve been to both [Barry Manilow and Train], and I was inundated with questions about whether their ticket gets them into any day of the fair,” he said. “That tells me people are still planning on going to the fair.”

To replace the big concerts at the fairgrounds, the grandstand is offering more thrill-based entertainment, like motorcycle races, tractor pulls and monster truck rallies.

And a permanent free stage at the fair is featuring acts such as REO Speedwagon, MC Hammer and Ted Nugent.

Vendors at the fairgrounds say weather may play a bigger role in driving business than a lack of concert crowds. Daytime highs are expected to stay out of the 90s during the coming week.

Tim Coffman at Red Barn Elephant Ears said sales at his stand were a “little slow” during the past weekend, which he attributed to 90-degree temperatures in addition to the loss of concerts. But Coffman remained upbeat about the potentially milder weather.

"I’m not discouraged yet,” Coffman said. “Talk to me after next weekend.”

Barb Beach of Beach Concessions, which sells cotton candy and caramel corn near the Midway, said business took a dramatic decline last year after the concert tragedy.

“My hope is that this year will be really huge,” she said  “I had my momentum going last year, but I’m not complaining. My loss is nothing compared to those people’s.”

Weather indeed affects fair attendance more than any other factor, Klotz said.

“We could have the Stones, Springsteen and LMFAO in the grandstand every night,” he said, “and it wouldn’t matter if it was raining or 100 degrees.”

Headline acts will return to the fairgrounds in 2014 but will take place in the coliseum once a renovation of the facility is finished.
 

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  • Holy Expensive
    I love the State Fair, but I'm a man of modest means, and not underprivileged by any measure. I have a family of four and $100 can go too quick. $5 for a slushee, $3 per hot-dog, and $5-8 for any drink is too much. Not a water fountain in site, or maybe I just missed them, I don't know. $2-$4 per kid/ per ride was excessive. Although I have to give kudos to the attention to detail on the maintenance of the rides - measured by lightbulbs that worked was excellent. We attended 1 time, but that was it. We would attend a 2nd time if we could experience a better bang for our buck, but it was simply too much. I know there are coupons, free days, etc... but who the heck wants to go when it's going to be so crowded? Not me, I don't like long lines and King's Island is about the same price.

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