PERRY -- For the first weekend of the Georgia National Fair’s 22nd year, the event is showing few signs of slowing down.
In fact, said public relations director Michelle Treptow, Thursday’s opening day proved to be a record draw for an opening of the fair, and weekend numbers will most likely show an upswing in attendance from the previous year.
“It’s not just the gate that’s up,” said Treptow, who didn’t have specific figures available. “The ride sales, the food vendors -- it’s been a good, busy weekend. We had our best first Saturday ever. People like the fair. They wait for it each year and get excited.”
It likely helped that the fair hosted country music superstar Blake Shelton Saturday night to a standing-room only audience of more than 8,000.
“A lot of people were disappointed about Blake Shelton, because it sold out two or three days before the show,” she said. “It was a tremendous crowd, and he really played to the crowd. Everyone was singing along. It’s always nice when the entertainers recognize the audience.”
Treptow said the upcoming Georgia Jam show Saturday night, featuring Colt Ford, Corey Smith and Rehab, has already sold 60 percent of the available tickets.
As always, the fair features a broad range of events that cater to a wide audience, from food booths and rides to live animals and art exhibitions.
At Heritage Hall Sunday, there was a plethora of ribbon winners from various contests, ranging from 4-H club entries about the environment to a Christmas tree decoration competition.
Joanne Smith, 69, of Dudley, used a beach motif on her Christmas tree. Among the decorations were a variety of seashells and an ornament of Santa Claus in a Hawaiian shirt riding a surfboard.
“This is the first time I’ve decorated a tree here,” said Smith, who worked on the tree with her husband, James, 73. “What we want to remind people of is the beach.”
Adjacent to the Christmas trees was the 4-H food competition, in which middle and high school participants cooked their own creations using meats as exotic as wild turkey, wild hog, venison, perch, shrimp and dove. Judges graded the chefs on their creations’ taste, tenderness, creativity, appearance and safety in food handling.
Savannah Padgett, 12, a student at Bainbridge Middle School, won her age-group’s competition for her venison cube steak, something she learned to make from her father.
“My dad cooked it a lot, and I liked it, so he taught me,” she said, noting that she hunted the deer herself for the meat.
The 4-H high school teams also had live animal competitions during the weekend, including a livestock show.
Warner Robins’ Veterans High School team members were packing up their animals mid-afternoon after having a strong showing during the weekend.
“I think we did pretty well,” senior Julia Joiner said while giving water to her Angus crossbred steer Kahne. “It’s about how we present the cows. It gets done by weight class, how they look, their overall appearance.”
Ashley Whiddon, who coaches the Veterans team, said the fair competition provides an outstanding educational opportunity to her students.
“This is one of the best educational youth opportunities in the nation,” she said. “We exhibit livestock or something we’ve built. This (fair) is one of the most well-rounded youth educational opportunities in the world.”
Though the crowd for Sunday’s fair wasn’t quite as heavy as the previous days because of storm clouds, booth merchants said their business was fairly comparable so far to previous years.
Kenny Nunn of Colorado, who owns a business called Pet ID Tags, said he personally has been to the fair for the past six years and said it’s one of the best-run he attends.
“I go around the country, and this one is up there,” he said. “It’s well laid out and well-managed. Most times, once (other fairs) get your rent, they don’t want to see you. Here, (management) remembers your name. It’s the exception to the rule. The crowd here has been pretty good.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.