Sure it rained on Friday. And yes, the wind blew. But no, it didn’t stop the Kenai Peninsula. When the gates opened at 9:30 a.m., the public, performers and vendors were ready for some fun.
Rain was exactly what Deb Greeson of Alaska Crystal Cache in Anchorage had planned for.
“We know it generally rains during the fair, but we love it, we love the people,” said Greeson who did a booming business selling umbrellas.
Pink “Hello Kitty” umbrellas. Black and white panda umbrellas. Red and black ladybug umbrellas. Blue dolphin umbrellas. Youngsters and grandparents alike were snatching up Greeson’s offerings to ward off Friday’s rain.
How many umbrellas did Greeson sell?
“A lot,” said Greeson.
For all the work Rio Shemet-Pitcher of Homer put into his ribbon-winning fair entry, it seemed he might have known rain was in the forecast. The 11-year-old earned a purple division-champion ribbon for the model of the “Titanic” built with an estimated 7,000 Legos.
“I worked on it for about six months,” said Rio, whose hard work earned an “amazing” comment from the judges.
Emily Coble, also from the southern peninsula, won a purple ribbon for her rhubarb pie.
“Excellent choice of crust. The timing was good, right amount of doneness. Good contrast of tart-sweet,” the judges said.
Emily is no stranger to submitting fair entries.
“I’ve been entering for a few year and won a purple division-champion ribbon for a drawing of a raven when I was really little,” said Emily.
Jayce Miller, 14, of White Mountain Ranch on East End Road, received a purple ribbon for his pumpkin. It was Jayce’s first fair entry and one the judges considered “beautiful.”
His advice to other farmers?
“Grow them in old cow manure,” he said.
His plans for the ribbon-winning pumpkin?
“It might make a really good pie,” said Jayce.
Fawna Johnson’s green thumb also earned a purple ribbon for the turnip the 11-year-old grew in her family’s Anchor Point garden.
“Colossal!” the judges said.
According to Fawna’s mother, Bettyann Steciw, Fawna has four more turnips just like that one remaining in the garden.
“We love them,” said Steciw of the family’s appetite for turnips. “We mix them with mashed potatoes to make them sweeter tasting.”
Fiber artists from the southern peninsula also brought home ribbons, including Linda Lempe, whose floor-length, lined gray and white brocade formal gown received a division-champion ribbon.
“This is lovely,” the judges said.
While Homer area residents might know Charlene Ditton as an information officer at the Legislative Information Office, fairgoers will recognize Ditton’s name as the quilter who made the “fireweed on the meadow” quilt, another division champion winner. Based on the same pattern Margaret Lau used for “cattails on the meadow,” one of the many beautiful items displayed in the fair’s quilt show, Ditton’s version stood out.
“Your own design of fireweed is awesome. Colors beautiful. Nicely done. Corners are good. Binding beautiful,” the judges said.
“My gosh, I’ve got to find out who those judges were,” said a laughing Ditton when she learned of winning the ribbon.
The popular Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs never failed to draw a crowd at reach of their races throughout the day. They will now travel to the state fair in Palmer.
Friday marked the fair’s first “Red Shirt Friday.” That’s red as in “remember everyone deployed.” Volunteer Debbie Carey of Inlet View Inn arranged fair-goers wearing red shirts, jackets, hats and even the red lids of recycle bins into the shape of a heart around a banner which was then photographed with the help of a Homer Electric Association lift truck.
“A huge shout-out to the Elks, Sweeney’s Clothing, Tesoro and HEA for making this all come together,” said Lara McGinnis, the fair’s executive director.
Numerous musical performances kept Friday’s damp atmosphere sizzling. All the way from Nashville, headliner Herrick took to the Ocean Stage wrapped in layers of clothing to ward off Friday evening’s chilly temperatures. Within a song or two, however, vocalist and mandolin player Donna Herrick was surprised to find herself too warm and peeled off her coat under the stage’s warm lighting.
Noting the distance separating the Ocean State from their tent-covered audience, fiddle-playing Kari Nelson of the Nashville-based Kari and Billy paid the fair crowd a high compliment.
“They brag down south about being country. This is country,” said Nelson. “And we love country.”
Fair board president Marti Krohn even got in some music playing when she grabbed a guitar and joined her son and his group, Dirty River Ramblers from Nebraska, on stage.
Not all the music was on stag, however. An estimated 50 dancers from Vergine’s Dance Studio in Soldotna caught everyone by surprise and quickly drew a large crowd with their flash mob performance of “Gangnam Style.” They kept fair-goers guessing Saturday and Sunday, with more unexpected performances.
As it turned out, Friday was the slowest day of the fair’s three days. The gates closed at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“The total attendance was about 1,500, which is about 1,000 down from the lowest average,” said McGinnis.
In addition to the weather, a vehicle accident Friday near Stariski was part of the reason for the drop in fair numbers, according to McGinnis. (See related story.)
“Our revenues at the gate were down $4,000 on Friday, but the rest of the weekend was amazing,” said McGinnis, who had to sit out much of the fair due to laryngitis and an ear infection.
“It was the best fair I ever missed,” she said.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.