The Appalachian Fair swung into action Monday for its 86th annual run at the regional fairgrounds in Gray.
Monday was School Day at the fair and with K-12 students admitted free until 6 p.m., the midway was milling with young thrill seekers within an hour of the gates’ opening at 3.
Fifteen-year-old Kristen Williams and her friends, Shane Fritz and Lexie Campbell with the Future Farmers of America at Johnson County High School, were rushing to make the most of the midway rides Monday afternoon before their 5 p.m. rotation in the livestock show ring where the girls were helping out with the cattle judging. Their early arrival put them in line with the first of this year’s fairgoers to take a turn on the James H. Drew Exposition’s newest ride, the X Factory.
“It was awesome. It was critical. It was wet,” Campbell said as the trio made their exit.
“It’s an exciting piece,” Midway Manager James Graybeal said of the new vertically revolving gondola with water jet fountains that spew up beneath its riders’ feet. Produced in the Netherlands by KNG manufacturing, makers of the scream-raising Cyclops, Graybeal said the X Factory made its debut at the traveling exposition’s final fair date of 2011 and, like the Cyclops, has quickly become a favorite with teenage riders.
Back on the midway after a one year hiatus, the Drew Exposition’s tallest and most visible ride, the Seattle Wheel, was once again elevating riders nearly 100 feet above the fairgrounds. Newly painted and refitted with colored lights and mirrored striping along its wishbones, Graybeal said the gracious old Ferris wheel was built for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 and to this day remains the only one of its kind. Its appearance in the Elvis Presley film, “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” is memorialized by the empty white seat at the ride’s entrance bearing the names of Presley and Vicky Tiu, a co-star in the 1963 film.
The Flying Circus, the spinning swing ride that filled in for the Seattle Wheel at last year’s Appalachian Fair, was also back on the midway Monday, sporting a new set of hand painted canopy panels that Graybeal said were several months in the making. “That’s a real classic piece. A lot of (rides) are going with computer graphics but it took the artist about four months to hand-paint that one,” he said.
“Pretty good. It made me dizzy,” 13-year-old Jayden Stevens critiqued after a spin on the Flying Circus with his friends from Gray School, Tyler Fletcher and A.J. Simerly, and Daniel Boone High School sophomore Hayden Reese.
Graybeal said there are about 34 rides to test fairgoers’ steel on the midway this year, 50 or more midway games to select from and about 15 mostly family-owned carnival food wagons to choose from. “For a lot of people, carnival food is their favorite thing on the midway,” he said.
Tonight is Second Harvest Food Drive Night at the fair with tickets for two free midway rides available for the donation of five cans of food for the food bank. Donations may be made and free ride tickets picked up at Gate 1 and Gate 5, located at the top of the midway and adjacent to the fairs’s main stage. The offer is limited to four 5-can donations per family.
Thursday will be Senior Americans Day and Tennessee Family Community Education Clubs Day at the fair with all seniors age 60 and older admitted for $4, and everyone with a FCE card admitted for free until 6 p.m.
Saturday’s final day of the fair will feature one hour of free fair admission and free midway rides for all from 10 to 11 a.m., and two-for-one ride tickets from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This fair’s lineup of Main Stage musical entertainment kicked off Monday night with a performance by country star Jake Owen. Uncle Kracker will be the main stage performer this evening, followed by Tenth Avenue North, a contemporary Christian group, on Wednesday, Kellie Pickler on Thursday, Hunter Hayes on Friday and bluegrass artists Dailey & Vincent on Saturday.
Hannah Everhart, 17, of Daniel Boone High School, won the annual Fairest of the Fair.
Her parents are Kathy and Conrad Everhart.
The Little Miss Fairest of the Fair pageant is today. Former Miss Johnson City Jessica Nixon and Retroville will perform on the Museum Stage Wednesday and will be followed by a local talent contest on Thursday, Savannah Jack on Friday and Taylor Cochran on Saturday.
All concerts are free with general fair admission. For reserved seating or more information, call the fair office at 477-3211 or visit www.appalachianfair.com.