2017 Fair lineup set

On a cold winter day, the Eastern Montana Fair may seem like it is a long time in the future. But for Fair Manager Gail Shaw, she is already ironing out the final details for the 2017 edition. 

The regional meeting where fair managers book acts and schedule dates was held back in November and even then, according to the chairman of the Custer County Commissioners Kevin Krausz, many of the most popular acts were already booked.

This year the fair landed country music star Aaron Tippin for the Friday night concert. Another highlight on the schedule includes the return of the PRCA Rodeo.

The fair will run from Wednesday through Saturday, and the Mighty Thomas Carnival will fill the midway. The Fair Board likes the company’s cleanliness and quality, and the fact that instead of charging a flat fee, it shares a portion of their revenue with the Fair Board.

Instead of spending around $15,000 to book another carnival, Shaw said the board makes money with the current arrangement. Last year, the Fair Board’s cut was around $3,600.

The end date of the fair was changed to Saturday to accommodate the company. The carnival would have to pull out early if the Fair ran through Sunday to make their next booking.

County Commissioner Jason Strouf said rather than lose some of the popular rides, everyone agreed to moving the EMF date back one day. 

Since the entire budget for the Fair and upkeep of the fairgrounds is $44,000 a year, saving $15,000 and earning $3,600 can really help, officials said.

The $44,000 budget includes putting on the EMF, maintenance on the fairgrounds and paying one full-time and two part-time employees. “We really squeeze our budget to put on the Fair,” says Shaw.

The county is required by ordinance to provide a 4-H fair but everything else is done for the public to enjoy.

And enjoy the fair they do. Shaw said the number of paid admissions was 9,618 in 2014, 10,721 in 2015 and 10,380 in 2016. Last year the gate was down on Wednesday and Thursday, partly because of weather, but attendance was up on Friday and Saturday.

This year will also be the third year since the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rodeo returned to the EMF after several years absence. Because the PRCA circuit is well-established, in order to get quality riders and stock, the rodeo takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

While there was considerable demand for the high level rodeo, turn-out has not been as high as anticipated. The Fair Board signed a three-year contract for the rodeo. While Shaw said the rodeo has had “very good sponsorship,” attendance needs to increase to justify continuing the PRCA rodeo.

Shaw said the stock provider, Kesler Championship Rodeo, told her “it will take three years to get a crowd” and Shaw is hoping he is right. The stock is excellent quality, Shaw emphasized, and 25 percent of the contestants are National Finals Rodeo finalists. Added this year will be a clown/bullfighter/barrel man act that Shaw said she is “really looking forward to.” The board hopes to bring in more speciality acts for the rodeo if the money is available.

Shaw says they are making extra effort to make sure the Home Show building is filled this year, especially since the air conditioning in the building has been improved. They hope to have more local vendors to help fill out the space.

The schedule so far is for Tuesday night, Aug. 22, to open with the PRCA rodeo. There will be no gate fee on Tuesday since the fair itself doesn’t open until Wednesday. 

The gate fee of $3, which goes to provide maintenance for the fairgrounds, will be charged starting on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 3 p.m. with Wednesday being wristband night at the carnival. The carnival will open at 4 p.m. 

Thursday’s feature will be the tractor pull at the Grandstand and Friday will be the concert and fireworks. John Dunnigan will open this year for country music star Aaron Tippin. Tippin has released a total of nine studio albums and two compilations, with five gold certifications and one platinum certification among them. In addition, he has charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including three Number Ones: “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Radio” (1992), “That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You” (1995), and “Kiss This” (2000), as well as the Top 10 hits “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way,” “My Blue Angel,” “Working Man’s Ph.D,” “For You I Will,” and “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly.”

Dunnigan is described on his website as “if Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and John Prine were joined together in some bizarre musical cloning experiment.” He is a Montanan who includes lots of humor along with his music.

Dunnigan will also appear Wednesday through Saturday on the free stage, as will magician Jeff Martin.

Saturday is Demolition Derby Day at the grandstand.

Randy’s Freckle Farm Pony Ride and Petting Zoo will be open with goats, sheep, potbellied pigs, chickens, ducks, bunnies, alpacas and a mini donkey.  Pony rides are available on an enclosed carousel.

For extra excitement this year there will be turkey races, provided by Randy’s Freckle Farm. Shaw said she has seen video of the turkey races and they are hilarious.

There will also be strolling balloon artists, face painters, dancers and fiddlers to liven up the midway.

And, of course, Shaw promised lots and lots of crafts and cooking and animals and traditional Eastern Montana Fair fun.