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Wise County’s history enriched by a century’s worth of good times at the fairgrounds

Stephen Igo • Jun 3, 2013 at 11:39 PM

WISE — When the gates opened Monday afternoon to the Wise County Fairgrounds, 100 years of history was there to greet the crowds along with all the other things for which county fairs are known and celebrated.

The Virginia- Kentucky District Fair & Horse Show celebrates its centennial this week, an entire century’s worth of name performers, cotton candy, giddy rides and good times that have entertained generations across the region.

The 100th VA-KY District Fair contains all that is familiar, from the James H. Drew Exposition rides and games on the midway to the livestock at McDonald’s Farm, and reminders of 99 fairs of yesteryear in the form of posters, photographs signed by performers and other memorabilia.

“We have a display of a lot of memorabilia of previous years that (fair) committee members have kept over the years and brought it in and finally show it all in one place,” said Fair Committee Chairman Lawton Mullins.

He pointed to photos of the Statler Brothers’ bus caught in traffic when the group performed in 1978, delivering to the fairgrounds what is believed to be the fair’s biggest single-night crowd ever.

“They finally had to get a police escort just to get into the fairgrounds themselves,” Mullins said.

Mullins pointed to another photo of the Sanders Brothers, a popular regional band performing for the 35th straight year at the fair — in 1987.

“They were a staple for the fair right up until the mid-1990s, when they just couldn’t go on doing it any more,” he said. “They were always a crowd pleaser and will always be a huge part of the fabric of the history of this place.”

A lot of threads of the Mullins family are also woven into that fabric. Mullins grew up with one week every summer of the fair in his blood. His grandfather, Shelcy Mullins, was involved in the fair in one role or another for 55 years, with 25 of those as the chairman of the fair committee.

“Papaw is still pretty involved, especially this year. He’s been out here this year more than ever in recent years,” said Mullins, who was bequeathed the chairmanship role three years ago when his grandfather passed the keys to his grandson.

“Lawton’s been here ever since he’s been born,” Shelcy Mullins said while posing next to his grandson on a carnival ride. “I remember when he was 4 and his sister 2, and they were here and he told me he would be on the committee one day. And I’ve always said he’s been on it since he was born.”

There was a time Shelcy would try out every carnival ride that appeared at the fair every year.

“The Tilt-a-Whirl was my all-time favorite,” he said. “Oh yeah, back some time ago I rode on every ride every year. They’d bring ’em here, and I’d ride ’em.”

This year’s centennial version of the fair actually got under way on Sunday, sort of, seeing as how the planned parade and mud bog competition got rained out. While rain and mud bog seem to go together nicely, Lawton Mullins said the prospect is more fun for participants than spectators.

So the Mud Bog Competition has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday. Monday’s lineup included baby pageants and a demolition derby, and then things get cranking today with extreme bull riding at 7 p.m. in the Horse Show Arena, the Brooklyhn Woods concert at the Main Stage at 7 p.m., followed by the Casey James Concert at 8 p.m. Gates will open at 4 p.m. today.

As usual for VA-KY District Fairs since beyond anyone can recall and possibly back to 1913, Wednesday is Kids Day from noon until 6 p.m. — when $10 will let kids ride all the rides they want for those six hours. This year’s Kids Day features Ben ‘Cooter’ Jones and the General Lee, but keep an eye out for the Flying Circus as well.

Gates open at 11 a.m. Thursday, and featured events will include All Star Wrestling at the Horse Show Arena at 7 p.m., Ben ‘Cooter’ Jones and Cooter’s Garage Band at 7 p.m., and the Miss VA-KY District Fair Scholarship Pageant beginning at 8 p.m.

Tyler Farr will perform Friday night, and the Folk Soul Revival Convert will wrap up 100 years’ worth of performances on Saturday night.

Gate admission prices are $8 for ages 12 and up, $2 for ages 6-11, and all kids age 5 and under are admitted free. All concerts are free with paid admission. The Drew Exposition offers one price rides every night for $20 except for the $10 special on Kids Day and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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