By RICK WAGNER
GRAY — The corn dogs, funnel cakes, merry-go-round, ring-toss games and Ferris wheel are coming back, along with music performers, canned food and produce competitions and a pageant.
You can’t quite smell the food from Exit 10 of Interstate 26 or buy music performance tickets yet, but at least the plan is for those to move forward this year at the Gray Fairgrounds.
After taking a year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Appalachian Fair in Gray plans to return Aug. 23-28 for its 94th incarnation.
“We’re getting a lot of good, positive feedback from our Facebook and website,” fair manager Phil Booher said in a recent phone interview. The fair announced in late January in local media and social media that it planned to have a 2021 edition.
Although details on entertainers likely won’t be announced until June, Booher said the fair board is hoping to sign country, contemporary Christian and possibly bluegrass performers to be at an event that also traditionally has things like a demolition derby, wildlife and farm animal displays, as well as 4-H and FFA shows and competitions.
Past years also have included pony rides.
And then there are the midway rides for kids and adults. James H. Drew Expositions, the Georgia-based operation, did only one 2020 fair in November but began the 2021 season with a fair in Georgia this month and plans a season of travel.
Booher said Drew has provided rides at the fair for 65 or 70 years or maybe longer.
The fair began in 1926 and aside from 2020 and for a time during World War II, it has been held each year since then.
“It’s not falling into place,” Booher said when asked about organizing the event after a year’s hiatus.
“Just like everything else, our entertainers have requirements they can do and we have our requirements,” Booher said of booking music acts.
By August, he said, Appalachian Fair officials hope social distancing requirements are loosened.
“If there’s social distancing, I don’t think we’ll be able to do concerts,” Booher said.
Booher said food vendors, many of which are nonprofit civic clubs that use the hot dogs, corn dogs, hamburgers and other fair food as annual fundraisers, are looking to coming back.
Other commercial vendors, ranging from insurance companies and other businesses that set up booths to promote their businesses and often give away free items, also have expressed interest in returning.
“We’re not sure what kind of vendors are going to be showing up as far as our commercial vendors,” Booher said, adding that as of late March about 50% have expressed strong interest in returning this year.
Meanwhile, the fairgrounds stay utilized year-round with collectibles shows and sales, other sales, auctions and other such events throughout the year.
Booher said attendance at those events has been good and that they include social distancing.