The 2013 Indiana State Fair passes into history as the fair that helped re-establish the tradition of attending a great state fair. The lingering tragedy of 2011 when the grandstand stage collapsed plus 2012's unbearable heat did a number on the last two fairs. Unusually cool, favorable weather helped the 2013 version rebound in attendance and spirit.
We're going to report our opinion here – observations made from what we saw and from people we talked with. This isn't a formal interview. In due time, rather shortly, we will ask for an interview with Indiana State Fair officials to give them a chance to discuss their plans for the future.
People adapted: Exhibitors for the most part figured out how to adapt to not having the Coliseum to work with. Some weren't very happy about some of the things they had to do, but most understood. However, the underlying assumption was that this was a one year transition, and next year they would regain use of facilities they had before. That remains to be seen.
Crowds loved the Glass Barn: The Indiana Soybean Alliance hit a home run with the Glass Barn. Whether it was the futuristic design, the fact that it was air conditioned on warm days, or the fact that people genuinely want to know where their food comes from – whatever the draw, it was a hit. Whoever dreamed up the idea of the photo booth and emailing yourself a souvenir post card should get a raise!
New 'old' tractors added to Pioneer Village: Threshing with the old Huber tractor was a crowd pleaser. Four tractors were donated by Robert Stwalley and Family, Crawfordsville, earlier this year. The intent was to run the largest on the separator, but a radiator problem limited how much it was on the thresher. The medium-sized Huber got a workout.
Kiddie Land worked: If the intent was for kids to beg to see Kiddie Land as mom and dad drove in, it worked. My grandson did that exact thing. It chewed up some prime real estate, but did offer something different for families.
"We can't see the horses": This was a common refrain, especially from those who didn't know they couldn't watch the hitches compete before they got to the fair. Come on, guys. Many people who love to watch are under 12 years old or gray-haired. Neither category is going to spend much time watching a video screen. Time and again we heard 'We hope the horse hitches are back in the Coliseum next year."
Mixed reviews: Some claim people told them the youth arena was the best ever for showing. Everyone I talked to used dismal terms – too small, no room to watch, too hot. The 'too hot' can be fixed; the too small and no room to sit are tougher propositions. One respected farmer with three kids showing steers told us the state fair owed parents and grandparents an apology for not being able to see their kids show. He did not get to see one kid show, including in the grand drive, for lack of room. The fair has already promised the grand drive will return to the Coliseum next year. However, beef exhibitors especially are waiting to see where they will show in 2014.
Where is the permanent stage? A concert goer, not a farmer, keeps asking me why they don't build a permanent stage and go back to the grandstand for concerts. We haven't asked, but we will. If tickets cost $50 or more for concerts, he says he'll stay home.
So there you have it: a mixed bag. It's great to see the attitude about the fair in general rebound and crowds come back. The moment of truth is around the corner. What will the fair look like next year? The fair is over, but not "out of sight, out of mind." If you have an opinion, call the state fair office or a director or commissioner and let your voice be heard. Do it now, or don't complain later.