State Fair draws near

Thursday, September 1, 2011 - 13:29
<em><font face="serif">Tickets going fast for top events, says Ray Ritari</font face="serif"></em>
Alaska State Fair general manager Ray Ritari listens to a question from an audience member during a presentation to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 3 at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River.

It’s fair to say that one Alaska event stands alone as the biggest shindig of the summer.

Alaska State Fair general manager Ray Ritari stopped by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon Aug. 3 to give folks a sneak preview of this year’s festivities, which run from Aug. 25 through Sept. 5 in Palmer.

“Three thousand Alaskan entertainers are going to be out on the fairgrounds during those 12 days,” Ritari told the chamber.

In addition to the usual fair fare of Alaskan food, booths and rides, Ritari said he’s also excited about the performers coming from Outside — including one traveling all the way from Lake Wobegon.

You’d better get your Garrison Keillor tickets fast,” he said of the popular variety show host who’ll perform Sunday, Aug. 28.

Other big acts this year include Queensryche, Foghat, the Charlie Daniels Band and Staind.

The event, which according to its Web site began as a small gathering of Mat-Su colonists in 1936, is celebrating its 75th birthday this year. Ritari said as a way to help promote the event, organizers have beefed up their mid-week promotions.

“We’re trying to encourage weekday attendance,” he said.

That includes the fair’s opening day, when anyone can get in for just $2 between noon and 2 p.m.

Last year’s fair attracted just under 300,000 fairgoers despite mostly rainy weather. Ritari said that’s a good number for a rainy year, and noted that the Palmer Fairgrounds are already straining under the volume of traffic.

“Where the fair is struggling is infrastructure,” he said.

Ritari said the private nonprofit that runs the fair is working to slowly add upgrades to facilities through grants and other funding, and noted that the group is working with Alpine Energy to develop a co-generation power plant on the site.

Ritari said the fair is in good financial shape, and that its continued health and growth is something both fairgoers and those in the local business communities near Palmer should be aware of.

“The fair helps business,” he said.

He pointed to a study the fair commissioned several years ago that the event generated nearly $22 million in economic benefits.

“And we think it’s probably closer to $30 million today,” he said.

As for the notoriously fickle fair weather, Ritari said he’s hopeful people have a good time whether in sunshine or showers.

“We’ve really tried to program for the whole family,” he said.

For more information on the fair, including event schedules, maps, tickets and more, visit Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]

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