Wapsie Experience (9/14/17)

Ken Donnelly · Wednesday, September 13, 2017
We begin the third and last column on the history of the Muscatine County Fair with emphasis on the entertainment highlights. I am exhausted from visiting several dozen fairs from 1918 to 1987.

In my imagination I have won more Kewpie dolls on the Midway than I can carry, I have eaten so many funnel cakes and drunk that special lemonade so often as to induce a diabetic coma, my lungs have inhaled far too much exhausts from countless stock car races and auto daredevil acts as well as pungent manure from many, many harness races.

The Rotary Club always provided me with their famous turkey tenderloins and drumsticks as I "walked" several hundred miles over the fairgrounds from WWI to Vietnam.

1988, August 10-14

General admission was just $2! For the first time ever, the fair had three nights of big-name musical entertainers that included the return of the Statler Brothers (three years before, the famous quartet had set an all-time attendance record). This time they matched, and maybe exceeded, 1985.

On another night, Ricky Van Shelton, a rising country music star, wowed large audiences.

"It was also the first time for a rock and roll singer", wrote the Index. Richard Marx, unknown to me, was the singer. Fair Manager Ruthetta Smith commented: "It's too early to know if a rock and roll band would be brought in next year....We need to plan our future fairs thinking of young people… We need to keep them interested in the fair and make sure that the tradition continues." (Almost 30 years later, have they succeeded, teenagers?)

Two final notes for this year; Ann Morrison of West Liberty was Queen of the Fair; the Rotary Club offered turkey tenderloins for $1.75 and smoked turkey drumsticks for $1.50 (I sold drumsticks for $6.00 this July).

1989, August 9-13

The headliner was Charley Pride, who performed at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. This unique African-American country singer already had thirty-five number one hit singles, including "Kiss An Angel Good Morning" and " All I Have To Offer You Is Me."

"Shenandoah" was billed as an exciting new group and appeared on Thursday and Friday nights. "Dogs on Skis" offered a concert and dance one night.

1990, August 8-12

Ruthetta Smith was given a special plaque for 20 years service at the fair office, six of them were as manager. Barry Brauns was announced as her successor for next year.

The big amphitheater show was Ricky Skaggs on Sunday evening, he was a crowd pleaser as “He performed longer than he was contracted for and afterwards he met with the public."

1992, August 12-16

Well-known entertainers this year included Eddie Rabbitt. "I Love A Rainy Night" and "Drivin My Life Away" were among the hits he belted out for the appreciative crowd.

Another evening it was Ronnie McDowell with the group "American Pie". You may remember his hits "Older Women" and "You're Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation" (I don’t).

Temperatures were in the mid 90s for most of the fair and the heat humidity index was around 110 degrees for the fair parade. Carrie Mills, sponsored by the West Liberty Rotary Club was crowned queen.

1994, July 20-24

An abrupt change in the fair dates from recent years. The opening day was three weeks ahead of the usual fair date, the third Wednesday in July instead of the second Wednesday in August.

What caused the change? The Iowa State Fair began on Aug. 11 this year. Mr. Brauns could not open our fair one week earlier as that conflicted with the nearby Mississippi Valley Fair. Opening the fair two weeks earlier and it went up against the Louisa, Johnson and Cedar county fairs .So we went to the third Wednesday in hot July (This must have been about the time Iowa schools opened before Labor Day).

The big shows on successive evenings were Billy Dean, a country music star, and Tanya Tucker. She had been scheduled to appear in 1993, but severe weather canceled her coming.

1996, July 17-21

Martina McBride and Rick Trevino performed together. A large crowd also got to hear Tracy Byrd, another country music star. Fair Secretary Brauns estimated that 40,000 to 45,000 people went through the gates over the five days.

One thing I would have liked to have seen was "Blaze", the Balloon Blowing Goat !!! (I would have preferred him over the three afore mentioned singers.)

1998, July 12-16

This year it was Patty Loveless, a top female vocalist. Remember her songs? They included ”If My Heart Had Windows" and "A Thousand Times A Day". Taking the stage as well was singer, songwriter, Toby Keith from Oklahoma. My beloved next door neighbor, Gregg Guinn, fondly recalled playing 18 holes of golf with Toby earlier in the day of his performance.

2001, July 18-22

Barry Brauns stepped down after a very successful eleven years as Board Secretary. His farewell remarks included: "It's been a good one to go out on. We always have good help, and it's been a pleasure to do this so long."

Sammy Kershaw and Lee Ann Womack "I Hope You Dance" delighted the crowd on a hot July evening. If you have the fair in July, you can count on it being very hot. The Index spoke of humidity making it feel like 110 degrees and up to 115 sometimes on the fairgrounds.

2002, July 17-21

An Index headline: "FAIR PACKS THEM IN, DESPITE HOT, HUMID WEATHER." This year country western fans got to see and hear Terri Clark and Neal McCoy. On Saturday night the Index reported: “He (McCoy) joked before the show that he liked it hot for his shows and got his wish. He had the crowd creating their own breeze swaying to the music."

Index editor McIlheran had high praise for one aspect of our fair as follows:

“I spoke with several of the vendors as well.They all said the same thing, the Muscatine County Fair was the best fair they attend. One of them said, ‘We are treated better here than at any fair. They show us respect. They treat us well and there is none of the politics that you see at the other fairs.’”

2004, July 21-25

On Friday night it was Chris Le Doux, another country western singer. On Saturday night is was Sawyer Brown, a country rock singer. An estimated 34,000 came to the fair during the five days.

Heavy rains hit the fair on Thursday morning, our local newspaper printed a photo of Fair Board President Phil McIntire and Past President Harry Christofferson, spending the afternoon scooping mud out of the grandstand.

2006, July 19-23

Country music stars Chris Cagle and Trick Pony were the big acts. Crowds were estimated this year at around 34,000.

2007, July 18-22

This year it was ”Heartland" on Saturday, followed by Billy Carrington on Friday. Boogie Boyz in the Beer Garden and "Cowboy Kahuna" kicked things off in the Grove.

BULLETIN! Billy Carrington has received doctor's orders to rest his voice due to laryngitis caused by an upper respiratory infection. In response Diamond Rio replaced him. Diamond who?

There was an interesting Farm Bureau cookout contest this year; cooks were urged to enter their best beef, poultry, lamb, elk, pork and turkey recipes (Wonder who won the prize for cooking elk?).

2008, July 17-21

Four interesting novelty acts of sort; an All-American Lumberjack show and log rolling; a wing eating contest and monster arm wrestling contest, a home brew contest in the grandstand sponsored by Millstream Brewing in Amana. Bring any cider, beer or mead brewed at home.

2010, July 21-25

A year for tributes it would seem! On Friday it was 7 Bridges Road, a tribute band to the Eagles. On Saturday Hell's Bells, a tribute band to AC/DC.

"Hatchet Jack", an Iowa City Regina graduate, had his wings eating contest again, the winner was none other than my neighbor, Bryce Esmoil.

2012, July 18-22

The Bill Riley Talent Show was the big event.

2015, July 15-19

Ginger Smith and Earl Dibbles were the opening acts.The Index reported: "The grandstands will host live music for the first time in several years.."

2016, July 20-24

The 155th Year of the Fair, the theme was "History in the Making".

Music was provided by Electric Shock, an AC/DC cover band in the Midway Pavillion. John Pardi was the main act in the grandstands.

2017, July 19-23

William Michael Morgan was the main performer. Heavy rain and tornado sirens caused Saturday races to be cancelled. It was the intense heat and humidity throughout that made this last fair so memorable.

Concluding, can we agree that we still have, after over a century and a half, one of the best county fairs in Iowa? Nationally known country and western singers may have peaked in the 80's and 90's. Want to see Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift? Go to the State Fair in Des Moines and be prepared to spend a lot of money.

Write a letter to the editor with your favorite fair story. Thanks.
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