The 68th year of the Warren County A&L Fair has come to a close and, according to Fair President Regan Kelsey, it was a historic one. “Both in attendance and financially, this was the biggest year ever for the fair. The extra three days of rides and an unprecedented run of good weather all came together at the right time to make it happen,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey estimates the fair saw 165,000 attendees over the nine days with an estimated local economic impact of $750,000 - $1 million. “The unseen economic impact from the fair is we have 13 large food booths and many of them are buying a lot of their stuff locally and putting money back into the county,” Kelsey said.
Betty Perry of Eva’s Concessions attests to that assertion. “We’ve had maybe our best year we’ve ever had. We bought Walmart out of sugar and had to go to Manchester to get more,” Perry said Saturday afternoon. Multiple food booths reported complete sell-outs of many items before the fair came to a close.
Perhaps the most noticeable change this year came to the carnival area as Crescent City Amusements replaced Kissel Entertainment who opted-out of their contract to go to the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville.
“Kissel’s not coming back. And Cumberland Valley Shows isn’t coming back because they went out of business several years ago. Change is inevitable so we had to adapt,” Kelsey said. A big factor in the carnival search was the fair board’s determination to not change the traditional fair dates. Ultimately, the decision was made to go with Crescent City Amusements out of Slidell, Louisiana.
“We were very happy with Crescent City. This was their first year here and their first experience working a show in Tennessee. The two for $25 ride special on Wednesday night was the highest grossing night we had and also the largest attendance night we had.” Kelsey said. “We knew they weren’t as big as Kissel but the quality of their rides, the appearance of their games, food trailers and their overall operation was on par with Kissel, plus all of their stuff is safety accredited. I know some folks were upset about the lack of some rides. Right before our fair they had some rides tear up. Due to supply chain issues they weren’t able to get them fixed in time. He had a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Zipper and a Gravitron that he couldn’t bring this year. His company is trending up and we’re looking forward to growing with them. We’ve addressed some issues with the Crescent City owner, one of them being the lighting and he’s already got plans to address that next year. We will have more rides next year and we will have additional lighting.”
Kelsey has been part of the Fair Board since joining alongside his father in October, 1991. He assumed the presidency with the passing of Kenneth Medlen in 2019, meaning 2020 was Kelsey’s first full year as president. And, due to COVID, it was a less than ideal time to take control.
“Since I took office, the first thing I had to do was cancel a fair. Last year the delta variant hit around fair time. And after my second year, we had to search for a new carnival company for the first time since 1954, because Kissel took over Cumberland Valley’s contract so we didn’t have to find them. So we’ve gone from no fair two years ago to a full nine-day fair with record attendance this year so apparently we’re doing something right.”
Kelsey is quick to give credit to the many volunteers and to the fair board members for the continuing success of the event.
“I’ve been through some trials and tribulations to begin my presidency but I couldn’t do any of it without the tremendous board we have. This is the best collection of people we’ve ever had in my experience. People don’t understand, this is one big family.”
And in many cases, he means that literally. Kelsey’s father triggered his interest in the fair. Now, his wife, Jenny, is on the board. His daughter is an associate board member and his son was added to the fair board last year.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the local fair is its status as a completely free event. “When the fair association was chartered in 1954, the clause was included that it was to always remain a free fair. So if we ever got to the point where we couldn’t operate as a free fair, the association would have to be dissolved and I don’t know what would happen. But I can tell you right now, there is nobody who wants that to change. As far as I know this is the only completely free fair in the state of Tennessee. We don’t charge admission, we don’t charge for parking and we don’t charge for events.” Kelsey said.
“Our reason for existence is to promote agriculture and livestock related activities in Warren County. That is our mission statement,” Kelsey said.