Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Zipped Up: Fair Gets New Spice

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Zipped Up: Fair Gets New Spice

Article excerpt

The Illinois State Fair hopes to make a splash this year with some modifications.

The 144-year-old state fair isn't about to cast off its traditional repertoire of corn dogs, carnival rides, livestock contests, plus cooking and craft expos when it opens Friday. It is trying to lure a new audience with a dash of Hollywood, a mix of music and feats of derring-do.

Take, for instance, one of this year's premier attractions: a free high-dive show five times a day with divers taking the plunge off a 90-f oot tower into a 10-foot-deep pool of water.

"If people haven't been to the fair in a while this would be a good year to try it because of all the changes," said fair manager Joe Saputo.

For the second straight year, the 10-day fair is nearly financially self-sufficient. The state contributes $644,000 out of $920,000 in prize money.

If the fair is to turn a profit, organizers said, it has to offer attractions are fresh and attract people to Springfield and put up with the often sultry August weather.

"You really need the extra pizazz that says to people, `We really have to go to the fair,' " Saputo said.

The fair has added eight days of rodeo, including a two-day state final for youngsters in kindergarten through 8th grade, and a three-day open rodeo for anyone to participate.

For kids addicted to calf-roping and barrel-racing, the fair will give them an unaccustomed treat - performing in front of a large crowd.

"Most of the ones that we compete in have mostly parents in the audience. This is going to be a real first," said Tricia Walsh, 14, of Danvers, the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association Princess.

The grandstand lineup features a little bit of everything: rock, oldies, Christian music and country, although that alone isn't powerful e nough to draw from the tip to toe of Illinois.

"We can draw from Decatur, Peoria, Bloomington, sometimes St. Louis. But for persons who are going to go back home for the night, anything further than that means a long drive. Plus, larger cities get these acts anyway, so it's not a big deal for them," Saputo said.

So, organizers must market the fair, and that means wooing corporate sponsors and beefing up promotions, especially in Chicago. …

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