Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias It won't be long before it's South Dakota State Fair time once again.

This is usually a time when the state does a lot of wishful thinking. Maybe, people have always said to themselves in past years, the fair will do better.

No amount of wishful thinking, or other creative plans, such as requiring that fairgoers buy a large lot of daily admission tickets (whether they plan to attend only one day during the week or not � a bad idea) has been able to halt the fair's downturn in recent years.

But what a difference a year makes.

South Dakota has made a concerted effort to try to resurrect the fair. And so far, those efforts seem to be working.

Probably one of the best things that ever happened to the fair was the change in management style implemented by Gov. Bill Janklow. Hiring Huron native Craig Atkins as fair manager has brought not only new blood but some fresh ideas to the annual event that admittedly has been growing stale in the past 10 years or so.

The results?

Approximately a week after the fair's box office opened in early June, Atkins told the fair board that more than $112,000 in tickets had been sold. More than 80 percent of the ticket sales were for individual tickets. The State Fair set an opening-day box office ticket sales record when it sold $76,000 in grandstand entertainment tickets.

Ticket sales for the Def Leppard concert were especially strong, as the band's performance accounted for more than half of all ticket sales the first week the box office was open. The group, whose Promises album is Billboard's No. 1 selling mainstream rock track in the country, has sold almost $60,000 worth of tickets.

Ticket sales for Alabama and the Statler Brothers were also strong that first week in June, with totals of $20,000 and $16,000, respectively.

Atkins noted that in just the first week of ticket sales, the fair sold more than 40 percent of the $254,000 in total ticket sales last year.

This year's State Fair entertainment line-up includes the Statler Brothers, Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m.; SemiSonic, Sept. 3, 9 p.m.; Def Leppard, Sept. 4, 9 p.m.; and Alabama, Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.

Country music legend Willie Nelson will also perform at the State Fairgrounds as part of a Salute to Agriculture music festival Aug. 29, beginning at 4 p.m.

The South Dakota comedy and musical duo, Williams and Ree, and a rising country band, Thunder Canyon, which is based out of North Dakota, will also be performing.

Popular entertainers and higher ticket sales aren't the only bit of good news about the fair. The event has reportedly received a lot of attention from Gov. Bill Janklow this year. Those in the state who like him and those who aren't that fond of him can agree on one thing: when Janklow puts his mind to something, he usually gets it done.

People who visit the fairgrounds this year reportedly may be in for a surprise. The buildings have been painted. Other needed repairs and improvements to the grounds and the facilities have been made.

The fairgrounds, we've heard, have been transformed from a collection of dingy, weathered buildings to an attractive set of structures that will serve South Dakota well as the beginning of a new century approaches.

It's been disheartening to many South Dakotans to visit the fair in recent years. They remember better times, when people from throughout the state visited Huron in droves. They remember when the event was both an economic and social success.

South Dakota, of course, was a different state back then. One reason the fair was more prosperous 10, 20 and 30 years ago is the fact that South Dakota was, in many ways, more prosperous back then, too.

Small towns weren't suffering from declining populations. The main streets and retail businesses of those towns were successful, mainly because the populations of the state's smaller communities were more stable back then.

It takes no genius in sociology to realize that South Dakota has changed over the years, and not all of those changes are for the better. The state's population is growing older, and its farmer numbers are declining. On top of those societal trends, the farmers who remain are battling low grain and livestock prices.

A rejuvenated, successful State Fair will indeed be a much needed boost to the state's spirits.

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