After standing on brink of closure, Tennessee State Fair rides again

By Kelly Halom (InsideVandy)
Posted September 12th, 2011

The Tennessee State Fair opened on Friday, marking Nashville’s success in preserving a tradition that has lasted 105 years. The grassroots effort needed to preserve the Tennessee State Fairgrounds loomed large at this year’s Fair.

In 2010, Mayor Karl Dean announced his intention to close the grounds and use the 120 acres for a mix-use development in order to increase the economic value of the land. Nashvillians responded with a petition-drive to add a fairgrounds referendum to the August 2011 ballot, which was overwhelmingly approved.
The Fair’s rescue was good news to the fair’s colorful cast of characters, who bring a quality of uniqueness to the proceedings.
Take Phillip Hendricks, for example. He has worked with monkeys for four years in the Banana Derby, an event where monkey jockeys ride on small dogs around a track to the applause and cheers of enthusiastic fans. When asked how he got involved in the business of monkey jockeys, Hendricks replied, “I used to be a lawyer in Chicago, but then I ran away and joined the circus.”
Then there’s Riverboat John, who provides strings, songs and stories to small audiences outside his booth every weeknight. Riverboat John is also chock-full of fun facts such as this: it’s against the law to use elephants for agricultural purposes in the state of Tennessee.
Few can match the dedication shown by Michaela Boeglin and Abigal Georges, two teenage girls who have been traveling from out-of-state for five years to show off their livestock in the Tennessee State Fair. They bring all of their own accommodations for the weekend and sleep right by their cattle on home-brought cots. When asked why the Tennessee Fair was their fair of choice, Boeglin remarked, “Everyone’s so nice here.”
Any fair enthusiast will find everything they need at the Tennessee State Fair — and then some. From typical attractions including the ferris wheel, fun house, tilt-a-whirl, live music, acrobats and livestock competitions to food both familiar — turkey legs, funnel cakes, foot long corndogs – and new — a delicacy known as a “hot beef sundae” — the Tennessee State Fair offers something to every fairgoer.
But the true pride of this state fair lies in the tradition and community behind it. Emily Fletcher, who is in charge marketing and sponsorships remarked, “Everyone here is a really big believer in it.”