No one watches the weather this time of year with more trepidation than Benton County Fairgrounds manager Lynne McKee, who knows what an untimely heat wave can do to her attendance figures.
“I live and breathe that this time of year,” she said. “I even looked at the Farmer’s Almanac a couple months ago.”
Fortunately for McKee, the outlook for this year’s edition of the Benton County Fair & Rodeo, which starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday, is exceedingly favorable with the forecast calling for sunny skies, mild temperatures and no rain.
“Right now it’s looking really good, it’s looking 80s — I will so take that,” she said.
With the theme “Tall Tales and Animal Tails,” this year’s fair will have a storytelling stage, where the written word and oral traditions will be on display. Featured presenters will include cowboy poet Tom Swearingen, Native American storyteller Esther Stutzman, Oregon Book Award-winning children’s author Emily Whitman and Corvallis writer-musician Cliff Feldman, author of the mystery novel “Dead Men Rocking.”
On the animal side of the equation, rodeo competition will begin at 7 p.m. on each of the fair’s first three days.
On Thursday and Friday is an NPRA-sanctioned competition presided over by Benton County Fair & Rodeo Queen Jesse Nordyke, while Wednesday marks the return of the Larry Bell Memorial All-Girls Rodeo, where female competitors go head to head in events such as barrel racing, team roping and goat tying.
“Last year, goat tying was a huge hit,” McKee said.
“If you didn’t know you were missing goat tying in your life, come to the fair and see goat tying — it’s hilarious!”
And of course the Benton County 4-H groups will be out in force. Some 450 to 500 participant from 45 clubs will be showing off the cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits and other critters they’ve raised, as well as demonstrating skills such as archery.
Headlining the musical entertainment will be Corvallis-bred country crooner Jackson Michelson, Tom Petty and Queen tribute acts, ’80s pop icon Taylor Dayne and Nashville legends the Gatlin Brothers.
The lineup is intended to offer a variety of styles, but everybody has their favorite.
“For me it’s Taylor Dayne,” McKee confessed. “I’m a huge Taylor Dayne fan.”
At the Oak Grove Stage, fairgoers can check out the Willamette Valley Fiddle Contest and catch performances by comedy juggler Greg Frisbee, Twisty the Great Comedy Illusionist, a local belly dancing troupe and musical acts such as Unseen Signs, Sick Monkey, and Catherine Loyer & Strawberry Roan.
New this year will be The Backyard, a play area for younger kids featuring hands-on discovery tables, giant waffle blocks, games such as checkers and giant chess, and an obstacle course.
This year’s fair will also include the Crown Royal Experience, a place where adults over 21 can chill out with a stiff drink.
“It will be purple and gold, with couches where you can just lounge and enjoy your whiskey and take a picture with the Crown Royal throne,” McKee said.
There will also be some additional places to buy beer at this year’s fair in an effort to cut wait times during busy periods.
“Last year, when we had Uncle Kracker, the beer lines were, like, 45 minutes long,” McKee said. “We’re going to try to avoid that this year.”
The fair will also have a new carnival operator, with Rainier Amusements taking over the midway attractions. The Portland-based company also provides the rides for the Oregon State Fair.
The midway is also the place to get fair food favorites such as elephant ears, corndogs and deep-fried Twinkies.
And the Commercial Building, which houses the storytelling stage as well as vendor booths, robotics demonstrations, gaming and puzzle areas, has been renamed the Funporium.
Strolling performers will roam the grounds throughout the four-day run, and fairgoers can get involved with events such as the Water Olympics, Baby Celebration and Talent Search.
As it is every year, this year’s Benton County Fair & Rodeo will be a whirlwind of activity, but McKee says she always tries to find a moment to pause amid the madness and take it all in.
“When I’m going absolutely crazy in the middle of fair, like when it’s Friday night and I’m losing my mind, I have to stop in the middle of the Central Plaza and just look at all the families having a good time,” she said.
“That’s what I love, all those families making memories. It makes all the hard work worth it.”