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Benton County Fair wraps up a busy year
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Benton County Fair wraps up a busy year

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The Benton County Fair & Rodeo wrapped up its four-day run Saturday and preliminary numbers suggest its total attendance will be on par with recent years.

Benton County Fairgrounds manager Lynne McKee said the event drew just over 4,000 people Wednesday, around 4,700 Thursday, nearly 6,000 Friday and she was expecting around 8,000 people on Saturday. She said the fair’s average yearly attendance is about 23,000, so on Saturday, with the event still going on, it was on pace to hit about that number.

McKee said attendance can depend a lot on each night’s headline musical act and she didn’t yet know what size of crowd would be on hand for Saturday’s headliner, The Gatlin Brothers, would draw the crowds.

Last year, she said, Uncle Kracker proved to be a strong draw propelling attendance for the Benton County Fair & Rodeo to around 26,000.

This year, she said, Queen cover band Queen Nation proved to be a good draw on Thursday night — a night when the fair faces competition from Albany's River Rhythms free concert series.

She said often she hires tribute bands for Thursday nights because they are inexpensive compared to original acts. She said she thinks Queen Nation might have been an especially good draw this year because of the popularity of the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

McKee said she might look into an Elton John cover act for next year because of the success of the movie about his life, “Rocketman.”

She said the fair overall seemed to be going well.

“Attendance has been good this year, the weather has been good and we’ve had no major crisis.”

She added that she is happy with new carnival vendor Rainier Amusements, both for the quality of rides the company brought and how well it laid out the attractions in the carnival area.

“They are using space well so it is less congested,” she said.

This year’s fair also marked the 40th straight year Mitch Hider has worked as a performer at the event. Hider emcees events and plays ukulele throughout the fairgrounds.

“I walk around my invisible dog, which seems to be my most popular attraction,” said Hider, formerly of Monroe and now of Eugene. Hider said he began the invisible dog gag (it's really just a rigid leash and harness and a bit of performance) around 30 years ago.

“I’ve been performing at the fair for half my life,” said Hider, now 80.

Hider, a retired reporter, said he likes the Benton fair better than many others around the state because of its small-town setting.

“I come back because I enjoy the feeling of a real, actual county fair,” he said.

Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-812-6091, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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