Record crowds part of local fair experience

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LOVINGTON,N.M.– Maybe it was the concerts. Maybe it was the rodeo. Maybe it was the overall entertainment experience.

Whatever IT was, it worked at the 2011 edition of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, which had a record attendance of 97,928.

“I always go back to the cost of admission,” said Dean Jackson, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “Last year it was $5 to get into our fair, and this year it’s just $6. We make it affordable for the people ofLeaCountyand the surrounding area. We give them concerts that cost $50 or $100, and we give that to them for $5.”

The key, he said, is that the 10-day festival – set for Aug. 3-11 – is underwritten by the Lea County Commission. The fair is a way to give back to the county’s residents, provide them with entertainment and allow them a way to celebrate together.

It’s turned into something much more. Actually, the fair has turned into a regional exposition, and that’s a good thing.

“We are very lucky the Lea County Commission funds the whole thing,”Jacksonsaid. “We’re fortunate to get this outstanding budget and for them to work with us.”

The results are great, too. The 2011 event saw an increase of 30,000 fairgoers. That’s whyLeaCountywas a major topic of discussion acrossNew Mexico. In fact, word about the fair has reached a national audience.

Country Living magazine listed this in its feature dubbed “50 Stops in 50 States,” showing that the Lovington expo is the one stop tourists should make in the Land of Enchantment: “Head to the Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington for a day – or night – of carnival rides, pungent livestock, bull riding, and country music that’s just a darn good time. And the food? “To die for,” says blogging quilter Mandy Davenport of The Dixie Chicken. There’s the typical fried fare, of course, but the real culinary winners at this fair are the food booths featuring Southwestern favorites, like fajitas and roasted corn.”

That sits pretty well with fair organizers.

“We were the talk of the state,”Jacksonsaid. “That’s great. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be the best.”

A year ago, the Eli Young Band was a fantastic attraction for fans hoping to see one of the hot, new acts in country music. But there were plenty of other factors: Pop group Smash Mouth and other great concerts; the professional rodeo, which is part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour; the great exhibits; and a number of other great entertainment options for fairgoers of all ages.

If possible, this year’s fair and rodeo offers even more. Added to the excitement is the Aug. 7 Xtreme Bulls Tour, a stand-alone bull riding that will feature the top bull riders in ProRodeo and some outstanding bucking beasts. The concerts will feature contemporary Christian group Mercy Me, Red Dirt Music legend Stoney LaRue, crossover act Uncle Kracker and rising country artist Chris Young.

“I look at Portales,ClovisandAmarillo, and their fairs aren’t near what ours is,”Jacksonsaid. “We have fantastic facilities and a great show. That’s due to the commission and the money they allocate us. I don’t consider us a county fair. We’re more of a regional fair.”


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