Building toward its future

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Original structure a key piece of Waller County Fair and Rodeo

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – A few years ago, members of the Waller County Fair Board weren’t quite sure what to do with one of the original buildings on the fairgrounds.

For years, it had been a show building, where exhibitors showed a variety of animals. Until recently, it had been a place for storage. But something needed to be done with the structure, initially erected in the 1950s. Now it’s the Wagon Wheel, a place to celebrate all that’s part of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo.

“I said, ‘Let’s make it like a Gruene Hall,’ ” said Toya Talbott, the entertainment committee chairwoman for the fair board. “The rodeo committee came in, cleaned it out and dressed it up. It had shade, and we added a heater and a bar. It’s a place to go drink beer or wine and have fun.

“We have live entertainment on the main nights of the fair. We have local bands and other things. It’s just a nice, comfortable environment.”

It’s become a wonderful gathering place for fairgoers. There will be an Elvis impersonator the opening weekend of the fair, which runs Friday, Sept. 28-Sunday, Oct. 7. The fair board is also having a piano bar night, for which special tickets have been made for the Wednesday, Oct. 3.

“We actually have it almost booked now because everybody wanted to have something new,” said Talbott, now in her fourth year on the fair board. “I think it’s going to be a big hit, but you have to have a ticket to get into that.”

It’s just another big step for the classic building. The first year of the Wagon Wheel, only beer was available. Now there’s a wine side to it, with soft lighting to make it a more intimate affair. It’s still in proximity to all the fun and fair favorites, like the carnival and the nightly concerts on the main stage. This year’s lineup features:

  • Saturday, Sept. 29: Johnny Lee at 9 p.m., followed by Sam Riggs at 11 p.m.
  • Thursday, Oct. 4: Texas Unlimited Band at 9 p.m.
  • Friday, Oct. 5: Cody Wayne at 8:30 p.m., followed by Cory Morrow at 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct. 6: Glen Templeton at 9 p.m., followed by Steve Wariner at 11 p.m.

“On our first Saturday night, we got Johnny Lee, which will give our older group, who loves to come and dance, a chance to enjoy the early show,” she said. “We brought in Sam Riggs for the younger group, and they’ll finish it up, but the great thing about our younger group, is they love the older music. They might enjoy the whole night.

“We got a lot of feedback that everybody loves the acts we have coming, and that’s why we’ve booked them.”

Whether it’s the main stage or the Wagon Wheel, there are numerous entertainment opportunities for fairgoers planning on their experiences in Hempstead.

“We have really utilized the Wagon Wheel since we’ve redone it,” Talbott said. “We use it for our Barnyard Buddies, which happens on Wednesday of the fair. Our Barnyard Buddies program is a place for everyone, including children with special needs. The mission of the Waller County Fair Association with our Barnyard Buddies’ program is to promote a wholesome and productive lifestyle for our youth.”

The project originated in 2015 with 140 special-needs students and has grown to more than 250 in 2017. The special-needs children are paired with volunteers from various organizations on the high school level: FFA, 4-H, National Honor Society and rodeo clubs, to name a few. Volunteers provide each child activities such as petting zoo, photo booth, first responder interaction and special appearance by cowboys and cowgirls that are competing in the rodeo, carnival rides, lunch and backpacks filled with merchandise for those who would otherwise miss out on the joys of a county fair.

“We’re also excited about the local entertainers we’ll have in there throughout the fair,” Talbott said. “It’s really nice to have one of the original structures that we can still use. There is an old tree that’s grown into the building. I’m so glad the fair board saved the building and made it to what it is now.”


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