VIDEO: East Texas State Fair kicks off

John Huseth/Staff The East Texas State Fair is seen in an aerial photograph Thursday as preperations are underway readying the park for the event’s opening today.

Casey Murphy,

John Sykes believes this year’s East Texas State Fair will be the best one yet.

“This year is the best fair we’ve ever put on,” Sykes said of the 98th annual fair, which starts today. “It’s going to be better than last year.”

Sykes, president and chief executive officer of The Park of East Texas, runs the East Texas State Fair and said they lost income from two of their biggest days last year when they were unable to open the last Saturday and Sunday because of rain.

When asked what his favorite part of the fair is, Sykes said, “The adrenaline rush. The amount of details that go into putting this together, no one understands.”

He said all of the moving parts - from tickets and security to insurance, electrical requirements, hotel reservations and all the other details – can be mind-boggling. It takes about 500 volunteers to put on the fair, he said.

About 280,000 people are estimated to attend this year’s fair, which runs through Sept. 29 and feature several new attractions, including Sinbad, the Great American Frontier Show and Wade Henry, he said.

Sinbad and his crew will perform high diving acts, including a fire dive from an 80-foot platform. Sykes said Sinbad dives eight stories into 9 feet of water.

The Great American Frontier Show includes shootouts, horse demonstrations, comedy, covered wagons and trick riding.

Wade Henry will be touring the fairgrounds on the tallest performing unicycle and juggling chainsaws and other items.

Sykes said AgriWorld, which is done almost entirely with volunteers, is his pride and joy. AgriWorld offers children the sights and sound of the farm.

Other attractions include Wolves of the World, featuring trained wolves, and a 75-ton sand sculpture. The annual livestock show will be running throughout the fair.

New food options will include Cajun, Greek and barbecue vendors. “We’ve expanded our food line a lot,” Sykes said, adding that there are 43 food vendors.

Sykes said he is also proud of the music line up, which includes the return of JB and The Moonshine Band on Saturday, as well as the Swon Brothers, which placed third in last season of The Voice, on Sept. 28. The fair offers music every night and on Sundays, La Invasora radio station will manage the stage, he said.

There are 40 rides, including two new ones – Speed and Yoyo.

Sykes said they are using North American Midway Entertainment, which does background checks and employee drug testing, to put on the carnival for the fourth year.

“We’ve cleaned it up,” Sykes said, adding that the fair has not had an incident that required active police action in four years. They have sold more children’s tickets in the last three years, he added.

Although attendance has remained flat, carnival sales have set records, he said, adding that they are bringing in more families and made it safer and cleaner.

Workers began putting the fence up on Sept. 10 and Sykes said last week that they would “be going nuts all weekend” to prepare.





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