Missouri’s three largest agricultural fairs offer affordable family fun with carnival rides, tractor pulls, concerts and more.
By Patsy Bell Hobson
A 6-year-old child, sitting astride a sheep, busts out of the gate as the crowd cheers and screams. The junior rodeo rider has to stay on the sheep for a wild and wooly six seconds. Welcome to the mutton-busting event at Springfield’s Ozark Empire Fair. Many of these young competitors will progress to rodeo events such as calf or steer riding when older. For now, they are content to plead with their parents to ride another day.
Missouri’s three largest agriculture fairs–Ozark Empire, SEMO District in Cape Girardeau and the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia–offer affordable summer family fun. From demolition derbies to tractor pulls, legendary performers to carnival rides, fairs fit every budget. Penny pinchers can camp and enjoy a family picnic. Hotels and restaurants are affordable near the fairs for those who prefer indoor accommodations.
This quick guide to three of Missouri’s summertime fairs will get your gang on the road and in the Ferris wheel line in no time.
Missouri’s Agricultural Showcase
Since 1901, the Sedalia fair has served as Missouri’s annual premier agriculture showcase. The Missouri State Fair will be Aug. 12–22 this year at the fairgrounds, 2503 W. 16th St. at the U.S. Highway 65 intersection.
Share your gardening, baking or crafting talent by entering one of the fair competitions. The Premium Guide (www.mostatefair.com/Premium-Guide.php) has all the details. The key to winning a blue ribbon is to follow the instructions exactly. The best blackberry pie can be disqualified if it isn’t properly submitted. A new recipe contest category is “sugar-free baking.” The prize money is trivial but bragging rights come with every blue ribbon.
While judges taste the recipe entries, there is more than enough food to enjoy at the fair, including hot dogs, funnel cakes, ice cream and more. When you have had your fill of fair food, try Kehde’s Barbecue, 1915 S. Limit Ave., at the front gate. Daily specials are the best bargain at this popular barbecue restaurant.
Grandstand entertainment at press time wasn’t completed, but musical performers include Darius Rucker on Aug. 20 and Sheryl Crow on Aug. 21. Rucker, former lead singer for the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, began his solo career in country music in 2008. Tickets range from $17–$35. Crow–a Kennett, Mo., native whose musical style blends country, rock and pop–releases a new CD in July.
Lodging near the fair includes the State Fair Campground located west of the fairgrounds on Clarendon Road. The 60-acre campground provides more than 1,200 electrical and water hook-ups (no 110-volt receptacles) and other features, including showers. A pedestrian underpass located near the campground exit connects the campground to the fairgrounds. Reserve a camping spot for $275 for the duration of the fair; unreserved spot rental (per vehicle/tent) is $20 a day.
If camping is not your style, save time and money at a hotel that serves breakfast. I like the Holiday Inn Express (AAA three Diamond), 4001 W. Broadway, and the Comfort Inn Sedalia Station (AAA two Diamond), 3600 W. Broadway.
Fair admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $2 for children 6–12. Discounted days–including $2 admission for everyone on opening day–also are offered.
Springfield’s Ozark Empire Fair
I like the broad range of music and affordable concert prices ($30 or less) for grandstand events at the Ozark Empire Fair. Concertgoers can buy grandstand tickets online (www.ozarkempire fairtickets.com) and print their tickets at home, a new feature for this year. The fair starts July 30 and runs through Aug. 8.
This year’s grandstand musical entertainment includes Molly Hatchet, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Atlanta Rhythm on July 30; KC and the Sunshine Band on July 31; Rodney Atkins and Gloriana on Aug. 1; Ernie Haase and Signature Sound on Aug. 2; Kellie Pickler on Aug. 3; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Aug. 4; and Finger Eleven on Aug. 5.
There’s a truck and tractor pull Aug. 6 and 7, and a demolition derby wraps up the Ozark Empire Fair at 1 p.m. on Aug. 8. Visitors also will enjoy a number of exhibits, a carnival and more.
Two Best Western motels are located near the fairgrounds: Coach House Inn (AAA two Diamond), 2535 N. Glenstone, and the Route 66 Rail Haven (AAA two Diamond), 203 S. Glenstone. Both motels offer quick breakfasts, and courteous staffs will help you find your way to the fair or around town. After a sun filled day at the fair, the pool is a great way to cool down.
I have two favorite B&Bs in Springfield: the Mansion at Elfindale, 1701 S. Fort St., and the Walnut Street Inn, 900 E. Walnut. Budget-conscious campers can reserve a spot at Springfield/Route 66 KOA, 5775 West Farm Road 140.
For lunch or dinner, try Springfield Brewing Company, 305 S. Market. The food is great and dining alfresco here seems like summer at its best. Seasonal brews are always fun to try, and Springfield Brewing Company makes its own yeast bread for hot, soft Bavarian pretzels, bread sticks and pizza.
Ozark Empire Fairgrounds are near state Highway 13 and Interstate 44 at 3001 N. Grant. Adult admission is $6, $2 for children 6–12. Parking is free before 3 p.m.; after 3 p.m., park for $4. If you would like to enter a fair competition, go to http://www.ozarkempirefair.com/Events/Entries-And-Forms.htm.
SEMO District Fair
For eight days in mid-September, my front porch is one of the best places to hear the Southeast Missouri (SEMO) District Fair grandstand entertainment. Now in its 155th season, the fair will be Sept. 11–18 at the fairgrounds in Arena Park, 410 Kiwanis Drive in Cape Girardeau.
The musical acts start Sept. 16 when the grandstand features country music legend Merle Haggard. Bryan White will perform Sept. 17, and the John D. Hale Band will play Sept. 18.
Truck and tractor pulls, demolition derby, carnival, and a horse show round out entertainment. Exhibits, food and a few parades add to the fun here.
When you are ready to rest for the day, campers can head to Cape Camping and RV Park, 1900 N. Kingshighway (a Good Sam Club park) or Trail of Tears State Park off state Highway 177 in nearby Jackson.
Three Drury-owned hotels (AAA three Diamond at 3303 Campster Drive, 104 South Vantage Drive, AAA one Diamond at 3248 William St.) serve a free hot breakfast. In addition, a great bed and breakfast is Rose Bed Inn at 611 S. Sprigg St.
Port Cape Girardeau, 19 N. Water St., is next to the Mississippi River and is known for great barbeque. They also have a walk-up window on Water Street where you can get an ice cream cone to enjoy as you stroll the riverfront.
Fair admission is $4 for guests 12 and older. A weekly pass is $25. Details to enter competitions are on the fair’s Web site home page.
This summer, make one or more of these fairs a blue-ribbon getaway for your family.
BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact:
• Missouri State Fair, (800) 422-FAIR (422-3247), (660) 827-8150, www.mostatefair.com;
• Ozark Empire Fair, (417) 833-2660, www.ozarkempirefair.com;
• SEMO District Fair, (573) 334-9250, www.semofair.com.
AAA members can see this story in ptint or on line at Midwest Traveler.
Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Jul/Aug 2010 Issue