State Fair

New at the Kansas State Fair: Free concerts, a handy app and a Hanson after party

The calendar has flipped to September, the air is getting a bit cooler, and the giant pumpkins have grown about as much as they’re going to grow.

It’s time for the Kansas State Fair.

The annual event, which happens every September on the State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, will return for its 10-day run starting on Friday and finishing on Sept. 15.

The fair, which is built on traditions like pig races, Pronto Pups and giant pumpkins, will have several new events and additions this year — among them, a new general manager. Robin Jennison, who most recently served as the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, took over after last year’s fair ended. He replaces Susan Sankey, who left last year after two years in the top job.

Robin Jennison is the new general manager of the Kansas State Fair. Courtesy photo

Though ticket prices will remain the same, Jennison is trying out several new money-saving and crowd-recruiting strategies, including leaving the Grandstand dark on a couple of slower mid-week days and instead offering free concerts in the heart of the fairgrounds.

Jennison and his staff are also introducing a new app, which will make it easier for people to find the crazy fair treats this year (chocolate dipped Pronto Pup, anyone?) and also alert them when an animal birth is about to happen in the Birthing Barn.

Here’s a list of some of the additions, subtractions and attractions at this year’s fair.

Grandstand changes, free concerts

When Jennison looked at the numbers for the Grandstand concerts over the past few years, he noticed that typically, Tuesdays and Thursdays were a bit of a bust. The venue, which can seat up to 8,000, was having trouble getting even 3,000 people to attend on those nights. (Last year’s Tuesday-night concert was the Roots & Boots Tour featuring Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye, and the Thursday show featured former Poison frontman Bret Michaels.)

He decided to try a new approach. This year, the Grandstand will remain dark on Tuesday and Thursday, and instead, the fair will offer free concerts both nights in the Bretz & Young Law Arena, the smaller venue in the heart of the fairgrounds where the comic hypnotist performs his shows.

On Tuesday, the headliner will be Mason Ramsey, a 12-year-old country singer discovered when a video of him yodeling a Hank Williams song in an Illinois Walmart went viral online Then, on Thursday, Lindsay Ell, a nominee for the CMA Newcomer of the Year award this year, will perform with opener Madison Kozak. Both shows will start at 7:30 p.m.

The idea is to get more people through the gates those evenings.

“We’re excited to see how that works,” Jennison said.

Mason Ramsey, 12, will perform a free concert at the Kansas State Fair. He was discovered after a video of him yodeling in an Illinois Walmart went viral online. Courtesy photo

Tractor Pull replaced with Monster Trucks

For years, the final Sunday of the Kansas State Fair featured the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pull, an event that featured tractors and large trucks pulling a heavy drag. But the people who put on that event raised their price last year, even though the fair did not increase ticket prices, Jennison said.

This year, the fair decided to go a different direction.

The final Sunday this year will instead feature the All Star Monster Truck tour, which will start at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12.

A handy new app

The fair also is rolling out an all new mobile app this year, and it will have several features that will make a trip to the fair easier and more meaningful.

The app, which people can download for free by searching the app store for Kansas State Fair, not only has a map of the fairgrounds that will help people navigate their way to the pig races or to the vendor selling a weird new stunt food, but it will also send out live notifications. Those who have the app, for example, will be sent a notification when a baby calf is about to be born in the popular Birthing Barn.

“If you want to get some food, you can look at all the food vendors, and their entire food menu is on the app,” Jennison said. “You can see what they sell, find something you want to get, and it’ll walk you right to their stand.”

Safer trams

Longtime fairgoers will remember the fair’s old way of moving people from the parking lots to the grounds and from spot to spot once inside. Big people movers were hitched to big tractors, and off they went.

But after a few “near misses” on the grounds two years ago, Jennison said, the fair did away with the tractor-pulled trams last year, and they heard about it. Jennison said his office was overwhelmed with letters and calls from people who missed having the trams.

They had to find a safer solution, he said, so they got some sponsors and contracted with a business called Trams R Us, which will bring its vehicles to the grounds this year. Their trams are designed for moving people in crowded areas, and unlike tractor drivers perched up high, the drivers of these trams are in seats that are much closer to the ground, so they can easily see obstacles in front of them.

Tram stop locations can be found on the app.

Crazy contests

The fair has always had arm wresting championships and cooking contests, but this year, it’s introducing several zany new contests that will be fun to watch. One is a Pronto Pup Eating Contest, set to happen at noon Sept. 15 on the stage at Lake Talbott. Predetermined contestants will see who can eat the most Pronto Pups — one of the fair’s food staples — the quickest.

They’ve also added a Miniature Butter Sculpture contest, which will happen at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Pride of Kansas Building, near the actual life-sized butter sculpture. Contestants will each be giving a pound of butter and a few plastic utensils. They can bring other things like wire or tubing that they’ll use in an attempt to mini-carve their way to victory.

Also in the Pride of Kansas building will be a live scarecrow contest, where teams of competitors will attempt to build the best scarecrow. The on-site competition will happen at 11 a.m. on Sept. 14.

Free acts

As usual, the fair will have several performers — some stationary, some roaming — ready to entertain attendees for free.

The big attraction in Gottschalk Park this year will be the Fearless Flores Family, which has appeared on “America’s Got Talent.” The group of acrobats will perform dangerous stunts like zipping a motorcycle around inside the “Globe of Death.” Performances will happen at 1:30 and 6 p.m. Friday and at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday through Sept. 15.

Fairgoers will also see The Strong Man, another “America’s Got Talent” contestant, who can bend steel, flip over cars and pull one-ton trucks with his body. He’ll be stationed at Grandstand Avenue at Fort Riley Boulevard.

Also, a performer that bills himself as a “one-man circus,” Jason D’Vaude, will roam the grounds juggling fire and riding a giant unicycle.

Billy Currington photo.jpg
Country singer Billy Currington is performing at this year’s Kansas State Fair. Courtesy

Big concerts

The Grandstand will again feature several big-name performers throughout the run of the fair. The highest ticket seller so far has been DJ and “Dancing With the Stars” champion Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots, who will perform on Friday, followed by country singer Billy Currington, whose show happens on Saturday.

Christian rock group Skillet, performing on Sunday, is in third place for ticket sales. And people seem to be extra excited about a show by 1990s boy band Hanson, who perform on Saturday followed by a solo “after party” DJ set by middle brother Taylor Hanson. Tickets to that show are $15 and available only to those who purchased tickets to the main concert.

Hanson is performing at this year’s Kansas State Fair, and the middle brother Taylor is hosting a special after-party. Jonathan Weiner Courtesy photo

Crazy foods

The fair will have all of its old faithfuls on the menu, including Pronto Pups, chicken and noodles and Jaffles. But per tradition, it will also have several crazy “stunt foods” designed to capture attention. Four words: Chocolate-dipped Pronto Pup.

Four more words: Krispy Kreme hot dog.

Find out all about the crazy foods being offered at this year’s fair by visiting Dining with Denise on Facebook.

Kansas State Fair

When: Friday through Sept. 15

Where: Kansas State Fairgrounds, 2000 N. Poplar, Hutchinson

Admission: Tickets at the gate are $10 for adults, $6 for seniors age 60 and older and for children ages 6-12, free for 5 and under. Concert tickets vary in price.

Information and lineup:

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.