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County fair will jump to July.

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

Corn dogs and elephant's ears will be served up a bit early next summer when the Lane County Fair moves to late July from its longtime August run.

The 2013 county fair will run July 23-28, three weeks earlier than its traditional dates. The new dates are expected to help the fair land bigger-name entertainment, an important draw that helps the annual festival operate in the black.

Greg Evans, chairman of the Lane County Fair Board, said the change will position the fair to book entertainers, particularly country music acts, that tour Northwest fairs earlier in the summer. It also moves the fair further from the Oregon State Fair, which starts in late August, and the Scandinavian Festival in Junction City.

Evans said that will mean less conflict and overlap among summer events and allow the county fair to stand out more. The new dates still will leave two weeks between the county fair and another iconic summer festival, the Oregon Country Fair.

"I think it's going to be a real positive thing," Evans said. "It's going to be a breath of fresh air."

Initial reaction from vendors, the carnival operator and exhibitors has been positive, he said. The fair is trying to reach out to as many fair participants as possible to make sure visitors still will find all their favorite booths, rides and exhibits on the new days.

In recent years, the fair has had more difficulty booking big-name music acts. In part that's because of the success of another festival, the Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville, which happens around the same time as the county fair.

Changing dates not only moves the fair ahead of the growing Brownsville festival, it also puts it more in line with a county fair entertainment circuit that tours the Northwest largely in June and July, Evans said. That will allow the fair to work with other large county fairs in the region on joint booking deals.

"Once we get in that loop, I think we're going to get some very powerful acts that I think our audience will find very attractive," Evans said.

The fair did drop from six days to the current five in 2010, in part to help reduce costs, but it stayed in its same spot on the calendar. Another local festival, the Eugene Celebration, has managed to survive despite two recent date changes, from late September to early September and then to late August.

But changing dates for an event that's so ingrained in the public's mind as the county fair carries some risk, said Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Association. The 800-member organization serves fairs and festivals throughout the Western United States.

Chambers said it takes a lot of marketing and outreach to pull off a date change for an event such as the Lane County Fair, which has been held during the third week in August for as long as most people can remember. Even then, he said it's usually not until the third year that a new date becomes as well-attended as the old one.

"Making a major jump is usually a risky thing to do," Chambers said. "You better work real hard at communicating the date change, and you better expect to get hit the first two years."

He said county fairs across the West have been having a harder time booking well-known music acts in recent years. A big reason is the proliferation of tribal casinos, which also are hungry for entertainment and often can offer performers better accommodations and longer runs than fairs, cutting down on travel time.

Changing fair dates won't change that issue, but it could put the fair in a better position to compete with other annual festivals. The Lane County Fair doesn't typically book the acts that headline the Brownsville festival, which draws top names in country music, but sometimes it does compete for some of the supporting acts, and Chambers said in that situation it's usually better to come before the competition instead of after.

"If you're going to move, move to the front of the line," he said.

Anne Hankins, a spokeswoman for the Brownsville festival, said they have no problem with the move and wish the county fair all the best. She said the music festival, a three-day destination event, is an entirely different type of event from the county fair.

The two appeal to different types of people and provide very different types of experiences, she said.

"I just think our event draws a different demographic," Hankins said. "We provide a different type of family affordability than the fair provides."
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Title Annotation:Local News; The move will cut down on competition and draw bigger-name acts, organizers say
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 30, 2012
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