Kenai Peninsula Fair is for everyone, says departing manager

The Kenai Peninsula Fair’s 65th year marks a bittersweet milestone for the fair and its chief executive officer Lara McGinnis. After 12 years of cultivating a fair for the Kenai Peninsula community, this year’s fair will be McGinnis’ last.

“The fair has grown under her tutelage incredibly. The level of music that we bring in has gone way up. The amount of things that she puts in place for kids and seniors and other folks who come to the fair is pretty amazing,” said Kenai Peninsula Fair board president Martie Krohn. “Since she’s been there we have BP who sponsors Kids Day. We have seniors coming at half rate on Sundays this year and that’s because of another sponsor. Lara is incredible at finding sponsors and putting on a good show.”

Due to financial reasons, McGinnis can no longer continue to manage the fair, although she wishes she could continue to do what is, for her, a labor of love.

“I’ve had to go get a real job. If money weren’t a factor, I’d do it forever. I have a son going to college, and another on his way, and so I have to do what’s right for my family,” McGinnis said. “We (the board and I) would love to be able to continue it, but they understand financially.”

McGinnis’ vision over the last few years has been to bring entertainment that otherwise might not be experienced by residents on the peninsula.

This year’s fair is no different, with a new feature — tea with a Disney princess. Elsa, Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney royalty will tour the fairgrounds throughout the course of the fair, stopping into a special tearoom three times each day, McGinnis said. Children and their parents can enjoy tea and crumpets with their favorite princesses in a room decorated like a castle for $5 per person.

“Not a lot of kids from our area get to go to Disneyland,” McGinnis said. “My vision is to bring the Lower 48 here and so all our kids can experience all those things and this is one small piece of that puzzle.”

McGinnis is also bringing more Disney magic to the fair with Washboard Willy, a magician for the Disney cruise line.

“Washboard Willy brings a style of entertainment that is unique and different,” McGinnis said. “He is a combination of lower 48 Okie and hometown fun. He’s reminiscent of the Gold Rush days or back in the day of the settlers when you reached for anything to create music because you didn’t have a guitar or access to all the things we have now.”

In that same family-friendly vein, old favorite Brad’s World of Reptiles will be at the fair for the third year in a row, McGinnis said. The interactive science experience is free with fair admission and allows kids to hold reptiles such as an alligator or a python.

“The kids absolutely love Brad’s World of Reptiles,” McGinnis said. “You can’t get them out of there.”

New nighttime concerts also add to the family fun. While live music will still be played on the stages at the fair throughout the day, the final concerts featuring bands from the Lower 48 on Friday and Saturday will be an extra charge. Branch and Dean, a country group from Nashville, Tenn., is $20 including the $12 fair admission. Saturday night features a cappella group Home Free, who won NBC’s Sing Off in the fourth season, McGinnis said. Home Free’s performance costs $30 if tickets are purchased online prior to the fair. Tickets the day of the performance are $35; both prices include fair admission.

“(Branch and Dean are) one of the rockin’est country groups I’ve ever seen. … They’ve got some great tunes,” McGinnis said. “Home Free, how often do you get to see a group of their caliber perform?”

Friday night also welcomes another new attraction, focused toward the young adult crowd, McGinnis said. Power Plant Productions, a company that organizes fights, will hold boxing and kickboxing matches, along with one mixed martial arts fight, for a total of five to six fights, said company owner Matt Plant. Plant’s production company is working with AK 49 Combat Sports gym to produce some rowdy entertainment. Power Plant Productions has previously put on fights in Homer in conjunction with the Homer gym.

The fights will be held in a makeshift arena on the fair’s rodeo grounds. Admission for the fights is $10 for general admission bleacher seating, $20 for beer garden standing room, $20 for ringside seats and $25 for beer garden table seating. If the fights are successful in attracting a crowd, Plant hopes to continue to work with the fair.

“We’re trying to reach out to the 18-24 (year old) demographic and remind them that the fair isn’t just about kids,” McGinnis said. “It’s for everybody.”

Anna Frost can be reached at