The 2015 Kenai Peninsula Fair is slated to be three days packed with an eclectic blend of entertainment, Friday through Sunday, at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds.
This year’s homey theme, “Country Nights and Carnival Lights,” was chosen, not only to highlight that for the second year the festivities will include a swath of carnival rides, but also to encapsulate the essence of the decades-old community event.
“It embraces the spirit of the fair,” Executive Director Lara McGinnis said. “It’s a down-home country fair.”
Some electrifying twists will be incorporated into the anticipated concoction of musical performances, displays, crafts and exhibits, McGinnis said. She has been heading the party for one decade, and she is excited for each and every one planned during what she calls her annual “labor of love,” or “third child.”
Home Free, the five-member a capella group from Mankato, Minn., that won the fourth season of The Sing-Off, is headlining at the fair’s first paid-for concert Friday and Saturday evening, McGinnis said. The band just made its debut at the Grand Ole Opry and has partnered with major players like Kenny Rogers and The Oak Ridge Boys, she said.
“They are outstanding,” McGinnis said.
Switching gears, she raved about an Alaska Native who has been making a big name for himself nationally on YouTube and Facebook.
Byron Nicholai will be traveling down to perform every day under the stage name, “I Sing. You Dance.” The 17-year-old, from Toksook Bay, is looking forward to one of his last performances before he finishes his senior year of high school.
Nicholai’s performance is mostly traditional Yupik songs pieced together with singing, drumming and some dancing, occasionally with a little modern music mixed in, he said.
“I am pretty excited,” Nicholai said of the upcoming event. “I was talking to Lara (McGinnis) and she said there is going to be a lot of young people there. I want to show them, and give them the message that ‘it doesn’t really matter where you come from, you know that right?’ It’s what they do with their lives that will influence people and that is what makes the difference.”
Also expect some usual fair suspects, McGinnis said. Brad’s World of Reptiles will bring “anything cold blooded” out and about to encourage learning for the little ones, and agriculture-oriented displays and presentations will be set up throughout the grounds, featuring the practice of “farm to table,” she said.
McGinnis said her two favorite things about the fair are the racing pigs, and the long-term incorporation of the Kenai Peninsula community into every aspect of production.
“We tout ourselves as The Biggest Little Fair in Alaska,” McGinnis said. “We are small, but we remember our roots and remember history.”
When McGinnis first became manager 10 years ago “we were a sinking ship,” she said. She said she sat down and re-evaluated how to handle the business side of the event, and determined the best way was to invest in the community as much as she wanted the community to invest in the fair.
Every year, McGinnis uses the event as a chance for children to showcase their talents and “feel special.”
On the surface, the fair is full of entertainment, which gives kids opportunities to experience situations they wouldn’t in their daily routine, she said.
A huge chunk of the fair’s expenses are paid directly to youth organizations, just a few of the partnerships McGinnis has developed with the community to pull off the annual event.
Ninilchik School Boys Basketball Coach Nick Finley has organized a core group of students to handle trash and restroom maintenance at the fair for the past six years. He said working with McGinnis and her team has been invaluable.
When Finley moved to Ninilchik six years ago and took the coaching job, he was told fundraising was an integral part of running sports teams that travel for games in Alaska. Each year the kids accomplish their assignments and raise roughly $2,000 for the school’s athletic department — if they do a good job.
The groups are docked some money if the work isn’t done correctly, which teaches them valuable skills, Finley said. He said he is looking forward to the start of the event Friday.
“It looks like this year’s fair is going to be outstanding,” Finley said. “There is a list of great events, the flowers have bloomed, and the fair grounds are looking great.”
Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
2015 Kenai Peninsula Fair
Friday: 1-8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday: Noon-5 p.m.
$12 general, $6 youth ages 6-12 or seniors age 65 or older; free, children 5 or younger
Friday is Kids’ Day;
Sunday is Seniors’ Day