Originally known as the Strawberry Festival and sponsored by the Haines Women's Club, the Fair has grown into one of summer's most exciting events, attracting more than 6,000 visitors to the Southeast Alaska State Fair Grounds for concerts, contests, parades, pig races and more.
"We've got all kinds of things going on-there's something happening everywhere you look," said Executive Director Herb VanCleve. "We've got all kinds of contests, including a volleyball tournament, horseshoe tournament, clown contest and lovable dog contest, as well as a horse show, logging show, parade, and more. This year, we've also added pig races and miniature golf."
The Fair, whose theme this year is Seeds of Change-Growing Together in Southeast Alaska, also features a vast array of exhibits. These range from arts and crafts to quilts to school projects and a photography show, in addition to a barn full of animals. Three rides will provide fun for the kids, who will be able to hop aboard a kiddy train, antique carousel, or 40-foot Ferris wheel, which is new this year. The Ferris wheel will become a permanent part of the fair grounds after the event is over.
"We'll have entertainment all day, ranging from two professional clown troupes, to a magician, to the Juneau Tlingit Dancers," added VanCleve. "And we'll also be seeing performances by the local high school drama class." Just some of the bands that will play on the main stage during the day include T-Bone and the Juke Joint Blue, Salem, Moses Cain, Chili Ridge Rounders, Daddy-O, Whammer Jammer and the Sofa Kings. Singer-songwriters Anne Weiss, Kim Barlow, Kray Van Kirk and Steve Slade will also perform.
"We've decided to do something different this year for the evening's entertainment, so we'll be bringing in three headliners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday," added VanCleve. Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop will perform on July 28th, followed by 'folk-funk' artist Laura Love on July 29th and Grammy-award winner Steve Earle on July 30th.
"When Laura Love was last here-I think about five years ago-she set an all-time attendance record for the Fair's paid concerts," said VanCleve. "More than 800 people came out to see her perform."
Though there were originally protests over Earle's appearance at the Fair because of his political stance, VanCleve says that the issue seems to have calmed down and tickets sales have been brisk. "The controversy has pretty much completely gone away," he explained. "The last round of letters in the paper were all positive."
According to VanCleve, none of the Fair's activities-from day and nighttime concerts to the zucchini and fiddle contests-would be possible without the help of the Fair's staff and its dedicated and hardworking volunteers. "We get a tremendous amount of volunteer help, and to tell you the truth, there are aspects of the Fair that just wouldn't happen without them-the exhibits in Harriet Hall, for example," he said.
Daily admission to the Fair is $7, with seniors paying $6, and kids five and under free. There is an additional cost for the evening concerts, and a schedule of events can be found on www.seakfair.org.
"People should come because it's just a lot of fun," said VanCleve. "It's five days of continuous activity; basically non-stop entertainment. There's something for adults, kids, grandma and everybody!"
Photo, left: Buddy Tabor was one of the many music performers at the 2004 fair.
Photo, above: The fair still celebrates its origins as the Haines Strawberry Festival.