EASLEY — Summer’s winding down, school is back in session and the faint smell of funnel cakes is wafting through the air. It can mean only one thing: the Upper SC State Fair has returned.
Celebrating its 54th year, fair organizers are expecting this year to be better than ever — as long as the weather holds.
“Last year we had a great turnout,” said Tammy Blair, who has managed the fair for the past eight years. “Over the span on the whole 12 days we had 100,000 to 150,000 people but we also had great weather. We’ll see how we do this year.”
That’s a big turnout, and with numbers like that, there comes a lot of preparation.
“This is all we’ve been working on,” she said. “It looks easy because it goes up so fast but there is just a ton of legwork to make everything run smoothly. You’ve got the vendors, the shows, the rides. You’ve got to map out where everything sets up.”
Traditionally, the opening day of the fair will accept canned food in lieu of entrance fees and this year’s was no different.
“It’s something we can do to help stock up the local food pantries for the winter,” Blair said. “We had so much last year, people really got into it. I’m hoping for just as much if not more this year. Fingers crossed.”
When gates opened at 4 p.m. on Thursday there was already a line of cars waiting to come in.
Vendors were busy prepping cotton candy, candy apples, fresh lemonade and well, fried everything.
Heidi Grunau from Hendersonville, N.C., runs “Heidi Ho On The Go,” a food truck offering the latest in crazy fair food: funnel cake bacon cheeseburgers.
Yes. You read that correctly.
“It’s a quarter pound fresh — never frozen — meat patty with bacon and cheese and “I use two four-inch funnel cakes as the bun,” explained Grunau. “I’ve looked around, and I haven’t seen anyone else out here with them so I’m pretty sure I’m the only one.”
So … How many calories are in a “funnel cake bacon cheeseburger?”
“Ha! I have no idea,” she said. “A lot. A regular funnel cake is eight inches and the meat I use is 80/20. But, that’s not really the point of fair food, is it?”
No. It’s not.
Besides her famous (or infamous, depending on your blood sugar count) burgers, Heidi Ho On The Go is also offering pizza funnels, funnel dogs and — wait for it — chocolate covered bacon.
Once you’ve had your fill, the idea of jumping on a bunch of carnival rides may not seem the wisest course of action, which makes it a perfect time to try your hands at a few games, says John Finnerty.
“The games can be difficult, but they’re not impossible,” Finnerty said. “The idea that they’re rigged isn’t true at all.”
Finnerty has been a concessionaire (note: don’t call them carnies) with Reithoffer Shows for “a few years” and explained that carnival games are actually inspected by a fair committee as well as state police to make sure everything’s legit.
“This industry is all about family,” he said. “People come here to have a good time with their families — if we were ripping them off, that wouldn’t be very good for business. No, they’re winnable — but some do take a little more luck and skill than others.”
Prizes for winning range from little inflatable toys to live goldfish to giant plush animals, depending on your game (and hand-eye coordination.)
Tucked away at the far end of the fairground’s midway is an area reserved for live shows — and they’ve got something for everyone.
Zebras, exotic birds, baby goats and miniature horses can be seen in the petting zoo along with a tortoise, every kind of cow imaginable, llamas and water buffalo.
Camel rides, magic shows — even pig racing. You name it, you can probably see it at the fair.
The Upper S.C. State Fair runs everyday through Labor Day opening at 4 p.m. on weekdays and at noon on the weekends. Admission is $8 per person at the gate but specials and midway shows can vary per day.
For more information visit www.uppersouthcarolinastatefair.com.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.