By Abby Ott, Staff Writer
Approaching the West Tennessee State Fair, lights glittered and the Ferris wheel towered above the other rides. Despite sprinkling rain, Jackson Fairgrounds Park’s lots were packed with cars and visitors. Flashing lights illuminated food stands advertising assorted eatables.
Walking up to the old-fashioned ticket booth, the entry point to the fair, the sound of screaming attendees on wild rides and upbeat music blaring from speakers filled the air. The rides varied, from the laidback Ferris wheel to the gut wrenching “Cobra,” which twisted participants around in circles. Every ride was distinctive. Many were able to turn stomachs into knots by turning fair-goers upside down and around in circles. Food stands were set up all around the fairgrounds, selling snacks like foot-long corndogs, candied apples, burgers, pizza, snow cones, funnel cakes and popcorn.
However, Ronnie Dukes, owner of Ron’s Barbeque and Ben’s Traveling Barbeque, does not sell typical fair food. Dukes owns a local barbecue restaurant but makes a portable version of his food available at the fair. His best-selling item is barbecue nachos.
“We get a chance to expose ourselves to people in Jackson. And visitors from out of town get to taste real Tennessee barbecue,” Dukes said.
Dukes also said he feels like the fair is a “family affair” because there is a sense of community among the fair workers. He said they often trade food with other vendors. Dukes pointed out a barbecue grill behind their portable setup. He said he takes pride in the fact that the meat is grilled on site. In addition, they make their own sauce that comes in three different flavors: regular, hot and “slap your pappy.”
“We are a breath of fresh air for people here because they get tired of eating things like cotton candy and caramel apples,” Dukes said.
Enjoying fair cuisine was not the only activity in which fairgoers engaged. Games, competitions, goat shows, concerts, pageants and logging shows abounded. Couples of all ages, teenagers, families and friends strolled around the fairgrounds and participated in the games and rides.
“You have to be careful about the games because I stopped at one place and they surprisingly got $20 out of me,” said Lauren Smith, Union alumnae.
Heather Holland, senior sport management major, said she feels the fair is a good family activity to engage in because there is something for everyone, regardless of his or her interests or economic status.
“Being around so many different people is just fun,” Holland said. “All of the different smells — coming from the cotton candy and popcorn — are so interesting. People-watching is the most intriguing thing.”
The fair lasted six days and comes to Jackson once a year. Some visit the fair annually, and look forward to it all year.
“I love the fair. It is almost as magical as Christmas,” Smith said. “I got off work at 7 (p.m.), and I knew the first thing I wanted to do was go to the fair, even though I have to work at 6:30 (a.m.) tomorrow.”