SEMO District Fair ready for the crowds

Friday, September 7, 2012
Jimmy Wilkinson with Lowery Carnival Co. applies a fresh coat of white paint to the railing of the Sea Dragon ride Wednesday at Arena Park in Cape Girardeau. The SEMO District Fair kicks off Saturday with the antique tractor pull in the morning, carnival armbands and the hotrod truck and tractor pull in the evening. (Laura Simon)

The sight of carnival rides and smell of deep-fried fair treats has delighted generations of Southeast Missourians, and now it's time for these things and more to fill Cape Girardeau once again.

The 155th SEMO District Fair begins Saturday in Arena Park. This year's main event performers are country music movers and shakers Gretchen Wilson, Travis Tritt and Colt Ford in the grandstand. Last year, George Jones nearly sold out the 3,500-seat arena, while Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Kennett, Mo., native David Nail drew around 1,800 each. Fair board president Pete Poe said he believes this year's main events should do as well, if not better.

"We worked hard to get the best, and I think our ticket sales will reflect that," Poe said. "It's been awhile since we've had a lineup like we have with Ms. Wilson, Mr. Tritt and Mr. Ford. These are musicians that are prominent on the current country music scene. We think people will love them."

The fair, which kicks off Saturday and runs through Sept. 15, will have two tractor pulls on opening day, barrel racing and the fair parade Monday, a dual demolition derby Tuesday and Heartland Idol on Wednesday. Poe said the fair set up in the park a little early this year.

"We wanted to get everything in the ground before Hurricane Isaac hit us last week, and we succeeded," he said. "Now we know the rides and everything are on stable ground."

Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department division manager Brock Davis said the fair's early setup in Arena Park is by no means unusual.

"It's almost routine, and it's been that way for 50 years or so now," Davis said. "They reserve the park early, and we always get things prepped early, expecting them to start setup. It's become second nature, pretty much."

The country music invasion of the fair grandstand starts with Gretchen Wilson, whose signature single "Redneck Woman" spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, while her first three albums each sold more than 5 million copies. Wilson has won several awards for her music, including a Grammy and ACM, CMA and AMA nods for best female vocalist.

Longtime country hit-maker Travis Tritt will take the grandstand stage next, on Sept. 14. Tritt has seven albums certified platinum and has charted more than 50 times with five No. 1 singles. He has also received two Grammys and four CMA awards and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1992.

Colt Ford, who will close out the grandstand entertainment, is a fairly new country musician and former professional golfer with three albums and four charted singles under his belt. His style is commonly described as a mix of Southern charm, country living and urban style. He has also written a theme song for the Professional Bull Riders Association.

But fair fun is more than the rides, the grandstand and the food. You can find entertaining events happening daily, including:

* Karaoke in the Activities Tent beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday.

* Church service starting at 9 a.m. Sunday at the fairgrounds grandstand with Cape County Cowboy Church.

* Poultry and rabbit dress-up contest and children's rooster crowing contest in the 4-H Sheep tent show ring at 1 p.m. Sunday.

* The SEMO Fair Pageant in the Activities Tent beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday.

* Mitchell's Marionettes daily on the North Fairgrounds.

* Woody's Menagerie and Wildlife Exposition daily at the South Fairgrounds.

* The parade starting at Capaha Park at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

* Look-alike contests: mother/daughter at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and father/son at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

* The Kickin' Country Music Band in the Activities Tent at 6 p.m. Thursday.

* Bill Hulvey and the Sidestreet Band in the Activities Tent at 5 p.m. Sept 14.

* Crosscut saw contest at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Antique Tractor Display.

* Robotics demonstration in the Activities Tent at 10 a.m. Sept. 15.

* New to the fair this year, the trivia contest for teams of six to eight people. Teams must register at the fair office before 6 p.m. Monday. The contest will start at 7 p.m. that night, so you must be signed in no later than 6:30 p.m. at the Activity Tent.

Poe expects fair's eight-day attendance to match numbers for previous years, which has hovered around 100,000, thanks in part to these "side" events.

"That's our three-year average, and there's no reason to think we'll draw less than that this year," Poe said. "But we have some things this year that might bring in some who haven't come in the past, and that's what we want. The non-grandstand stuff is free, and they allow people to spend all day doing different things without added cost. They add value to the fair."

Gate admission is $4 for adults, and free for those 11 years of age and younger. Gate admission for the week can be purchased for $25. Tickets for grandstand events range from free (barrel racing and Heartland Idol) to $30 (Wilson and Tritt), and are on sale now at the fair office or by calling 334-9250 or 800-455-3247. For more information about scheduling, pricing, carnival ride armbands and entertainment, visit


Pertinent address:

Arena Park, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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