Fair Play

Mississippi celebrates summer with local fairs, each offering its own style of fun.
By Deborah Reinhardt Palmer

Summer in Mississippi is not for the faint of heart–or for anyone prone to fainting from heat. With outside temperatures flirting with 100 degrees and the air thick with humidity, a person can wilt quicker than a handful of greens in a hot skillet.

cabins

Above: The fair’s cabin communities have distinctive vibes. Some 600 cabins are on the grounds.

Below: Midway rides provide excitement to fairgoers. Neshoba County Fair Association photos

Zipper

Before homes were air-conditioned, churches often organized outdoor camps along cool riverbanks or lakes, thereby getting parishioners out of stifling homes and sun-bleached fields for a short respite of song, scripture and cooler breezes. The idea of seeking heat relief later morphed into county fairs and today, Mississippians have a variety of summertime fairs from which to choose. These fairs, all within a day’s drive or less, have a distinctive stamp and offer a chance to enjoy summer and its brand of fun.

Come to a house party

Imagine throwing a backyard party for 160,000 of your closest friends. For 120 years, the folks in Philadelphia have done just that with the Neshoba County Fair, known in the region as Mississippi’s Giant House Party.

With historical roots in 19th-century agricultural fairs and church camps, Neshoba’s fair was held for the first time in 1889. Familiar sites like livestock and quilt exhibits, flea markets, arts and crafts and carnival rides are here. National country music entertainers come by to sing. The state’s oldest race track, which dates to 1914, is the place for popular harness races. But what makes this fair different are the small neighborhoods of about 600 cabins that are populated by generations of fairgoers. Most of the cabins are two or three stories, although the oldest dates to 1929 and is a single story. In addition, there are about 500 camping and RV sites that fair regulars rent out each year. Don’t expect to pull up with a camper and find a hook-up. Another RV park and plenty of lodging can be found around the fairgrounds.

“We’ve had some campers who have been coming here for 35 years,” said Doug Johnson, fair manager.

When you need a break from the heat, find shade under the trees that line Pavilion Square; a few are original to the site. And if someone sitting on a front porch invites you in for pie and a glass of sweet tea (and a chance to sit in air conditioning), smile, say thank you and go right in. It’s just part of the folksy charm of the Neshoba County Fair.

Neshoba’s Big Party

What Neshoba County Fair
when July 24–31

Where Fairgrounds off state Highway 21 South in Philadelphia. Lodging is available at several motels in Philadelphia. The Pearl River Resort is another option.

What’s it cost Admission: $15 for guests 10 and older; $30 for an eight-day pass

who to call Neshoba County Fair Association, (601) 656-8480, www.neshobacountyfair.org.

why it’s special Not many fairs around the country have cabins and campsites reserved by families who have been coming to the fair for years.

Located in east-central Mississippi, the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia pulls crowds from across the state. Other relocated families with ties to the county come home for the week just to go to the fair.

“At some point in time, we’ve had a person from every state of the union,” said fair manager Doug Johnson.

The fair also has become a politicians’ stumping grounds. Jack Kemp, John Glenn–even President Ronald Reagan–made the fair part of their campaign rounds.

Country music stars are another big part of the fair. This year’s national acts include Bucky Covington, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Neil McCoy and Little Big Town.

Exhibits, livestock shows, horse races, a flea market, a beauty pageant, great food fare and midway rides round out the fun. What’s Johnson’s favorite ride?

“I’m a Ferris wheel type,” he said laughing. “That’s about how fast I like to go.”

dancing

Traditional dancing will be demonstrated at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Neshoba County. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians photo

Cultural gathering

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the only American Indian tribe recognized by the state. For 60 years, residents of east-central Mississippi have experienced the tribe’s culture at the Choctaw Indian Fair.

The fair’s roots go back to the time when Choctaws gathered newly ripened corn, and the event was once known as the Green Corn Festival. Today, the fair is an opportunity for Choctaws to pay tribute to their heritage and welcome visitors to the reservation.

Tribal dancing, food, arts and crafts are a big part of the fun. Look for the well-known Choctaw baskets. Wood works, beaded items and the baskets will be available for purchase.

Don’t miss a chance to try some of the traditional food sold at the fair. Try the Choctaw Indian taco that’s made with traditional frybread instead of a tortilla. Pair that with a side of hominy.

Watch a portion of the stickball tournament, with the World Series Stickball Championship Game closing out the fair. Stickball, a traditional sport, once was played by Choctaws to settle disputes.

Choctaw is near the city of Philadelphia in Neshoba County. Look for the sign on state Highway 16 that says Choctaw Tribal Headquarters and turn on Industrial Road, one of the entrances to the fair.

Hours for the fair are 11 a.m.–1 a.m. July 8 and 9; 9 a.m.–2 a.m. July 10 and 11.

Choctaw Fair

What Choctaw Indian Fair
when July 8–11

Where Choctaw Indian Reservation off state Highway 16 at Choctaw Town Center. Take Industrial Road and follow signs.

What’s it cost Adult season ticket, $15; adult one-day, $10; student season ticket, $10; student one-day, $5; ages 5 and younger, $5.

who to call Fair office, (601) 650-7450 or visit www.choctawindianfair.com.

why it’s special Choctaw culture is celebrated with tribal arts, crafts, food and world championship stickball competition. Midway rides and well-known musical acts also are here.

kid with animals

Livestock exhibits are part of the traditional Union County Fair sponsored by Mississippi State University Extension Service. Extension Service photo

Cows and corndogs

Union County has staged its annual fair since 1941, and it appears the organizers know how to put together the quintessential summer fair. With daily livestock shows and exhibits, antique tractor pulls, a rodeo, rides, food, music and more, guests are bound to have a good time here. Plus the fairgrounds are well-shaded, an important item for August in northeast Mississippi.

Come for free Aug. 1 when the fair opens at 8 p.m. and see an antique tractor show, plus the beef exhibits, and hear music. Other highlights include the carnival rides that start on Aug. 3, barrel races on Aug. 4, Grandkids’ Day on Aug. 5, the children’s cowboy contest and miniature horse show on Aug. 6, and the rodeo on Aug. 7 and 8.

“We have a traditional county fair,” said Stanley Wise, fair spokesman. “Everything we do is family and youth oriented.”

A variety of musical performances, a free petting zoo, food concessions, arts and crafts also will be at the fair.

The reasonable gate admission prices, as well as free daytime admission throughout the week, help to make the Union County Fair an affordable family outing.

Old-fashioned Fun

What Union County Fair and Livestock Show
when Aug. 1–8

Where Union County Fairgrounds, 112 Fairgrounds Circle, New Albany

What’s it cost Free admission Aug. 1 when the fair opens at 8 p.m. The fair is closed on Aug. 2. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children 12 and younger Aug. 3–6 from 4–10 p.m. On Aug. 7–8, admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children 12 and younger from 4 p.m. to midnight. Come at 9 p.m. for “Midnight Madness” and get discounted admission ($3).

who to call Union County Fair/Mississippi State University Extension Service, (662) 534-1916 or see www.unioncountyfair.com.

why it’s special The livestock shows, rodeo, carnival rides and corn dogs are all here, plus guests can attend during the day–until 4 p.m.–for free.

Deborah Reinhardt Palmer is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

Jul/Aug 2009 Issue


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