By Vicki Hillhouse
Get ready for “Fun in Fair-A-Dise.”
With a theme that promises entertainment, the Walla Walla County Fair & Frontier Days aims to deliver with five days of musical acts — including opening day concert headliner The Beach Boys — a sold out demolition derby, three nights of PRCA rodeo action, vendors, exhibits, a community parade, carnival, food and more.
The event kicks off Wednesday, Aug. 30 (which offers free admission until 3pm), and runs through Sunday, Sept. 3.
The oldest fair in the state, Walla Walla’s event traces its roots to 1866, 23 years before Washington became a state. In a recent interview, fair Manager Greg Lybeck shared how the event honors the past while consistently working to stay fresh and new.
What’s in store for the 2023 Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days?
Our nighttime shows were exceptionally good last year. This year, we’re expecting it to be a little stronger even. The demo derby sold out way early. For the rodeo, we’ll be on the Cowboy Channel live for the first time ever. It’ll be nice to get our city and our area up on the broadcast.
On our grounds we’ll have lots of exceptional acts — a juggler, a 9-foot robot, a hula hoop performer. We’ve got Canine Stars Stunt Dog Show, Barnyard Racers out of Texas and exotic animals with Walk on the Wildside. All those acts go two, three — up to five times a day. Plus, we have music on the Pepsi Plaza and Many Waters stages, all the animals, a lot of vendors, the carnival, food …
What makes Walla Walla’s Fair special?
I think the roots the people in the community have for it go way back. They go deep. In his report, the fair commissioner commented on the community’s participation that he saw at our fair. This is probably the ultimate compliment — he called our Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days a small Iowa State Fair, and it was because our community involvement and their overall love and care for the fair. You really can’t teach that. New generations – I hope – are being taught that, too. They love their fair.
As an example, last year with our poultry exhibit and the avian flu outbreak we couldn’t have chickens. So the exhibitors set up the pens as if there were chickens. The participation and the care they all put into their areas was incredible. The judge was very, very very keen on the participation level.
It’s easy to see. You go to other places, and it’s just not that way.
What does it mean to be home to the oldest fair in the state?
I think there’s a whole lot of tradition. A lot of people have spent 50, 60, 70 years connected to this fair. It’s fun when you’re the oldest one.
The first rodeo was in 1913. The old pictures show how it’s changed. One year, they had a cattle roundup downtown. It was all great until there were cars down there and cattle were running into cars.
We have a room at the fairgrounds with the photos of all of our past board members and people who have contributed. It’s fun to be part of that.
Are other changes coming?
Mostly in infrastructure. We’ve put a lot of time into trying to improve our curb appeal as you drive around the fairgrounds. We’re still not done. We’re working on securing a grant through the Department of Agriculture to complete the fencing on the east side from Orchard to Tietan streets, and then lighting in a couple of parking lots that are dimly lit.
I think we’re always looking to upgrade our existing facilities. There’s talk of moving the office closer to Orchard where Kiddie Land is, with a museum. We’d like to fix the grandstand seating a bit and work on the barns. There’s a lot of exciting stuff in the future.
To get tickets and learn more about this year’s Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days, visit the Walla Walla Fairgrounds and Event Center website.