This year's Howard County Fair, which runs Aug. 3-10, is sure to be a blast — or at least, to include one.
For the first time, the 68-year-old event will include a Bull Blast, a rodeo featuring professional bull riding and bullfighters, as well as rodeo clowns, cowboy shootouts and barrel racing.
"It took some real arm–twisting to convince the fair board that this would work," said Kenny Livesay, a county real estate broker who was asked seven years ago to bring new events to the county fair. "But we pitched it and they gave the go-ahead, and everything's falling into place."
Livesay, who in the past few years helped launch such new events as an archery contest and a skid loader rodeo (a competition for skid loader operators), said the bull blast "is the biggest new event we've tried. A lot goes into it."
He said the event required raising money to attract professional riders, as well as building what amounts to a temporary stadium. But sponsors have helped, he said. Barrick Quarry, of Frederick County, for example, donated 600 tons of stone dust, which assures soft landings for the bull riders.
Despite the cost and all the work, Livesay is predicting success.
"It'll draw a whole new crowd to the fair," he said. "It's a very popular event."
Did he expect it to become an annual event?
"Absolutely," Livesay said. "Every event we've brought to the fair has been a success, and I expect this will be as well."
Fair President Blair Hill conceded the bull blast is "a leap of faith" for organizers because "it's not a cheap event to take on." He declined to say how much it will cost, but noted that ticket sales and sponsors will cover much if not all of the cost, and expressed no second thoughts about adding it.
"We see it as another form of entertainment," Hill said. "It's new, it's different. And I'm pleased already with the buzz it's creating."
Besides the bull blast, scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m., Hill said the fair will feature the usual competitions, exhibits, music, food, amusements, rides and events both quirky and traditional that fair-goers have come to expect.
"Other than the bull blast, we haven't really changed anything, just minor improvements here and there," Hill said. "We're sticking with what works."
Among the offerings and events:
• The Miss Howard County Farm Bureau Contest, for single women ages 16-19, and the Little Miss Howard County Farm Bureau and Howard County Future Farmer contests, for girls and boys ages 8-11
• The Zero Turn Mower Challenge, which tests the lawn care skills of participants, plus such challenges as a mule-pulling contest, cow-milking contest and, of course, a pie-eating contest.
• The Home Arts Department, which includes hundreds of competitions in categories ranging from fruit and nut bread and peanut butter cookies, to pillow needlepoint and asparagus fern-growing, to landscape oil painting and photography of historic Howard County.
• 4-H livestock exhibits and competitions that include goats, horses, pigs, and dairy and beef cattle.
• A midway with an array of rides, commercial exhibits, live music and parades.
"I'm excited for it," Hill said of the fair. "We're expecting another great week, especially if the weather cooperates. Whether we plan it or not, it's always the hottest week of the year."