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'Hearty' crowd buoys attendance at Howard County Fair

By Luke Lavoie, llavoie@tribune.com

8:47 AM EDT, August 13, 2013

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It took more than a few days of intermittent showers to deter fairgoers from attending the 68th annual Howard County Fair, which end its eight-day run Aug. 10 at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship.

"It was one of our best years yet, despite the weather," said Blair Hill, president of the Howard County Fair Association Inc.

Hill, who called the crowd "hearty," said attendance exceeded 100,000, which has become the norm in recent years.

There were showers on the fair's opening day, Saturday, Aug. 3, but it cleared up Sunday for the grand opening celebration that was highlighted by a parade on Midway Blvd. Monday was clear and sunny as well, but that unfortunately was the exception and not the rule for the remainder of the week.

While the rain signaled caution for fair organizers, the accompanying mild temperatures were welcomed by 4-H program members and their animals.

"On the flip side, it's great for the animals and the 4-Hers, which are a big part of the fair," Hill said. "We didn't have to deal with keeping the animals cool and comfortable, so that was a plus."

For the first time ever, the fair played host to bull riding show on Monday, Aug, 5. The Bull Blast, presented by Rockin "R" Western Productions, was a big success as approximately 3,000 turned out on a picture-perfect evening.

"This is the biggest leap forward the fair has seen in awhile," said Kenny Livesay, an event coordinator for the fair.

Livesay said convincing the fair board to put on the show took some coaxing, but the risk was rewarded as the turnout far exceeded expectations.

"We were turning people away at the gate," said Livesay. "It was probably one of the biggest events the fair has ever seen. We were begging (the fair board of directors) to put it on this year, and they will probably be begging to bring it back."

While the Bull Blast was a boon, it's got some work to do before it bucks the fair's tried and true staples such as the Miss Howard County Farm Bureau contest, the 50th annual Livestock Auction and the pie-eating contest.

Laura Thomas, 18, of Ellicott City, took home the title in the Farm Bureau contest by impressing the judges with her poise, personality and knowledge of farming.

Andrew Wilmeth, 15, of Woodbine, won the ultimate eat-off in the Pie-Eating Contest, taking top honors for the second straight year.

And of course, no fair would be complete without the rides, which drew young and old to the sometimes muddy fairgrounds from all walks of life.