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Neshoba County Fair: The countdown begins

The rite of summer affectionately known as Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty begins July 21.

For those lucky enough to have an ownership stake in one of the nearly 1,000 coveted cabins or campsites, the Neshoba County Fair is akin to a huge, weeklong reunion of extended family and friends, with front porches serving as the prime location for gathering and gossip.

Cabin and camper connections aren’t required to enjoy the fair’s massive list of attractions, from amusement rides on the midway, to the antique car parade, to marquee entertainment including the likes of Diamond Rio and Jason Aldean.

Or, to feast on popular culinary staples like corn dogs, Polish sausage and blooming onions.

Hurricane Katrina made its mark on at least two structures after last year’s fair, damaging a horse barn, and sending an oak tree through the newly renovated third floor of a cabin. That damage has since been repaired, according to fair manager Doug Johnson.

Although this year’s edition is the first since Hurricane Katrina, Johnson says fair officials aren’t anticipating any decrease in the approximately 85,000 people who visited last year.

Johnson is optimistic that attendance will rise, particularly because admission prices, which were raised last year to $30 for a weeklong season pass, and to $15 for a one-day ticket, will stay the same. Children ages 9 and under get in free.

Plus, Sunday, July 23, and Monday, July 24, are being inaugurated this year as special discount days, with one-day ticket prices cut to only $5. Midway ride prices will also be discounted those two days, Johnson said.

“We try to target families, to increase family participation,” Johnson said. “If they want to come to the fair for just one day, then that’s a good bargain for them.”

Johnson looks forward to the reactions of first-timers to the fair.

“We have people come through and say, ’My gosh, I’ve never seen anything like this before,”’ he said.

Another first this year will be the implementation of free “golf limo” shuttle rides for handicapped patrons, between the designated handicapped parking area and various points of interest on the fairgrounds. Shuttles will run between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day, Johnson said.

The chance to rub elbows with politicians and political hopefuls from across the state is a hallmark of the fair, as is the chance to have a ringside seat for vintage-style stump speeches at legendary Founders Square.

Gov. Haley Barbour is scheduled to take to the lectern on Thursday, July 27, at 10:40 a.m.

Other political speakers on the roster include Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck; Attorney General Jim Hood; Mississippi House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi; State Rep. Billy Nicholson, D-Little Rock; Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and State Rep. Erik Fleming of Clinton; Secretary of State Eric Clark; and Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon.

Political speakers will be allotted time over a tightly set midday schedule during both Wednesday and Thursday of the fair week.

Snafus with electrical power and water service which dogged last year’s fair, including temporary loss of air conditioning, and the rationing of water to cabin guests during selected hours, have been corrected, Johnson said.

“Our electrical system has been updated and upgraded. The Central Water Association (in Philadelphia) reports everything is A-OK as of right now,” Johnson said.