By MARY THURWACHTER
Palms West Monthly
Posted Jan. 2, 2018
WEST PALM BEACH — The drum beat has already begun for the 2018 South Florida Fair, a 17-day extravaganza with all the goodies fairgoers have come to expect – corn dogs, carnival rides, games, agriculture, entertainment and, yes, racing pigs.
This year’s theme, “Magical Parades,” will have visitors tapping toes and stretching out arms to catch beaded necklaces tossed from floats in true Mardi Gras style.
A famous parade from around the globe will be featured each day of the fair, which runs Jan. 12-28, says fair spokeswoman Doreen Poreba. Patrons of last year’s fair were asked via Facebook to suggest their most loved parades.
The theme is a spin-off of sorts from last year’s New Orleans theme and its popular Mardi Gras parade.
Vicki Chouris, vice president and COO of the South Florida Fair, said she and her team collaborated on a theme for months after last year’s fair and wondered how they could top its popularity.
“We decided to take the parade and do one every day of the fair, each with a different theme,” she said. Upbeat music, colorful costumes and decorated floats – which will also be on display in a Magical Parades exhibition – will all be part of the show.
Among the parades will be two Bike Nite (Jan. 17 & 24) processions, which typically attract hundreds of bikers sporting two and three-wheeled motorcycles.
“We’ve got a lot of help putting on the parades,” Chouris said. “For example, for the Oktoberfest Parade (Jan. 20), the American German Club will help us. Our Thanksgiving Parade (Jan. 27) is being supported by the sugar industry and will be a ‘Thank a Farmer Parade.’”
Florida Atlantic University will assist in putting on the Football Hall of Fame Parade (Jan. 28) and the Rose Society will be helping with the Rose Petal Parade (Jan. 22).
“And I don’t want to fail to mention that we’ve got a lot of pirates coming (Jan. 18) for the Pirate Parade,” Chouris added. “Believe it or not, there are pirates everywhere.”
The parades are scheduled for weekends at 1 p.m. and weekdays at 6:30 p.m., except for Thursday, Jan. 25, when it will begin at 7:30 p.m.
As always, the fair will host an award-winning livestock and agriculture program with more than 1,000 exhibitors from 30 Florida counties and more than 200 rides, games and attractions.
This year, world-class ice skating performances will be on the daily calendar, in addition to four stages of music and entertainment and the historic Yesteryear Village.
“The best in fried foods and other tasty, exotic treats also will continue to be a main draw for many fairgoers,” Poreba said.
Of course, the fair has a larger purpose than entertainment, carnival rides, games and food.
“The main purpose of the fair is to showcase agriculture,” said Rick Vymlatil, South Florida Fair president and CEO.
“As South Florida becomes more urban, we’re very conscious that we need to tell the story of agriculture in Florida history,” said Vymlatil. “In the Sundy Feed Store, we have a variety of commodities on display – the sugars, of course, and vegetables. After all, South Florida is the winter vegetable capital of the world.”
Vymlatil has been in the fair business since 1982 and was recently elected 2018 chairman of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
Like every aspect of the fair, entertainment has evolved, Vymlatil said. “Traditionally, there has been a focus on country music. Now, it’s much more mainstream. Unfortunately, the costs of those country music entertainers has skyrocketed. And so, instead of being able to present the headliners of the year, we can present some of the young headliners, the up-and-comers, because they’re more affordable.”
Besides country stars, the fair presents classic rock music and some entertainers who appeal to a somewhat older audience.
Among this year’s big-name acts are Grand Funk Railroad on Jan. 24 and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Jan. 25.
“We’ve also added a Florida history element with the advent of Yesteryear Village in 1990,” Vymlatil said. “And that has become more and more of a popular location for people to go to. We have people tell us that they go to Yesteryear Village and they stay there all day.”
This year, a big band orchestra will perform, aimed at the senior audience. “And we’ll have a health fair for the seniors,” Chouris said.
All the entertainment is free with fair admission. Each day, guests will be able to see the Ham Bone Express, Ice Parades Ice Skating Show, Lady Houdini, Robocars, Stars of the Peking Acrobats and farm animals in the Kubota Agriplex.
Other activities in the Agriplex include rabbit and chicken agility, horse demonstrations, the market animal auction on Jan. 13, and a horticultural tent.
Additional fair attractions include the a cappella group Kazual, which will entertain audiences Jan. 12-16; the Tricky Dog Show, which returns Jan. 12-16 and master hypnotist Tyzen, who will perform shows Jan. 17-28.
Also performing is showman Dennis Lee from Jan. 22-28. The Hitchiti Dancers will perform in Yesteryear Village on weekends and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 15.
For those a bit more adventurous, sign up for a Yesteryear Village Ghost Tour, held Friday and Saturday nights starting at 10 p.m. These tours are recommended for ages 12 and older.
To purchase tickets, go online to southfloridafair.com or go to the General Store in Yesteryear Village during the fair. Individual tickets are $15 and are in addition to a fair admission ticket.
The South Florida Fair will be held at the fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd. in West Palm Beach. For more information, ticket prices and the official entertainment lineup, go online to southfloridafair.com or call (561) 793-0333.