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State Fair sees 6% hike in attendance from '04

Efforts to draw young crowd with fresh, free acts are successful

How do you get high attendance at an event that's over 150 years old?

Peg Napoleon Dynamite as your spokesman, host free national acts and enjoy the beautiful weather.

The combination of the three is what fair organizers believe brought 310,069 people out to the 11-day State Fair this year — a 6 percent increase from last year's count of 292,679 and almost 33,000 higher than the 277,162 who attended in 2003.

"It was our hope to attract the attention of the younger fairgoer," said Denise Stanger, fair marketing and public relations director. Attendance records were released Tuesday. "Word spreads about all the events. Once they find out what the fair has to offer, they're going to be back."

From a comedic magician, stage hypnotist, unicycling juggler, performing birds, racing pigs, trick ropers, funny redhead and Mr. American Pie, free special attractions and stage performances all drew big crowds.

Vendors agreed that fresh acts brought more visitors — and potential customers.

Loretta Massey, who has been selling Quick 'n' Brite glass cleaner at the Utah State Fair for 20 years, said the 2005 state fair had better acts, like returning favorite hypnotist Barry Jones. The good programs, strong variety of food and nightly fireworks were "something the public really seemed to like. A huge draw."

"It's always a great fair for us," the Utah resident said, noting sales were good. She travels to state fairs across the nation and said one maintenance issue at the Utah fair is sure to keep crowds happy: "It's neat and clean compared to other fairs."

Increasing youth attendance was an administration goal this year and numbers indicate the annual exposition was a popular destination spot for Utah's youth. The fair hosted more school groups than it has in the past and about 19,000 children went through the Little Hand on the Farm exhibit — an increase from last year's 16,000 children who attended.

Utah's kids and a first-class management team are two of the reasons vendor Bradley Leyman, creator of the Super Salsa Maker, loves coming back to the Utah State Fair.

"I've been coming here for 15 years and it's probably the best fair I do in the country," said Leyman, who also sells his product on TV. "It's the nicest people, I'll tell you that."

Compared with other fairs, Utah children have been taught their manners, he said.

"A little girl for instance will say 'Can I please have some,'" he said. Leyman makes his salsa in front of visitors and gives samples. "They always say their pleases and thank-yous."

Stanger said creating a family-friendly atmosphere is important because of Utah's demographics. But, fair organizers also tried to bring in concerts and arena events college-age people would like to cater to Utah's large population of students.

Bands Hoobastank, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Seether and Crossfade played for crowds with advance ticket purchases and free arena events like the PRCA Rodeo and the demolition derby catered to teens and college students.

"We've got a good thing going and we're on the right track," she said. Adding so many free performances hasn't been done at the fair for years, Stanger said, but the success promises more free acts at upcoming fairs.