In many ways, the 2020 Live Oak County Fair was the last hurrah of normal activity before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down, and while the 2021 fair faces many challenges and changes, the goal remains to provide a spotlight for local youth to shine in livestock as well as food and arts and crafts competition.
Tommy Williams, president of the Live Oak County Fair Association, said the organization is making the best of a difficult situation with the focus being on local youth.
“That’s the only reason I do this,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the younger generation I’d go, ‘Eh, I quit.’ The kids need it. It keeps them focused on positive things and gives them goals and a great way to stay out of trouble. Our whole emphasis is to promote youth and to help create strong work ethics.”
Krystal Studlar, a member of the fair association board of directors and office manager for the Live Oak County Agrilife Extension Office, said the number of entries in the livestock categories is down in all areas except for beef.
“Goats, swine, rabbits, lambs and hogs are all down a little bit from last year,” she said. “We actually have more entries in the beef category.
Uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is a primary reason for the declining numbers in some areas, Studlar said.
“I talked to a couple of families at the beginning of the 4-H year, and they decided that with so many things being uncertain, they were not going to purchase animals (to show at the fair),” she said.
The Houston Livestock Show changed the date of its event for 2021, which further disrupted the Live Oak County Fair.
“One of the biggest problems for us was Houston dropping some of their show dates on top of us,” Williams said. “That’s caused us to have to change things quite a bit.”
The normal Thursday through Saturday schedule for the Live Oak County Fair during the first weekend in March has been shifted to a Sunday, Feb. 28 check-in, with the goat and lamb show slated for March 1, swine on March 2 and rabbits on March 3.
Entries for arts and crafts, meanwhile, have been moved up even earlier, to Feb. 22. The check-in for the food contest will be Feb. 28.
“It’s a little bit earlier so we can spread things out,” Studlar said.
Among the biggest changes will be the elimination of admission costs for people to attend this year’s fair, and also the absence of a carnival which has become a staple of the fair.
“The people who bring the carnival haven’t been able to go anywhere since our fair last year,” Williams said. “We were the last one before COVID hit. I know that will be a strange thing for a lot of the kids who look forward to that. It’s also a big fundraiser for the George West High School junior class and the Three Rivers 4-H Club.”
With no carnival and no inside vendors – and a reduced number of outside vendors – Williams said the association decided to waive the usual admission fees.
“A lot of the ones who attend the fair are family members, parents and grandparents, and we decided not to charge them to get in this year,” he said.
That will result in the loss of $10,000 to $12,000 in revenue – and not having a carnival will result in an additional loss of $9,000 to $12,000.
“We just decided it was best with all the disruptions not to charge at the gate,” Williams said.
The sale of livestock, shop projects and baked goods has been rescheduled to April 17, along with the annual cabrito cookoff. If everything falls into place and COVID-19 concerns are reduced, in part because of increased vaccines, there is a possibility to have a carnival on that date, Williams said.
“We can muddle through with all the COVID mess and with the hits to oil and gas, but hopefully things will start to improve,” he said. “The forecast is not great, but it’s not bleak, either. We have a lot of people and businesses supporting us and helping us to get things done.
“We lost in excess of $24,000 from coliseum rentals, but we are still having barrel races the first Tuesday of each month. We aren’t making a lot of money with those, but it’s enough to pay the utilities.”
While weathering the double whammy of COVID-19 and economic setbacks, Williams said local donations and volunteer work has made a big difference.
“We have a lot of community support, and that’s helping us pull it off and keep it going,” he said.