Was the Denver County Fair a success? Dana Cain weighs in

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Weird and winning?
Throwing a county fair for the first time ever is a lot like losing your virginity, it turns out: The stakes are high and the results may be a little messy and awkward, but that doesn't mean it wasn't thrilling, and it certainly doesn't mean you're going to stop doing it. "We cannot wait to do it again next year," raves Dana Cain, who, along with partner Tracy Weil, was the Denver County Fair's principle organizer. "It was phenomenal!" And while she acknowledges there were a few kinks in the hose along the way, she's always been a woman of ideas, and she's got no shortage of them now.

"We want the animal pavilion to, like, double or triple in size, and we'll probably move the holistic and green pavilions," she muses, "but my dream -- I'll just go ahead and tell you about it now -- is to add a pavilion: The Geek Pavilion. It's so Denver. There's just so much love of tech in the city. Where I got the idea was, I was just walking along one day, and I thought, god dang, I wish we could do a spelling bee. But where would it go? You'd need something like... a Geek Pavilion."

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Winding down.
But beyond the pavilions and the basic layout, Cain says, the real highlight was the competitions, and she and Weil have plans to bring those to the forefront: "Next year, we're going to include more of the live competition, because those were the things that the public just devoured -- the pie eating contests were just, you would have thought it was the second coming. Ms Denver County Fair drag competition -- if you looked out into the audience, you could see that it was not a drag queen crowd, and they loved it. I mean, what's funnier than a man in a dress?"

Of course, it's not just the question of whether or not it was fun (it was) -- there's also the inevitable question of the money. The LLC Cain and Weil created to run the fair was a for-profit endeavor, and since they're both independent entrepreneurs, both had a lot at stake -- Cain notes that, besides raising and spending money, both gave up a lot of other potential work to fully devote themselves to making the County Fair happen. And it was not cheap: All in all, Cain estimates, the price tag was about $300,000, about half of which they spent on hiring legendary concert promoter Barry Fey out of retirement to book Devo as the headlining act.

Cain says they probably won't be doing anything on that scale next year, but she also acknowledges that it really helped to bring attention to the first one, and the fair did indeed get a ridiculous amount of attention: A write-up by the Associated Press let to bits on NPR, CBS and the New York Times, leading to a level of national attention nobody had even anticipated: "I mean, that AP story appeared in about 260 national media outlets," Cain notes. "It was pretty dang amazing."

At the end of the day, it was basically a financial success. "We're still kind of waiting for the dust to settle in terms of financials, but it looks like we just about broke even, give or take a few thousand," Cain says. "For a first year, we couldn't have done much better."

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9 comments
Leslie Newman
Leslie Newman

"WHETHER or not it was fun."  How about a spelling pavilion?

sporobolus
sporobolus

i really enjoyed the fair; much better than many "year zero" events, and overall a great reflection of down-to-earth Denver; the art show was fantastic, and it lived up to the norm for a fair that there are so many vendors and displays that the ones that bore you don't matter

i was stunned, though, by the lack of attention to food and drink -- seriously, the standard carny food didn't live up to Denver's food culture, and neither are eight dollar plastic cups of Coors and Blue Moon the best Denver has to offer; if the renting the Stock Show Complex required this state of affairs, then by all means warn us next year so that we can bring our own, and give us a map of the best nearby pubs

the other disappointment was that there was no seed art; having seen amazing examples of this genre at the Minnesota State Fair, and considering the depth of Denver's crafty and urban farmer cultures, i fully expected to be blown away by how local hipsters had gone all out remixing this venerable craft; maybe next year?

Celeste I Melville
Celeste I Melville

It needs to be at least two weeks later next year...a fair after all is supposed to be about prize winning vegetables and the garden season isn't in full swing that early in the year.

guest
guest

barry fey got 150k for booking one act?

Vic
Vic

The lack of local food vendors was a serious drag at the fair -- I also wondered if it had something to do with the venue. Also, I think the competitions (food, canning vegetable, etc.) need to have much more of a sense of occasion to them. It may have been just the fact that it was inside, but it seemed a lot like a Denver Home show or sci fi convention dealer's room, not quite a fair. Maybe the location is just not quite right despite it's connection to the Western Stock Show (which happens in the winter of course, so a whole different vibe).

Leslie Newman
Leslie Newman

True.  Prize winning vegetables and gardening tips should be included.

Show and Tell Moderator
Show and Tell Moderator

That's actually on the table. Dana wants to move it to the second week of August for exactly that purpose (also, not to be competing with Dragon Boat, the Renaissance Fair and Frontier Days); right now, they're working that out with National Western.

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