The "oldest county fair in Texas" is celebrating its 150th anniversary with new attractions and an energetic music lineup while keeping its old-fashioned traditions and values.
The Washington County Fair kicks off today and continues through Sept. 22 at the fairgrounds in Brenham. The fair revved up its entertainment budget to get artists such as Trace Adkins and Robert Earl Keen and worked to get crowd pleasers such as the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses to the fair to celebrate the monumental anniversary, said Fair Board President David Wellmann.
"This is our celebration of our 150th anniversary, so we did make a concerted effort to have great live music," Wellmann said. "Our goal was to have multiple nights of really good entertainment instead of one night of a huge star, and I think we've done that."
Other headliners for the fair include La Tropa Estrelle on Tuesday, Dale Watson and Gary P. Nunn on Wednesday, Josh Ward and Kyle Park on Thursday and the Randy Rogers Band on Sept. 22.
This weekend, the fair's larger events include a wine event, a trail ride, a parade and a craft beer roundup. Admission to the fair is free today. On Tuesday, the carnival opens, along with live music, livestock showing and team roping. From Wednesday through Sept. 22, there will be a petting zoo, a Kid's Zone, an Ag Mechanics Show, an antique farm equipment exhibit, kid's pedal tractor races, a rodeo and more.
For the anniversary, Wellmann said organizers also wanted to expand the wine event, happening today. Tickets are $30, and attendees can sample a variety of local wines and craft beers. There also will be snacks, a photo booth and special commemorative glasses for all participants.
A substantial addition to this year's fair is the Budweiser Clydesdale Stable, which will be at the fair from Wednesday through Sept. 22. The Clydesdales also will do a hitch show and rodeo ride at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22.
"The biggest draw that we were able to put together was the Budweiser Clydesdales that will be housed and having an exhibit," Wellmann said. Organizers partnered with the local Budweiser distributor to secure the exhibit. "If you've never seen them in person, they're magnificent animals. The whole team will be here, and they will be having stable viewings, so you can go in and take pictures. They're also having educational demonstrations."
Other new attractions this year include the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show from Wednesday through Sept. 22, featuring old and modern-day lumberjacking skills in a humorous, family-oriented way. Also, Matty the Caricature Artist is new to the fair this year.
A few inaugural events -- such as the "Old Timer" Showmanship Contest, a past queen's reunion and a reunion for past ag teachers, FFA teachers and those in Extension H -- are a way to celebrate the fair's past.
"We're doing a reunion tour, basically," said Wellmann, who has been involved with the fair his entire life.
"I'm 54 years old, and I can safely say I've been to 54 [Washington County Fairs]," Wellmann said. "Even when I went off the college, I came back. Back then, you always went home for the fair."
Right out of college, Wellmann started volunteering at the event, a Washington County tradition as strong as rodeos and kolaches.
To make the fair happen, there are about 450 volunteers involved. The 501c3 organization that puts on the fair has only one paid clerical position. The rest is all up to volunteers who do it to help the youth in the county, Wellmann said.
The mission of the Washington County Fair Association is to promote and encourage agriculture, horticulture and home economics through the exhibition of products. The association's scholarship program offers more than 20 scholarships that are awarded to local youth. The youth also raise money from their livestock sales, Wellmann said.
"Last year, $1.7 million was given to kids," Wellmann said. "Most of that was their income from the sales. It's their money -- they can do what they want with it -- but most of them, myself included when I was young, put it towards college."
Having the community work together to help raise scholarship for the youth is like a big family reunion every year, said Susan Fritz, the superintendent of the County Store.
"It really helps the youth of Washington County," Fritz said. "It helps with morale; it helps with scholarships; it helps teaching them old values and old ways with the canning, the baking and the crafting."
Wellmann agrees that it's inspiring to see local businesses and organizations support the youth and their sales, no matter what the economy is going through.
"Over the past 54 years, I think society and the fair have changed dramatically as a whole, but it just seems like the Washington County fair seems to bring the community back together," Wellmann said. "It's amazing to me how many people take pride and ownership in this 12-month ordeal."
Daily tickets to the fair are $12 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 12. From Wednesday through Sept. 22, tickets are $25 if bought after 6 p.m. Advance season tickets are available for $30. For more information and for discounts, visit www.washingtoncofair.com.