One million is a big number.
Excuse me for stating the obvious, but a chapter of the 2013 Nebraska State Fair story is surely titled “One Million.”
Estimates are that sometime Friday or Saturday the one-millionth fairgoer since the big doings moved to Grand Island in 2010 will have passed through the gate. Not bad for a State Fair in year four of new digs and a new area code.
At the risk of unmitigated homerism, Grand Island’s embrace of the State Fair — and the creative energy and innovation from the State Fair staff and board — has turned gates with dizzying consistency and, during a few stretches, record-breaking numbers.
The partnership between the city and the State Fair continues to mesh and mix and match and make the annual 11 days of our biggest ag and entertainmentpalooza a major success.
Granted, some had serious reservations about the fair’s migration west. But the university had eyes for the State Fair’s land in Lincoln, and the Legislature signed off on the move.
The rest was simply details — millions of them.
The clock was relentless, too, ticking away two years of planning, building, moving, booking, fretting and amassing a legion of volunteers, those friendlies fairgoers will see in the yellow T-shirts.
Convincing was down the to-do list because nothing changes minds like success. And math.
All of which adds up to 1 million. The thrill of a million is more than arithmetic, however.
Putting up a new building or two and adding some paint is always a nice touch. And sure, many Nebraskans go to the State Fair because that’s what they do every year.
Kids in 4-H show up to experience the competition and culmination of a summer of painstaking work. But they don’t add up to 1 million in three years and a couple hours.
What has poured into the State Fair are sponsors who know a winner when they see one; ideas and new thinking from staff and the board that keep a traditional event on the cutting edge; and a palette of entertainment options that bring thousands to the State Fair who might otherwise never consider it.
To wit: Consider the success of Older Nebraskans Day during the Grand Island run, even though the inaugural effort required fair organizers to turn 2,000 people away from a Mel Tillis concert.
Unhappy campers abounded, but too much interest is a good problem to have — provided you keep your focus on the fairgoer. Ergo: two concerts on Older Nebraskans Day.
The popular Tillis will be back Wednesday with shows at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Keep your fingers crossed that two will be enough.
The Tillis story is instructive.
The State Fair chose a fair- goer-friendly solution rather than futz with the time or charge admission or shout out a parade of “get there early” disclaimers and warnings.
Keep your eyes on the prize, and good things happen.
Like 1 million.
I crisscrossed Fonner Park a couple times this week watching vendors set up and workers carefully applying plenty of spit and polish. As I did, it dawned on me that the real dazzle at the new State Fair is how, as its lens has widened, its focus has stayed sharp and on what counts: Those who show up at the gate.
The result is indeed thrilling.
Welcome back to Grand Island, to our fair city, and to the Nebraska State Fair. We’re happy to have you in our backyard for the big party that will hum along through Labor Day.
You may even be number 1 million.
Of course, 300,000-plus of you will not be, but that matters little. One million is exciting.
And it’s only a small chapter in an ever-growing tale of success. Welcome to the Nebraska State Fair — and to the rest of the story.