They call themselves a “fair family.” Not because they show cattle together or participate in 4-H projects as a family. This tribe was born out of their mutual enjoyment of being up front at the concerts at the Mississippi Valley Fair.
In early December the fair sells about 1400 passes for the WLLR/Pepsi #1 Club. The passes, sold for a $5 premium over general admission fun cards, let you line up on the grounds in a designated spot for a 15-minute head start before the main concert area gates open. If they scramble it means the eager fans will secure a good spot in the sand pit, up close to the stage.
The #1 Club passes go fast. “They are typically sold out within the first 24-48 hours,” says WLLR’s Jim O’Hara, the country radio station’s senior vice president for programing.
The “fair family” I met is made up of diehards among the diehards. They come early and park themselves with their friends so they get a good spot in the line. “It is relaxing,” says fan Shelley, who arrived on the grounds last Thursday with her husband Todd (five days before opening act Chris Janson hit the stage). They’ll remain at the fair for the duration.
When the #1 Club gate opens each night before the concerts, the couple make a dash across the sand to their chosen spot. “You have about 2 seconds to see how the stage is set up and then you have to go for it,” says Todd.
The #1 Club fans are not allowed to pitch tents but pop-up canopies and lounge chairs for sleeping are OK. Bathrooms and showers are available nearby on the grounds. And there’s plenty of fair food, something the fans I met look forward to each year.
Another fan, Kathy, started buying #1 Club passes when the fair first sold them 20 years ago. She gets credit as the longest standing member of the “fair family.” She loves the concerts and camaraderie of hanging out with friends she’s made while waiting in line.
I asked about her favorite show: “Jake Owen put on a heck of a concert a few years ago. And Billy Dean made an impact. He had a great set up.” she recalls.
One of the prizes in getting to the front of the line are the close-up pictures of the stars. They showed me a few from the Gary Allan concert. I can only imagine the awesome photo albums back home.