In its 92nd year, the DeKalb County Fall Fair has become known as “America’s Largest Family Reunion” and is one of the biggest street fairs in Indiana. Starting at the center of downtown Auburn, multiple city blocks are lined with food vendors, nightly entertainment, competitions, shows, carnival rides and more.
This year, the fair is taking place Sept. 25-30 around the County Courthouse Square, 100 S. Main St., extending into city streets for several blocks, and including the DeKalb County Fairgrounds, 708 S. Union St. Admission to the fair and all entertainment is free.
Drawing vendors and hundreds of thousands of fairgoers from around the country, the fair has prompted many people to make the annual event a family tradition, says Jeff Morr, entertainment chairperson.
Morr remembers attending the fair as a child, performing in rock bands at the fair, becoming a 4-H leader, and then eventually, a volunteer.
“I have never completely missed a fair,” he says. “I always found a way to get there, even if out of town. The fair is just something you grow up with. It has to happen every year and people love it. Everyone wants to come to the fair for one reason or another and see people they haven’t seen for a while.”
Dave Bunn, in charge of The Merchant’s Tent, says putting on the fair is a “massive feat” involving hundreds of volunteers and a fair board consisting of members, mostly having an average of 15-20 years of fair experience.
The Merchant Tent covers six city blocks, with more than 45,000 square feet under one roof. Upwards of 200 vendors sell products and services and promote businesses and organizations, with display items varying from lawn and garden equipment, beauty products, apparel, health products, RVs, ATVs, advertising, promotional materials for civic organizations and more.
John Hoffman, one of the newest members on the board, is responsible for concessions, rides and games. This year, there are 93 food vendors, 70 games and 30 rides provided by Poor Jack Amusements of Milton, Ind.
Hoffman describes the fair as “very interactive,” with a board that “truly cares about the success of the fair and genuinely cares about their responsibilities.”
Vendors from across the country return each year. The number of food vendors has consistently grown and an additional street was opened to accommodate the influx five years ago.
Hoffman personally interviews every vendor, and as a result, has started presenting recognition awards in various categories. Last year was the first year for awards in three categories of food, games and nonprofit.
“As I do this, I learn more and more about these families, and it’s impressive to find out how they have contributed to the fair and for how long,” he says. “I wish I could recognize all of them, and will have to come up with more ways to do that.”
Although more than one vendor may be serving the same type of food, each one has a unique way of preparing and seasoning their food, Hoffman says. Pence’s Concessions of Bryan, Ohio, has nine booths. Their caramel corn, caramel apples, and cotton candy are hugely popular, he says.
Award-winning Zebelles is now a concession on wheels serving polish and Italian sausage, onion straws and foot-long corndogs. Three generations ago, the family’s grandfather started a family tradition with a single cotton candy/apple stand at the fair in the 1920’s.
Eastern Star is one of the oldest food vendors and has been making donuts for more than 75 years. Today, they turn out 120 dozen donuts an hour with a staff of about 10 workers assigned to a specific station. The trailer is located on the corner of Seventh and Main.
“The donuts are made to order, are warm when you get them, and they melt in your mouth,” Hoffman says. “This definitely is one of our most popular attractions, with a continuous long line of people waiting to buy the donuts.”
Morr says the free entertainment is another big attraction, especially for those who couldn’t afford to go elsewhere to see top acts. Each year, Morr’s goals include getting a well-known country band, rock band and tribute band to perform, plus provide some of the area’s best local bands a chance to perform for a big crowd.
This year’s headliners include Quiet Riot, an American heavy metal band that formed in 1973, producing such hits as “Metal Health,” “Mama Weer All Crazeed Now,” “Highway to Hell,” “Don’t Wanna Let Go,” and more. With changes in management and performers, the band now consists of Guitarist Alex Grossi, Vocalist Jizzy Pearl, and Drummer Johnny Kelly.
Another headliner, Confederate Railroad, is an American country rock band founded in Marietta, Georgia, in 1987 by lead vocalist Danny Shirley. After working as a backup band for country acts David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck, the band signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records, releasing their first album and four more in the 1990s.
The complete entertainment lineup this year includes the Miss DeKalb County Queen Pageant at 8 p.m. Monday; the High School Choir (featuring area junior high and high school choirs) at 7 p.m. Tuesday; Megan Mullins (originally from Indiana) and Side Piece and Frank Foster at 7 p.m. Wednesday; Paradise and Quiet Riot at 7 p.m. Thursday; Rekt and Confederate Railroad at 7 p.m. Friday; and JD3 and Credence Revived tribute band at 7 p.m. Saturday. ❚
For more information, go to dekalbcountyfair.org