The director of the Hamilton County Fair has almost two decades' experience in event production, including the Riverbend Festival, but the barrel-racing, calf-roping, bull-riding extravaganza that opens the fair next weekend is, genuinely, her first rodeo.
"I've been to a rodeo," said Karen Shostak, deputy director of Hamilton County Parks and Recreation,"but, yes, this is my first one to produce."
In a phone interview, Shostak predicted the Outlaw Rodeo will be among the highlights of the three-day fair, which will run Nov. 10-12 in its debut at McDonald Farm in Sale Creek. Visitors will still find the "make, bake, sew and grow" blue-ribbon competitions they have come to expect from the fair's 30-year tenure at Chester Frost Park, along with pony rides, livestock exhibits, live entertainment and the crowd-favorite baby duck slide.
But the move to the 2,170-acre McDonald Farm has taken everything up a notch, Shostak said.
"Thanks to the support of (Hamilton County) emergency services, county workers and all the different partners, this has come together to be a pretty spectacular show," she said. "There's a lot of entertainment packed into this weekend. All three days are distinctly different."
Previously held in September, the fair was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. After Hamilton County completed its $16 million purchase of McDonald Farm in December 2021, officials began plans to move the fair there the next fall, but it was called off again, this time due to the threat of bad weather.
In announcing plans for the fair in July, Mayor Weston Wamp said county officials were determined to have a "world-class fair" or no fair at all after last year's cancellation.
"The decision was made beginning that day that the fair would be here and that we would pursue as great a county fair as we could put our minds to," Wamp said.
Having a year's head start has provided time to put a solid foundation in place, Shostak said. Besides the abundance of acreage, the farm mainly consists of barns, outbuildings and a Greek Revival-style plantation house, built in 1868, where generations of the McDonald family once lived.
"It's not the same farm from an infrastructure perspective," she said of the updates. "We've added Wi-Fi for operations, lighting. There's so much that's gone into place from last November to now, but a lot of it the general public will not see. We tried to incorporate as much as we could into the landscape. We don't want it to look like a fairground. We want it to look like a farm."
If you go
— What: Little Debbie Hamilton County Fair.
— When: 5-9 p.m. Nov. 10, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Nov. 11, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 12.
— Where: McDonald Farm, 16705 Coulterville Road, Sale Creek.
— Admission: $12 three-day pass online in advance, $14 at the gate; $5-$7 one-day ticket; $5 parking.
— Phone: 423-509-0630.
— Online: hamiltontnfair.com.
The farm's existing buildings are central to the fair's layout. A paved loop will connect the different areas, which have various themes, sponsors and events.
The Dr Pepper Stage will feature the customary lineup of local entertainers, but Saturday's headliner, Lauren Alaina, is a Grand Ole Opry member, and her opener, Brandon Davis, has toured with country superstar Tim McGraw.
Kubota of Chattanooga is underwriting the rodeo and agricultural area. Marketing coordinator Maddi Fultz said an existing relationship with the county parks department led the agriculture equipment dealer to sign on as a sponsor, but company officials also appreciate what the fair represents.
"We're excited about their new idea of having the fair on the farm and how it's going to play out," Fultz said by phone. "They're making it more available for everyone, with cheaper options and a better parking situation. We're excited to be able to partner with them and continue to grow the fair for the community."
Elsewhere, Food City Frontierland will offer pony rides, old-timey photos and the Big Woody's lumberjack shows with log-rolling, speed-sawing and ax-throwing contests. The Farm Bureau Home Center will stage a chili cook-off, pie-eating contest and the blue-ribbon competitions. EPB Gig City is geared to children with free amusement rides. Little Debbie Square will feature the world's largest Oatmeal Creme Pie. Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union will provide Sunday night's fireworks finale.
"People need to prepare for how big the fireworks show is," Shostak said. "It's more fireworks than normally happens in this area."
Organizers already are planning to go bigger next year, she said. Chester Frost Park was more centrally located, but there was little room to expand and no room for public parking, so visitors were required to ride shuttle buses to the site.
"The previous fair was a lovely event, with an emphasis on agriculture, crafts and livestock," she said. "The biggest difference between the previous fair and this fair is we've still incorporated the agriculture, livestock and crafts, but we've enhanced it by adding a boatload of entertainment. We're going to make sure we grow it in the right way."