Benton-Franklin Fair aims to give attendees “Best Week of Summer”

By Jeff Morrow for TCAJoB

Lori Lancaster has a unique way of looking at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo.

“We work all year for these five days,” said Lancaster, who is the manager of the fair and rodeo.

[blockquote quote=”We’re here to make memories.” source=”Lori Lancaster, manager of the Benton-Franklin Fair & Rodeo” align=”right” max_width=”300px”]

The 68th version of the event is set for Aug. 23-27 at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick.

This year’s theme is “The Best Week of Summer,” and Lancaster expects the event will attract its normal yearly attendance of 119,000 people.

The event takes plenty of planning and organization.

“Over the years we’ve refined things,” Lancaster said. “We’ve worked hard to be organized. We have a really good staff.”

There are tons of contracts to be signed, as Lancaster and her team must work to attract entertainment acts, vendors and exhibits. Meanwhile, the rodeo committee works to ensure the top competitors in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) show up for the Horse Heaven Round-Up – one of the top rodeos in the Northwest.

Fair week always kicks off with a parade, and this year is no different.

The Grand Parade will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 in downtown Kennewick.

On Monday, Aug. 22, the annual Demolition Derby takes place in the rodeo arena at the fairgrounds.

But the fair itself doesn’t actually begin until Tuesday, Aug. 23, when the gates open at 9 a.m.

Lancaster says the biggest attractions remain the same.

“The big three things at the fair are the rodeo, concerts and carnival,” she said.

The Horse Heaven Round-Up will run the final four nights, starting at 7 p.m.

But as an added bonus, the PRCA Wrangler Champions Challenge presented by Justin Boots will be held Tuesday, Aug. 23, as a separate competition from the regular rodeo. This event, with extra prize money, will attract some of the top cowboys from the previous season. It’s the fifth stop on the Champions Challenge schedule.

There will be plenty of entertainment all week at various stages around the grounds.

The main stage will feature some familiar names and acts: the 1990s hip hop duo Salt-N-Pepa with DJ Spinderella (Aug. 23); alternative rock band Switchfoot (Aug. 24); rock band Foreigner (Aug. 25); singer-songwriter Hunter Hayes (Aug. 26); Disney actress Olivia Holt (Aug. 27); and country music act Swon Brothers (Aug. 27).

The Davis Carnival group returns to run its midway rides and games the entire week.

Between now and Aug. 22, people can purchase daily wristbands for the rides at a cost of $28 online, at the fair office or the Kennewick Ranch and Home store.

During fair week, starting Aug. 23, daily carnival wristbands will cost $33.

The rodeo, concerts and rides aren’t the only things going on.

Lancaster said she and her staff have added or changed a few other things this year.

The fair and Ben Franklin Transit have revised traffic flow to get the buses off of 10th Avenue in Kennewick, where traffic coming to the grounds has been heavy.

Instead, the buses will deliver fair goers to the west side of the grounds. Fairway Street, which runs behind Eastgate Elementary School and the fairgrounds, will be closed to all traffic except the buses.

“It’ll be good for safety,” Lancaster said. “A lot of people take the bus – although the numbers used to be bigger.”

Those who want to drive their own vehicles, however, are welcome to do so.

But be advised, fair staff will be out in the parking lot each day looking for the dirtiest car.

“We’re working with the Bush Car Wash people,” Lancaster said. “We’re looking for the dirtiest car of the night. We’ll put it up on the video board at the rodeo. The owner will get a year’s worth of free car washes (one a week).”

A new program will help some people with disabilities too.

TiLite, which was acquired by PerMobil earlier this year, is building 10 special wheelchairs for families to get around the grounds. Usage will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We’ll start with these 10, with a re-sale value of $20,000 each, and go from there,” Lancaster said. “We’re just trying to be creative.”

Especially when it comes to food and drink.

Thursday afternoon is the inaugural Taste of the Fair.

“We’ll require all (food) vendors to set times where they’ll sell a $2 food item,” Lancaster said. “It’ll be like a couple of bites of something. Like a food festival.”

That same day, food trucks will roll in.

“It’ll be a fun food time,” Lancaster said.

There’s also the Tap House and Game Room.

“It’s kind of like the Growler Guys,” she said, pointing out that beer, with all of the hops that are grown in the Yakima Valley, is an agricultural product.

And for games?

“We’ll have a giant Jenga and giant Connect Four,” Lancaster said.

For those worn out by all of the walking, animal viewing and possible heat, they can once again slip into an air-conditioned tent, sitting on living room furniture and relaxing as they get a second wind.

“We’ll also have a tower to re-charge cell phones in there,” she said.

And what’s a fair without farm animals?

There will be plenty.

“The animal barn is a big draw,” Lancaster said. “And this year we’re rebuilding a barn that’s at least 45 years old that the 4-H steers used to be in.”

The annual event requires 360 days of work, just to get to those five wonderful days every August.

“Great weather” also helps, she said. “No 90-degrees or hotter days, no wind and no thunderstorms. We want this place to have a really good feel. We want people to walk in happy.”

If that happens, the rest of the fair staff’s job will be easy, she said.

“We’re here to make memories,” Lancaster said.

Daily hours at the fair, Tuesday through Friday, will be 9 a.m to 11 p.m. On Saturday, it’s 9 a.m. to midnight. Adults can purchase a daily ticket for $11 up until fair week. During fair week, the cost is $13. Seniors (65 and older) and kids get in for $5. Children age 6 and younger get in free. Add $2 to prices for a fair bus combo. Daily parking will cost $10. Visit bentonfranklinfair.com for a complete schedule of events.

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