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South Carolina State Fair returns with COVID precautions

The rocket, the rides, the sand sculpture, the food, art, circus and much more return for the 2021 South Carolina State Fair.
Tut Underwood
SC Public Radio
The rocket, the rides, the sand sculpture, the food, art, circus and much more return for the 2021 South Carolina State Fair.

The SC State Fair is back with more thrills, new features, the Circus at the Fair, crazy new foods and more - while taking precautions against COVID-19.

Almost everybody loves the South Carolina State Fair. Rides, arts, animals, crazy foods and the announcements to “meet your mother at the rocket” make for a family tradition going back 152 years in Columbia. After COVID-19 reduced last year’s fair essentially to a drive-through, eat- in-your-car event, Executive Director Nancy Smith is looking forward to welcoming people back, but she is very conscious of maintaining health protocols to keep visitors as safe as possible.

“We continue to follow all the CDC recommendations and strategies to prevent and reduce the transmission of COVID 19,” she said. “And also we’ll have increased hand sanitization stations throughout the fairgrounds, and increased cleaning protocols, of course, in the restrooms. And then lots of signage throughout the fairgrounds.” Smith emphasized, “A vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from COVID 19, and we would strongly encourage our fairgoers to consider that.”

The Fair’s vendors are equally committed to safety, said Smith, noting that the ride operators have a pandemic supervisor, and they have employed a doctor to advise them regularly on COVID issues and where the virus is in areas they may be traveling to. “They’ll also be doing some of the same things we’ll be doing,” the director said. “They’ll be hand sanitizing, and be sanitizing the rides between different folks coming on and off. Our concessionaires are the same way.”

Smith said the COVID year was spent planning new features for the fair. New foods include fresh roasted corn “and it may be rolled in some fire-hot Cheetos or some things like that,” and steak and egg sundaes. Plus, she said, “we’re gonna have lots of roving entertainers this year. The Amazing Giants are some of our stilt walkers,” and a new act that she’s really looking forward to is the Strolling Piano. “It’s the first one I’ve seen, and of course it’s the first time at the South Carolina State Fair.”

The “Circus at the Fair” returns for only its second appearance, and according to ringmaster Ian Garden, the circus has a huge new tent – the second-largest in the country - and new acts to present inside it. “We’ve got four cyclists in the Globe of Death. We’ve got a world-famous clown. We’ve got animals. We’ve got a “Big-and-Little,” which is a max-and mini-horse. We’ve got some amazing, amazing talent. And we’ve got some special secrets, too, that I don’t want to give away. We want people to come and see for themselves.”

The fair’s return certainly will feature the familiar rides, food, and animals – including the pig races – that make it a family tradition, said Smith, including the growing Heritage Village, which features traditional craftsmen, some of which Smith listed. “We have a gentleman who is turning wooden bowls, you can see how that was done. Reggie is our potter, she makes yellowware pottery. We have broom making and leather works. Then we have a tinsmith in there, that gentleman makes all these things out of tin.

“This year we’ve also added a hot glass gentleman that’s coming.” Something’s going on all of the time in the Heritage Village, said Smith, adding that these skilled craftspeople enhance the educational aspect of the fair as well.

Garden said he was looking forward to this year’s State Fair as much as South Carolinians are, because bringing people joy is a calling for circus people. “I’m just thrilled to be back in that ring doing what I do,” he said. “We bring smiles to so many people’s faces. It’s not about the money to us. It’s about bringing the joy and the happiness, and the thrills.

“It’s a chance for people to escape reality for one hour. They come into that tent, and it’s amazing. It takes you into a different world. I enjoy making people happy.”

So does the State Fair, said Smith, adding that she’s thankful for the good fortune to be in an industry whose mission is to help people have fun.

The State Fair runs through Sunday, Oct. 24.  For more information on the South Carolina State Fair, visit,

Tut Underwood is producer of South Carolina Focus, a weekly news feature. A native of Alabama, Tut graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communication. He worked in radio in his hometown before moving to Columbia where he received a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of South Carolina, and worked for local radio while pursuing his degree. He also worked in television. He was employed as a public information specialist for USC, and became Director of Public Information and Marketing for the South Carolina State Museum. His hobbies include reading, listening to music in a variety of styles and collecting movies and old time radio programs.