State Fair changes keep 2011 tragedy in mind


It's the first day of the Indiana State Fair, and some things are being done a little differently this year.

For the first time in fair history, fairgoers had to pay to park in the infield. Some weren't happy about it, and not just because of the $5 fee. In years past, drivers were waved through.Now they have to stop and pay.

"I'm a band director and I'm having to wait here in line, but there's nothing you can do about it," said Jim Widmer, Manchester High School.

Admission also jumped an extra $2 per person.

"What new events do they have that are worth $2?" wondered one fair-goer.

But neither the new fees nor the toasty temperatures kept people away.

"We're with the Centerville band, I'm the bus driver and we left at 5:30 am!" said Daisy Jones, who was cooling off with a lemon shake-up.

It has been hotter on band day, but not by much - and yes, everyone wore the full uniform.

Fairgoers found relief in the shade, in front of misting fans and heading into air conditioned buildings like the Pepsi Coliseum. Of course, some people couldn't escape the heat - like those grilling rib-eyes.

But the 2011 stage rigging collapse at the Sugarland concert was not far from anyone's mind as the 2012 fair got underway. A memorial plaque pays tribute to the seven people who lost their lives.

"I'm sure a lot of people will pass by and rethink it. It's a sad thing. We lost seven people just coming out here," said Randal Brown, visitor.

Most people probably walked by the plaque at the grandstand entrance, but some, including Julie Luz sought it out.

"You remember that. It's not something you ever want to see again," she said.

Luz was here for last year's Sugarland concert when then the storm blew through and the stage collapsed. She had no qualms returning to the fair, but "to come back to a concert, I don't know if I could do that."

The Hill family attends the fair every year. They show dairy cattle. They loving being here but it's hard not to think about what happened last year.

"The first time back it's got to hit you. First you look at the stage and then you think about it - you can't help it," said Paula Hill.

Still, the Hills are aware of the changes which include new rules covering safety and evacuation, not just for storms but all emergencies.

"I think they're doing a lot better. They're very conscious of what's going on now, so it'll be better," said Marissa Hill.

"In general it's just taking the precautions that are necessary and not taking anything for granted," said Ben Hill.

"You pay a little bit more attention and take things more seriously," said Paula Hill.