MUSCLE SHOALS — The first North Alabama State Fair was held in 1935 – with 2,059 people in attendance.

Fast forward 84 years, and the fair has grown into one of the largest annual events in North Alabama with an attendance last year of 36,000 over its six-day stay.

Tuesday's opening of this year's Wade Shows event didn't disappoint, despite the northwest Alabama heat that organizers feared might threaten the turnout.

"Even with the heat, I'd say this is much better weather – anything but rain," said David Isom, president of the nonprofit North Alabama State Fair board of directors.

"Our main goal with the fair is to create a good time for families and financially just recover the money we spend putting it on. We also want to make money to give to local charities. We gave more than $10,000 last year. Our hope is to make enough to operate it for another year."

This year's event has all the usual fair favorites – opening night's demolition derby; daily pony rides and petting zoo as well as Friday's Stars Fall on Alabama Talent Show.

This year there will be blue grass band performances on Saturday afternoon and evening, Isom said.

There will be children's activities with a special emphasis on those 12 and younger on Saturday, and the ever popular food and crafts exhibits.

Tuesday was all about first day excitement, with the young and the young at heart enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the much anticipated yearly event.

In the exhibit hall featuring arts, crafts, vegetation and non-perishable competition items, yearly exhibitor Rebecca Massey was taking inventory Tuesday evening of her ribbons – having entered 99 items.

"I fared pretty well this year," she said, pointing out a few of her first, second and third place winners in the arts section of the display.

"My goal this year was to break $300," she said.

Outside, where a steady stream of anxious fair-goers filed through the gates at 5 p.m., the conversation was less about the stifling heat and more about food and rides.

"I really just come for the chicken-on-a-stick because it's the bomb," joked Rob Sargent, who along with his wife, Tina, and 6-year-old Terrence, said they never miss opening day." 

"We've been coming since Terrence was a baby," Rob Sargent said. "We love it and the older he gets, the more he enjoys it."

As for Rob, he found his chicken. His wife often for a corn dog and Terrence dined on funnel cake.

"I mean, it's once a year we get fair food so we just go for it," Tina said.

Three-year-old Lucas Lolley, of Hackleburg, and his mother, Cindy, started out on the swings, then did the giant slide and helicopter rides.

Lucas said he couldn't pick just one favorite ride adding, "they're all just so much fun."

Tonight features cooking decorating in the children's building at 6 p.m. with local cheer squads and the University of North Alabama cheerleaders in exhibition at 7 p.m. at the grandstand.

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