Planning for the 2023 Lebanon Area Fair began sometime in 2021.

And, according to Sue Werner, assistant chair for the fair board, booking has already begun for entertainment at the 2024 and 2025 fairs.

An event as big as this one, she says, takes a lot of advance preparations.

“Two years in advance, that’s when we start looking for our major entertainment and midway acts,” Werner explains.

Getting ready for the 68th annual fair – which this year runs from July 22 to 29 at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds, 80 Rocherty Road – involves the sweat and muscle of a lot of people, she says. That includes the fair board, which is composed of 24 people, as well as numerous committee members who shoulder some of the work. “Then we have the volunteers who work tirelessly through the week,” Werner says. All told, she says, there are hundreds of people involved.

Part of that process, she says, involves figuring what works, what should remain and what should change.

“Every year we have the tried and true stuff that people want to have back,” she says. “And we always try to have something new.”

Werner adds: “We always strive to have something to interest everybody. If we don’t hit it this year, I don’t know what to say.”

Wrestling & simulated combat

High on the list of new offerings, Werner says with obvious excitement, is a wrestling exhibition at North Hall on Monday, July 24.

“Believe it or not, the WWE is coming to the Lebanon Area Fair,” Werner says. “We’re going to have Three Legacies Wrestling, based out of Lancaster, which is co-owned by former WWE superstar Ricardo Rodriguez.”

The special event will include three exhibition matches. It’s “very family friendly,” Werner says.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard asked to bring their new demonstration team to the Lebanon fair, Werner says.

“We’re the first one” the team is coming to, she says.

The Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s new demonstration team. (Photo from the Army National Guard website)

According to the Army National Guard website, the 15-member team includes soldiers from various units from across the state, each with different military occupational specialties, including infantrymen, engineers and medics. The team was created this year to raise awareness of the National Guard and aid in recruiting.

Werner says she isn’t sure yet, but it’s possible the team will bring a Stryker vehicle and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected all-terrain vehicle to use in a mock assault using blank ammunition, smoke and pyrotechnics that simulate explosions. The Army National Guard will be on the fairgrounds for a free demonstration on Thursday and another during the demolition derby on Saturday, which is a ticketed event.

“We don’t know all the details yet,” Werner says. “They approached us about coming a couple of months ago. It’s a natural fit, with them stationed here at Fort Indiantown Gap.”

More new features

Another new attraction this year is the Pennsylvania Farms to Families Immersion Lab, sponsored by Giant and the PA Friends of Agriculture Foundation.

“We’re always into ag education,” Werner says. “With the lab, kids can learn some farm facts. There’s even a steering wheel where you can virtually drive a tractor through fields.”

Features of the lab include a hydroponic greenhouse, a mushroom farm, a swine operation, and a dairy farm and yogurt processor, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s website. There’s also a virtual-reality tractor, a fruit and vegetable quiz, and information on careers in food and agriculture.

Yet another new feature is Iron Nature, which will run daily shows that demonstrate blacksmithing, metal stressing, forging, welding, cutting and other forms of metalwork. “They sought us out,” Werner says.

So, too, did the Southwest Dairy Farmers, who wanted to bring their Mobile Dairy Classroom to Lebanon. The national touring classroom will also offer daily demonstrations, she says.

“They’re not based in Pennsylvania,” Werner says, “but they were looking for a good fair to show off their classroom and get more active in the state. They picked us.”

She says the dairy classroom will have a cow on site, and an instructor will demonstrate how to milk her and explain details of a dairy cow’s life.

All of the usual favorites

Besides all of the new stuff, the Lebanon Area Fair is offering its usual array of animal competitions, exhibits, vendors, midway rides and games, music, and “plenty of good food,” from french fries and fried bologna sandwiches to milkshakes.

“We should have over 1,000 exhibitors,” Werner says. “Counting our preregistered entries – that’s animals, flowers, cooking, etc. – we have 6,411. That’s just the stuff that’s preregistered.”

“We have the fun run, the car show, the volleyball tournament,” she adds. “We have aerialists. We have Captain Jim is Magic, a new midway show. We have more food truck vendors this year than we’ve ever had.”

Then there’s the world’s largest bologna sandwich on Community Night. Organized by Visit Lebanon Valley and local businesses, the sandwich will be 150 feet long, Werner says – and they’re giving away samples of it for free.

Also on Community Night, local nonprofits can set up tables and show off what they’re doing in the community, she says.

“There are lots of fairs that don’t do lots of these things that we’re doing,” she adds.

Speaking of entertainment, she says, “we always have some new music groups. But there are some, like the Uptown Band and Pentagon, that we’re going to have back. And talk about Al Shade – he’s been around for a long time.”

Keeping everyone happy

It’s not easy to make everyone happy when you have, at minimum, 50,000 people walking through your gates. But the Lebanon Area Fair aims to please.

“We usually say 50,000 – that’s what we know is coming paid through the gate,” Werner says. Before 3 p.m., she adds, “people come in for free, and nobody is counting them.”

Recent improvements to the track will improve lighting and accommodate more people, she adds.

But do they make them all happy? They certainly strive to, says Werner, who – in addition to helping prepare for opening day – was busy this month bringing in her family’s wheat crop, preparing to plant 300 acres of sunflowers, and dealing with an influx of baby turkeys.

“They’re bound to find something that they’re going to enjoy,” she insists. “They’re going to learn a lot in the process, too, although they may not realize it.”

Also, she says, the fair “is very family friendly. It’s always been a community event, but the last few years, they’ve really embraced it. And we’ve embraced them.”

Oh, Werner adds before ending the interview, “if anybody wants to volunteer yet, we can still use you.”

If you go…

The Lebanon Area Fair runs from July 22 to July 29.

Admission is free from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Children under 10 years old are admitted free all day, every day. Admission after 3 p.m. is $5 for ages 10 and up.

Admission to some track events requires a separate ticket or a weekly track pass.

The fair’s website contains a complete calendar of events.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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