DECATUR – For the first time in 159 years, this week will see the premiere of a Macon County Fairgrounds Festival rather than the Macon County Fair.

Stripped of its ability to host some of the classic agricultural events thanks to outstanding debts and unpaid premiums from the 2013 fair, the festival will instead focus on music, racing, a carnival and other forms of family entertainment with a mindset firmly focused on turning a profit and helping the organization back into solvency. The carnival opens tonight, with music and comedy acts as nightly headliners Thursday through Sunday.

“We still wanted to provide some family fun and entertainment for the community that would be affordable both for us and for families,” said Teresa Wilson, Macon County Fair Board treasurer. “Several of the bands agreed to donate their time to benefit the fair and get their names out there at the same time. The go-kart racing and carnival don't really cost us anything either, so hopefully that's all profit.”

Bands generously donating their time include progressive-rock group Hungus from Mount Zion and Decatur alternate-rock band Onward Forward, both of which perform Thursday night for a $2 cover charge in the Maltas Building.

Friday night will feature comedians Amber Klear and Dean Schardan for $10 and Nokomis band Swamp Donkey for $5 in the same venue. Finally, the building will host the “Adorable Baby Contest” at noon Saturday, with periodic performances by Gary Strong's marionettes running throughout the rest of the day.

The grandstand, meanwhile, will play host to auto events throughout the weekend. Saturday's $5 grandstand admission will include a variety of different races, ranging from lawnmower racing to quarter midget and go-karts, with public practice laps beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday's events, meanwhile, will feature the return of a fairground favorite in the demolition derby.

“The demo derby will cost us a little bit, but hopefully it will attract enough people to pay for itself,” Wilson asid. “We haven't had a derby for a few years, and it's always the most-requested event. This should be a return to some classic rural family entertainment.”

Saturday will also be the date of the co-ed mud volleyball tournament, with proceeds benefitting the Macon County Fairgrounds and Humane Society of Decatur and Macon County. It's just one more way to raise funding for the organization, which is still diverting incoming funds to pay last year's premiums and reduce its overall debt. The organization is still hoping to return next year and bring back the official Macon County Fair.

“That's our plan, we're crossing our fingers and hoping things turn out like we hope,” Wilson said. “We still want to have a county fair that is more agricultural focused, but we need to get through this year first.”

Macon County Fairgrounds Festival admission is $1. Parking will be available for free. For more information, see www.maconcountyfair.com/web/.

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