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Published May 12, 2014, 10:37 AM

Washington County (Minn) Fair uplifts community

July 28 through Aug. 3 is set aside on many calendars in eastern Minnesota as a long weekend of friends, food and fun.

By: Sarah Dykowski, Agweek

July 28 through Aug. 3 is set aside on many calendars in eastern Minnesota as a long weekend of friends, food and fun.

Every year, the Washington County Fair in Lake Elmo, Minn., draws hundreds of spectators and exhibitors.

It boasts competitions from talent shows to baked goods to a pygmy goat show.

But the events that draw the largest crowds year after year are the ones that get people dancing, fair entertainment organizer Liz Dietsche says.

That is particularly true for two acts who return every year: Elvis impersonator Brad Boyce and vintage cover band Rockin’ Hollywoods.

Dietsche says the artists draw as many as 600 people from infants to octogenarians.

“Not only is the music really great, but, that’s when you see the true community coming together,” she says.

To her, the shows do more than entertain; they help heal past hurt.

“I sit there with my husband and my aunt and uncle and we’re [saying] that family had a hard time this year, somebody died, or this happened, or that happened, and you see them smiling and happy, maybe it’s only for a couple hours, but that makes every moment of it worth it. Especially if it’s just a really nice summer night with the stars and summer breeze, it’s just beautiful, almost perfect.”

When Brad Boyce of Harmony, Minn., takes the stage during the fair’s “Senior Day” each year, Dietsche says, the bingo tent empties and the Elvis tent is overflowing with people.

“He’s that good,” she says.

Boyce says the admiration is mutual.

“It’s a fantastic fair,” he says.

He counts the organizers among some of the best of the many county fairs he plays throughout the summer.

His tribute show took shape eight years ago, after followers of his rock band told him he sounded like Elvis.

Then he watched videos and listened to recordings to perfect his moves.

While Boyce tries to keep the show as true to Elvis’ legacy as possible, he is not an impersonator.

On stage, he speaks in his own Minnesota accent.

Boyce says the show is a tribute to Elvis’ music continuing his legacy for the fans, not an immitation.

“We try to put a smile on everybody’s face,” he says.

Likewise, the Rockin’ Hollywoods hold a special place in the hearts of fair goers.

“I’ve had people tell me they fell in love at a dance the Rockin’ Hollywoods played,” she says.

Dietsche says other musical attractions this year will include a Zydeco band giving harmonica and dance lessons, as well as flamenco, Irish and clog dancers.

Theme: Thrill

But the fair’s attractions include more than music.

In the Lake Elmo region, power sports are more than a popular pastime. In fact, the region developed its own power sport in which a pickup balances on a large metal seesaw.

This event, along with a monster truck show, truck pull, demo derby, BMX bike thrill show and ATV thrill show, will be the spotlight of this year’s fair.

Dietsche says “thrill” is the overall theme of the fair this year, and the addition of more power sport demonstrations reflects that.

Animal lovers will also find plenty to entertain them at the 2014 fair.

Christian Lilienthal, University of Minnesota Extension agent, will bring several exotic animals native to Australia and present information on his work with Australian animals.

Besides the exotic animals, exhibitors will show animals in nine categories ranging from rabbits and poultry to beef cattle and horses.

Pig races are another attraction the fair brings in from Wisconsin each year.

Dietsche and the committee she works with do their best to keep fair entertainment as local as possible.

Almost all of the acts slated for this year’s fair are from the Washington County area.

By keeping the entertainment local, the event has featured now-successful performers before they were discovered, including the Grammy-winning Okee Dokee Brothers.

According to Dietsche, these things are just the tip of the iceberg of entertainment at the Washington County Fair.

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