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The Big Sky Country State Fair launched this week for the first time since 2019, filled with new spectacles, events and perhaps the most famous bird in America.

The fair opened Wednesday, and will run until Sunday at 6 p.m. Fairgoers will be able to enjoy the sprawling event an hour earlier than normal, with the fair opening at 11 a.m. everyday rather than at noon as in years past.

Dennis Voeller, general manager of the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, said he was pleased to be able to bring the fair back for 2021. Getting the fair off the ground wasn’t easy, with concerns of actually having the event hanging in the air as recently as March.

“Nobody was sure how the world was going to recover from this,” Voeller said.

The fair features more of almost everything. There is no shortage of food offerings, with 20 food vendors — which Amanda Hartman, a fair spokesperson, said is the most the fair has ever offered.

Livestock will stick around all week during 4-H events, another first for this year’s fair, Hartman said. The brand new Silver Bullet Stage, right next to the Anderson Arena, offers local musicians a stage of their own.

Three headlining acts are set to perform Wednesday through Friday at Anderson Arena, with rapper Nelly opening the three-day stretch. Voeller said that when tickets first went on sale for the headline shows, mandates were still in effect, forcing the shows to only be able operate at 50% capacity.

The fair has since bumped up the ticket allotment, raising the cap to accommodate 6,000 people.

Many of the vendors and performers scheduled for last year’s fair were able to return this year. But that didn’t mean that everyone showing up was guaranteed.

The Extreme Reptile show was supposed to be a newcomer to the fair, but transportation issues left the cold-blooded entertainers stuck in New Mexico. The show canceled Monday, but Voeller said the management company behind the reptile show had a quick, feathered replacement: the Extreme Raptor show.

Christopher Cross’ 1980 hit “Ride Like the Wind” greeted onlookers to the Extreme Raptor show as Jonathan Wood, sporting a headset and thick brown leather glove, prepared to introduce the audience to the most famous bird in America, a bald eagle named Uncle Sam.

He’s been featured in Time Magazine and taken photos with presidents. Wood added that Uncle Sam has even made it into the Library of Congress. Wood and Uncle Sam have done around 15,000 shows together across nearly three decades.

Wood said that he tours with birds from Iceland to South America, many of which were injured or handicapped in some way. Uncle Sam lost the tip of his left wing 27 years ago after being struck by a car.

The carnival returns to the fair with 21 rides, featuring classics like the tilt-a-whirl and Ferris Wheel, along with the brand new Frenzy. Owner of North Star Amusements Riley Cooke said that his carnival is home to the only Frenzy in the country.

The ride is a green behemoth, with an arm that swings riders into the air back-and-forth, giving the feeling of weightlessness for a brief moment while it swings back down.

Cooke said he and his crew arrived Monday evening, and quickly occupied the spacious lot next to Anderson Arena.

“We build a city in two days, every week,” Cooke said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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