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MetraPark staff preparing for upcoming Billings graduation, August fair

Posted at 8:58 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 22:58:09-04

MontanaFair 2020 will take place in August at the Yellowstone County Fairgrounds, but what it looks like is still a work in progress.

"Eighty-seven days and counting until MontanaFair begins Aug. 7," said Ray Massie, MetraPark marketing and sales manager. "We're working really hard to make sure that we take the fair to its original roots. We're really focusing on, agriculture is essential, and fairs are essential to agriculture."

While Massie is looking to expand the ag footprint at this year's fair, he acknowledges that trying to figure out what is possible and not possible for this year's fair is a challenge.

"We are scrambling a little bit, because as you know everything changes every day as far as this business is concerned," said Massie.

Right now, Massie and the staff at MetraPark are focused on the upcoming May 24 high school graduation ceremonies for Billings Public Schools. It will be the first time the First Interstate Arena has been open to the public since mid-March.

"We haven't quite hit eight weeks yet. It seems like 800 weeks if you're on our end of things, but it's only been about eight weeks," Massie said.

This year's graduation ceremonies will be unlike any previous graduation ceremony at MetraPark. Masks will be required for all of those in attendance, and temperatures will be checked at the door for everyone entering the building.

Each graduate is allowed to invite two people, with reserved seating for all ticket holders. Skyview High School grads will begin the day at 9 a.m., Senior High's graduation follows at 2 p.m., with West High taking over the arena at 7 p.m. MetraPark is also acquiring special backpack spray units, so its staff can clean and sanitize the arena in about an hour.

"We're doing everything possible to ensure when you come to the School District graduations, you're going to be safe," said Massie. "It will be as safe as we can possibly make it. We can't roll you up in bubble wrap, but we're going to do the very best job we can."

Beyond graduation, Massie is focused on MontanaFair starting Aug. 7, 2020. The fair has been happening in Billings every summer for the past 105 years, and Massie says this year the show will go on.

"We are going to have entertainment, but it remains to be seen what that entertainment is," said Massie.

With the grandstands at the fairgrounds soon to be demolished, outdoor night shows won't happen.

"We're still unsure what we can and can't do inside the arena, so it looks like we won't be able to have the night show, big name entertainment like we've had in the past," said Massie. "We're still holding out some hope, but that's probably unlikely."

Speaking of music, three big concerts scheduled for this fall at First Interstate Arena remain in limbo. Toby Keith is scheduled to appear in Billings Sept. 17, with Cher Oct. 6, and Luke Combs on Oct. 20. All would involve crowds of more than 6,000 people.

"None of the big concerts would be possible under any of the restrictions that I've seen coming from the governor's office," said Massie. "We would have to be back to normal for any of those to take place. Will we be there by September? We just don't know."

And what about the carnival at this year's MontanaFair? Massie said he has been in touch with the Mighty Thomas Carnival shows, which believes it can make a go of it, even assuming attendance could be less than half of normal.

Massie points out, however, that the final approval for the carnival rests with Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton.