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Why We Love State Fairs

After my state fair post a few weeks ago, someone mentioned that they had never been to a state fair. When I love something a lot, sometimes it’s difficult to explain in detail why I enjoy it so much, beyond, “IT’S AWESOME, GO!” So I asked some friends and family why they like their state fairs. Here they are: 

Laura Ellis says the Kentucky State Fair is her happy place: 

Just waiting for some pigtails. 

Just waiting for some pigtails. 

"When I was growing up, the Kentucky State Fair was always the last hurrah of summer, right before school started back up, and my parents took us every year. My mom says one year when I was around 4, we were looking at the goats, and she glanced away, and when she looked back, a goat was eating one of my pigtails — so I have to think the fair is at least partially responsible for my lifelong love of interacting with all manner of animals. Besides childhood memories, I think I love the fair because I relate to it so much; the fair is this weird, boisterous, musical, kitschy, kind of redneck, eclectic, country-ish entity that just happens to be in the middle of a city... like me!” 

This year, Laura takes home the Most Hardcore Fair Fan for living at the fair during its 11-day run as part of "a special embedded journalism project". 

Trevor Zickgraf, on the California State Fair: 
“ favorite part of the California State Fair is the plethora of craft beers. California has become increasingly crafty when it comes to suds so being able to sample all that the Golden State has to offer is great. The food choices are also good but honestly, why go to a fair and try anything other than fried food. The best thing I've tried is the fried grilled cheese sandwich. Strangest fried item: Fried Kool-Aid. Finally, our fair does a great job with music. You won't find any A-Listers but acts like Belinda Carlisle and Blues Traveler were there this year. There's also this Queen cover band whose lead singer is a dead ringer for Hot Space era Freddy Mercury.”

Several years ago, I saw Boyz II Men at the Kentucky State Fair. There were only three Men (or Boyz?), and traffic to the fair meant we arrived in time for the last two songs. Still worth it. Then we wandered into the ticketed Def Leppard show, so I consider that a successful evening of fair-going. 

Riding the Texas Star in 2002. 

Riding the Texas Star in 2002. 

Michael Golden (full disclosure, he’s my brother) on the Texas State Fair: 
"Lots of state fairs have Ferris wheels, but I doubt many have ones like the Texas Star. Despite the cliche, it's not the biggest in the world, or even in the States, but it still gives a great view of the festivities. There's nothing like rising high above the noise and chaos to find a bit of peace and perspective. It's always worth the wait, and if the line is too long, it's just an excuse to grab a turkey leg (2nd favorite thing!) and join the queue.”

Emily Beliles (more full disclosure, she’s my cousin) on the Virginia State Fair: 
"My favorite part of the Virginia State Fair is definitely the pig races. Watching little, happily squealing piglets fly around a track is pure joy. The bigger the pigs, the slower the races, and inevitably there's one or two hogs that get sidetracked by something interesting they find to sniff along the way. Sitting on hay bales and listening to the announcer's intense introductions and moment-by-moment Nascar-like descriptions of each race is half the fun. It's definitely the one show I never miss!” 

Fried everything, turkey legs (my favorite fair food), livestock, animal shows — these are some of the things that make me want to go to the fair every year. Plus, tickets are cheap, so you can spend all your money on Grater Taters, food on sticks, and beer. I particularly love the craft contests, both for the range of skill and strangeness on display. Someone made an intricate, flowery quilt; someone else made a horse out of seashells. Winners, all. 

So go forth and find a state fair to attend. If you’re in D.C., there are still at least five coming up in the next few weeks that are kind of close. 

Sea horse. 

Sea horse. 

31 Days of Louisville Love: Kentucky State Fair

You know what starts in less than a month, when we will most likely already be gone? My favorite annual event, the Kentucky State Fair. 

I look forward to the duckling slide all year. 

I look forward to the duckling slide all year. 

If you’ve followed this blog or the Louisville, Not Kentucky podcast, you know my love of state fairs developed over eight years of annual attendance at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. I’ve loved living in a city that hosts the state fair again. When I talk up Louisville to friends considering a visit, I tell them to come for the state fair, not Derby.  

Since moving to Louisville, I have been to the fair every year. Two years ago, I went twice, once by myself, just to spend more time with the quilts and cakes (it was the second weekend, and those baked goods do not last that long. If you’re going for the food entries, go the first weekend, unless you’re specifically going to see mold grow on cake). You really do need more than one day to see everything, but these are the things I try to visit each year: 

1. The duckling slide — this is in the Discovery Farm, which I believe is in South Wing B.

2. Entries - specifically the cakes, the quilts, aquariums, and antiques. The art entries are also entertaining, but there are too many to see if you only have a day and have to check what politically incorrect antiques won first place this year. 

3. The prize-winning animals, especially the rabbits and poultry. There are some super fluffy rabbits in the world, and some really fantastic-looking chickens, and you can find them at the state fair. 

4. The bees - I love the the wall of honey jars, looking for the queen bee, and making my own candles.

Beeswax candles

Beeswax candles

This is a beauty queen made from a tomato. 

This is a beauty queen made from a tomato. 

5. The giant produce in the West Hall (this is by the bees). Who will have the biggest pumpkin this year, and how grotesquely huge will it be? 

6. Freddy Farm Bureau - he’s more interactive than Big Tex and will actually have a conversation with you. 

Then I also have to have a turkey leg and possibly a taste of whatever bizarre food they’re presenting this year (no to the donut burgers, yes to fried Girl Scout cookies). 

After my first fair visit, I now avoid the equine areas (allergies) and the “Commercial Exhibits” in South Wing C. There are too many people and too much junk in there. But if you want to see the Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky booth (and you do, because they have a tiny owl and a bald eagle), you do have to brave this hall. Fortunately, that booth is along the wall, so you don’t have to wade through too many dream catchers and violent mascot t-shirts to get to it. 

I am really sad that we will be out of town for the fair this year. I’ve heard about Massachusetts’ “Big E,” but it’s about 100 miles away from Boston (which is not that far. We definitely drove from Houston to Dallas to go to the fair one year). I do have a goal to attend all the states’ fairs, so this seems like a great time to tackle that. I’ll just miss that duckling slide. 

I Love the Fair, 2013 edition

I almost missed the state fair this year. 

I was out of town the first weekend, and by Wednesday, when we had no definite fair plans, I started to a panic. I almost caused a fight trying to get my husband to commit to a day, fearing the ducklings and quilts would be packed up before I could get my yearly dose. 

But this story ends well, with an impromptu, post-podcasting trip with Melissa. We only stayed four hours, but in that time, we made it through most of the exhibits. Tiny owl and bald eagle at the Kentucky Raptor Rehabilitation booth? Yes. Ducklings? Would I ever skip them? Cakes and enormous produce? But of course. 

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A bald eagle carved from elk horn

With only a few hours on the second weekend, we made some sacrifices. We skipped the quilts, saw no shows, and only checked in on a couple of pigs (for livestock, I prefer the first weekend's poultry and rabbits. Also the mold-free baked goods in the competitive entries).

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The most beautiful chicken I've ever seen, at last year's state fair

Still, I love the fair. I am giddy within five minutes of arriving ("Miniature horses! I love the fair!") and exhausted by the time I leave. I miss it when it's over, and I firmly believe you need two days at the fair. Next year, I'll be sure to get at least a full one.  

More photos here

Come to Louisville (a letter to a friend)

Hi friend,

Lonely Planet says Louisville is the top U.S. destination in 2013. I wish you'd visit, so I'm writing to let you know why it's always a good time to come to Louisville. I know I already did this on the podcast, but in case you missed it, there is exciting stuff going on every month. 

November 14, 2010

OK, so January and February are tough and almost over. We did have the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in January, and it was the first time they took place in the United States. I'm sorry you missed it. Regardless of when you come, though, I can always offer:

-A food extravaganza - Gabe and I both cook, but we probably won't while you're here. We want to take you to all our favorite places. You want to eat that crazy Louisville sandwich, the Hot Brown? We'll do it. Do you prefer vegetarian? Hillbilly Tea, Dakshin, Vietnam Kitchen, or Queen of Sheba have some good veggie and vegan options. We'll go to Hammerheads and over-order appetizers, Mayan Cafe and snack on salbutes and the best lima beans you've ever had. There will be at least one brunch. 

-A drink extravaganza - We may not cook for you, but we will make you some drinks. If you're up for it, we'll take you to the many fine establishments serving signature cocktails and craft beers around town. We'll while away an afternoon with beer at Holy Grale, a former chapel. We can spend the whole day at Garage Bar, playing ping-pong while going broke on Basil Gimlets, pickled vegetables, and turkey wings. We can tackle part of the Urban Bourbon Trail. Last call is at 4 a.m., so there's plenty of time to visit a few places, endurance allowing. I'll be done by 2, but we have an extra key. 

-The Bourbon Trail - This is less Louisville and more Kentucky, but we can always visit any distillery you like. Most are within an hour's drive. Learning about bourbon never gets old. Neither do samples. 

Jim Beam

-The Colonel's Grave - Oh, you're going to come to Kentucky and not pay homage to the man behind the state's most famous export? We live about five minutes from the cemetery where Colonel Sanders is buried, and we can stop by on the way to brunch. The cemetery, Cave Hill, is also an arboretum, so we could also walk around longer. 

Depending on your interests, we can also hit up the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Thomas Edison House (see, we have non-sports-related museums!), the Frazier History Museum, Waterfront Park, or my new favorite, the Big Four Bridge. Maybe when you visit, the Indiana approach will be finished. Then we can walk across the Ohio River and actually descend into Indiana, where new adventures await. 

Now a few events you might want to plan your trip around:

Humana Festival of New American Plays (Feb. 27 - April 7) - If you love theater, you should visit during this month-long festival. Then I will finally partake of this event in my own town. 

Kentucky Derby Festival - The number of events for this festival increases every year. Here are my favorites:

Thunder Over Louisville (April 20) - This gigantic fireworks show launches Derby Festival (there are Derby Festival events before this, but really. This is not Mardi Gras. I cannot celebrate a horse race for a full month). We can join the masses on the banks of the Ohio River, or watch it on TV at a bar, where it is guaranteed to be dry and warm. 

The Great Balloon Glow (April 26) - This is now part of the Great Balloon Festival, making it a festival within a festival. There are also two hot air balloon races, but I love seeing them all gathered and fired up at night on Bowman Field (an airport). 


The Great Steamboat Race (May 1) - Another event I have never been to, but it's still a favorite, because it is a race between two steamboats. The winner is actually determined by points earned from challenges that include a calliope contest. 

Cherokee Triangle Art Fair (April 27-28) - This is not actually part of Derby Festival, but it  happens the weekend before Derby, right outside my apartment. It's smaller and less insane than St. James in October. 

Derby (May 4) - I have not been to the Derby yet. We can go together! Just know we'll have to mill around by the paddock or in the infield. I have no connection for fancy seats. We could also go to Oaks, the fillies' race on Friday. This may be less crowded, but not less expensive. In any case, we'll find a good party to attend. The bars stay open all night Friday. 

Forecastle Festival (July 12-14) - The line-up has yet to be announced for this three-day music festival on the river. Wilco and My Morning Jacket headlined last year. Let's see who they have coming first. 

Lebowski Fest / Pee Wee Over Louisville (July 20-21/Sept. 7)- Again. I've never been to Lebowski Fest, but if you come for it, you bet I'll go. More interesting to me is the first Pee Wee Over Louisville, organized by the founder of Lebowski Fest, Will Russell. Imagine -- if Pee Wee Over Louisville goes the way of Lebowski Fest, you'll be able to brag that you were at the first one. Update -  due to a cease & desist letter from the Paul Reubens people, Pee Wee Over Louisville has been canceled.  

Kentucky State Fair (Aug 15-25) - If you've never been to a state fair, you should go to your home state's. Or come here in August while ours is on. Oversized produce. Quilts. Antique Bibles. A duckling slide. Freddy Farm Bureau. Deep-fried Girl Scout cookies. Trust me. You'll love it. 

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So… when are you visiting?