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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. 

The State Fairs are Coming!

State fair season is upon us. And there are a bunch of state fairs kind of close to D.C..

The size of states in the Northeast still thrills me. Drive four hours in the right direction and you’ll probably pass through as many states. Drive four hours north from Houston and you’ll be in Dallas. When I realized how close all these states are, I put together a spreadsheet of state fairs within a five-hour drive of D.C.  If I’m going to get to all 50 states’ fairs, it will require planning. As a side note, I haven’t figured out what to do with the states that don't have an official state fair, like Pennsylvania. 

Judges at Maryland State Fair failed to award Cthulhu hat a ribbon

Judges at Maryland State Fair failed to award Cthulhu hat a ribbon

Anyway, in 2016, I checked Maryland and D.C’s fairs off my list on the same weekend. I'm updating my spreadsheet to make my attack plan. Here's a run down, in chronological order: 

Delaware State Fair: July 20-29, from 8 am - 11 pm, except on opening day, when gates open at noon. The Delaware State Fairgrounds are at 18500 S Dupont Hwy, Harrington, DE 19952, approximately 2 hrs from D.C. Tickets are $9 at the gate for adults and $4 for children. This list of 98 things to do at the 98th Delaware State Fair really sells their fair. Free samples of Cheerwine? Yes please, I just heard about this soda (not wine) and have never seen or had it. Walk among butterflies and learn to repair a butterfly wing? Hold a baby chick? Sheep and Wool Ambassador Contest? I want to do all these things. I’m sure some of the other state fairs offer similar activities, but kudos to Delaware for the list.

New Jersey State Fair: Aug. 4 - 13 at 37 Plains Road, Augusta, NJ 07822, about 4.5 hrs away. They're open from 10 am - 10 pm, except on the last day, August 13, when the gates close at 5. Tickets purchased before August 4 are $9 for adults and $5 for children. 

State Fair of West Virginia: Aug. 10-19 at 947 Maplewood Ave, Lewisburg, WV 24901. This fair is four hours and 40 minutes from D.C. Gates open at 2 p.m. on August 10th; otherwise, they're open from 9 am - 11 pm. Adults pay $11, or $9 in advance; children 12 and under get in for free. 

Calf at Maryland State fair

Calf at Maryland State fair

Maryland State Fair: Aug. 24 - Sep. 4 at 2200 York Road, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093. This is about an hour and 15 minutes from the city. They have yet to post their hours and ticket prices, but last year, my ticket cost $8. 

DC State Fair:  September 24th from 11 am - 8 pm at Waterfront Station, 375 and 425 M St. SW. It's free. 

State Fair of Virginia: Sept 29 - Oct. 8. Hours are 10-10 Friday and Saturday, 10 - 9, Sunday - Thurs. It's at 13111 Dawn Blvd, Doswell, VA, 23047, an hour and 45 minutes from D.C. Tickets for adults are $15, or $12 in advance. Kids are $11, or $8 in advance. They advertise "sliding ducks," so Virginia tops my list this year. 

Have you been to any of these state fairs? If you're from one of those state fair-free states, is there another fair or event you recommend? What are you most looking forward to at your state's fair? I'm looking forward to all your state fair pictures, especially any of duckling slides, impressive quilts, elaborate cakes (especially if they're moldy), and weird art submissions.  

Happy state fair season! 

A Weekend of State Fairs

Over the weekend, I went to the Maryland and D.C. state fairs, and I realize I've been spoiled by Kentucky and Texas. 

Maryland’s state fair takes place in Timonium, about an hour and half from D.C. It covers the essentials. You can eat corn dogs, something called a pork sundae, deep fried cream cheese, cinnamon rolls, Oreos, or my favorite fair food, the giant turkey leg. Their Home Arts building includes quilt, crochet, photography, cross-stitch, and various baked goods contests. There’s a Horse Center, which my allergies and I avoided, a Cow Palace, and other livestock barns full of goats, alpacas, sheep, pigs, and newly hatched chicks. We visited the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ exhibit, where we pet a rat snake and learned you can eat the invasive snakehead fish at a Baltimore restaurant called Alewife. In the Agricultural Center, I sampled alfalfa honey and admired prize-winning but normal-sized pumpkins and eggplants.

The fair program advertised a Negro League Baseball exhibit in the Exhibition Hall. In the back of the room, next to a balloon display and the entrance to a bulk candy shop, we found a gentleman with a what seemed to be a personal collection of Negro League Baseball articles, plaques, and posters. The rest of the hall was retail and political booths. Thankfully this section was small compared to Kentucky’s — no t-shirts of mascots brutalizing each other. But there was also no Raptor Rehab booth, and not an oversized pumpkin or watermelon in sight. This was the most ornate cake we saw: 

Pig in a blanket cake

Pig in a blanket cake

Maryland’s fair has most of the things I love. D.C’s state fair is a one-day affair in a parking lot. We’re not a state, so it’s unfair to ask too much of our fair (do you like how much I’m using the word “fair”?). In the line of food trucks, one offered deep-fried desserts. They had various contests, and we endured the heat long enough to see the winners of the longest, heaviest, and funkiest vegetables. At 27 pounds, the D.C. pumpkin beat out all the ones we saw at the Maryland State Fair.

They also had a new-to-me fair feature: a towering marijuana plant, discounts on medical cards, and a booth on growing your own plants at home. 

But I miss the 1000-pound pumpkins, the weird and fabulous poultry, the duck-herding border collies, and of course, the duckling slide. Virginia's state fair starts in late September, and I see they have poultry, giant pumpkins and watermelons, AND "always-popular sliding ducks." That sounds promising.  

31 Days of Louisville Love: Derby Season

Although I recommend friends visit Louisville during the state fair, the obvious time to visit Louisville is for the Kentucky Derby. After four years, I’ve still not been to Derby or Oaks, but that doesn’t meant I won’t miss Derby season while we’re in Cambridge. 

I love the time leading up to Derby. It starts with Thunder, another event I’ve managed to miss (we did go for about an hour two years ago, but it was much too cold at 4 p.m. to stick around for another five hours). And then there are more events —  balloon races, steamboat races, bed races, concerts, an art fair, a parade, parties  — you could just do Derby-related things for weeks. I love how plans just get delayed — “Let’s do it after Derby.” 

I find it a bit stressful figuring out what to do on Derby day. Are we going to a party? Can we make it to both these parties? Do I need to get a hat? Why are these hats so expensive? My favorite Derby so far was a potluck at a friend’s house. Everyone had hats and most of them came off shortly after people arrived. We listened to the race on the radio. There were delicious brisket sandwiches. 

I don’t put much effort into betting. I just like looking at the hats, looking for B-list celebrities, and drinking mint juleps. I tear up at My Old Kentucky Home (even though my old home, if I have one, would be in Texas). Come the first weekend of May 2015, I doubt the people of Boston will wish me a “Happy Derby,” and I will miss that.  

Louisville airport prepares for Derby

Louisville airport prepares for Derby

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.