For 10 days beginning Friday, the masses will descend on the State Fairgrounds for, depending on your perspective, the greatest spectacle of the year or the ninth circle of Hell. Organizers expect somewhere around 440,000 attendees, which is more than 15 percent of the population of Arkansas. In other words, this is the biggest slice of life in Arkansas you'll see all year.
What inspires the hordes to keep coming back? Familiarity, to be sure: The Hurricane, Sizzler, Zipper and Tilt-a-Whirl are still spinning; chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits and sheep are ready to be admired, and your favorite food still comes fried and on a stick. But also the promise of new wrinkles: like the utterly terrifying-looking new pendulum ride Nemesis 360; new food options, including barbecued rabbit sandwiches and goat wraps; a new gimmick to force animals to compete hilariously in the rabbit race (you have to bring your own) to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation (9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16); and a new kind of rodeo — that replaces the old-fashioned rodeo — with professional bull riding (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16; $10-$20 above fair admission).
"Night of Destruction," the demolition derby and monster truck exhibition, returns this year at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9 ($9-$13 above fair admission). Reptoid, a monster truck with fangs for a grill, is the star among the 20-odd participating vehicles. Other shows and attractions include alligator wrestling with Kachunga and his nine-foot, 300-pound reptile; "Wild About Monkeys" with trick baboons; an exotic petting zoo, and a father and son fire-breathing team.
More need-to-knows: Concerts, as always, are free with fair admission. Canadian classic rockers The Guess Who kick things off at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8. Country stalwart Joe Diffie performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10. The following Thursday, Oct. 14, finds "American Idol"s Bucky Covington and emerging country star Easton Corbin sharing the stage. And because Arkansans can't get enough Canadian class rock, Loverboy closes out the Wendy's Main Stage schedule at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15.
Daily admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children (6 to 12) and seniors (ages 60 and over) and free to children ages 6 and under. Parking is $5 per vehicle. As usual, there are a jillion ticket deals available. Advance purchase ride passes, which can be redeemed for a one-day unlimited ride armband, are available at participating Walgreens for $19. You can redeem the advance ride passes every day except Dollar Day on Monday, Oct. 11.
For further lowdown on promotions and a schedule of events, visit www.arkansasstatefair.com.