The fever of summer finally appears to have broken, which means it's that time again: The Arkansas State Fair, 10 days of some of the best people-watching, prize pigs, mile-long corn-dogs and carnie ride fun to be had all year. It all kicks off on Friday, Oct. 11, at 11 a.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children over 6. Parking is $5.
This writer missed the Arkansas State Fair only once, when I was sick as a dog at 8 years old. I haven't forgiven myself since. As with many things I learned to love as a child, the State Fair is an idea that has its own shelf in my heart, packed as it is with smells, colors, lights, flavors and bags full of freebies from the Hall of Industry. I kissed a girl there, once. Once, I found $34 dollars on the midway, worried into a roll tight as a cigarette, then spent part of it on a turkey leg, a jumbo lemonade and a two-minute look at a giant horse — a dun gelding with gentle eyes big as baseballs and a head that seemed as long as a kayak. Once, when I was 12 years old, an ancient woman stopped me there on the midway between the tilt-a-whirl and the spook house as I was walking with my friends, beckoned me close to whisper some secret of the ages, and informed me — to the shame and horror that only 12 year olds can possess — that my fly was down. At 19, I glimpsed the underpants of a young, short-skirted and altogether lovely performer in the freak show, at which point she smiled radiantly at me — a peek that I quickly convinced myself was intentional on her part, stud that I was — and in that moment, I loved her and wanted to buy her a cottage with a garden and live with her there, surrounded by books and the smell of gardenias. Ah, memories!
There are plenty of opportunities to make your own slightly weird memories at this year's Arkansas State Fair. There will be 58 carnival rides on the midway this year, with 12 of them new for 2013 (PRO TIP: If you plan on riding a lot, go to any Walgreens and buy a $22 ride pass, which entitles you to unlimited rides on one day of the fair except Dollar Day, Oct. 14). If you'd rather stuff your face, there's plenty of opportunity for that, too, with more than 150 different food items available. Currently in the lead as must-haves for 2013, based just on the names alone, are the gravy fries with pork, the Krispy Kreme cheeseburger, the jumbo yard dog (a bacon-wrapped hotdog on a bun), fried Rice Krispy treat on a stick, funnel cake a la mode, apple pie funnel cake, fried Jell-o on a stick, the fried banana split, and something called "sausage cream cheese nacho balls." Portable defibrillator sold separately. Bonus: every weekday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is "Lunch at the Fair," with free parking and gate admission.
The Arkansas State Fair runs Oct. 11-20. For much more information, visit the Arkansas State Fair website at arkansasstatefair.com. Below are a few of the other highlights. Unless noted, all events are free and open to anyone who pays a gate admission.
CHARLIE DANIELS BAND: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. Wendy's Main Stage near the Hall of Industry. Free admission. Will they play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"? Yes. Will they play it again? Hopefully.
PRIZE RABBIT EXHIBITION: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Rabbit building. Fluffy? Check. Big ears? Check. We're hoping Bugs Bunny will take a wrong turn at Albuquerque and show up, just for giggles.
.38 SPECIAL: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Wendy's Main Stage. No matter how hard they rock, hold on loosely to that corndog, kid. Don't let go.
MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY: 11 a.m. to close Tuesday, Oct. 15. Free gate admission for military and immediate family with valid military I.D.
KARK/SALVATION ARMY FEED THE NEED: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15. Donate two canned foods and get a child's gate admission, four canned goods for an adult admission. Then donate an order of gravy fries to yourself.
SHOW-ME SWINE RACERS: Every day in the "Extreme Zone" near the main gate. Shows at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Who doesn't love pig racing?
KSSN 96 and TOM-FM LADIES NIGHT: 6 p.m. to close Tuesday, Oct. 15. Free admission for women 18 and over.
100.3 THE EDGE COLLEGE NIGHT: 6 p.m. to close Wednesday, Oct. 16. Free gate admission with valid college I.D.
BRUNO'S BENGAL TIGER SHOW: Every day in the "Extreme Zone," near the main gate. Shows at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. An idea for next year: make the tigers race the pigs. NOW you've got a race, my friend.
PBR BULL RIDING: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18-19. Tickets: $10-$25. Just before they open the gate, somebody should whisper in the bull's ear that if they get ridden for the full eight seconds, they'll become tomorrow's battered-beef-on-a-stick.
ARKANSAS STATE FAIR CHILI COOK OFF: 2:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18. Arts and Crafts Building. There's some pretty good chili chefs in Arkansas. Best to stay away from the ones who decorate their table with severed squirrel tails, though.
THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN: Monday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m., Wendy's Main Stage: Winner of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase rocks the midway.
K9 TRICK DOG SHOW. Every day, with shows at 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Acrobatic, Frisbee-catching dogs. Can the dogs teach the tigers and the pigs to catch Frisbees? I'd pay to see that.
GINUWINE: 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 18, Wendy's Main Stage. Will he sing "Pony"? Yes he will. Beyond that, I'm out of the demographic. Stay off my lawn, you crazy kids!
RODEO QUEEN HORSEMANSHIP COMPETITION: 10 a.m. Sat. Oct. 19, Barton Coliseum. Horse and rider, flying together as one. It's beautiful enough to make you weep right into your pork chop milkshake on a stick.
EVERCLEAR: 8 p.m. Sat. Oct. 19, Wendy's Main Stage. Yes, they're a long way from Top 40 radio superstardom, but nothing can bring back a memory like a song. "Santa Monica," anyone?