The extraordinary public spectacles of ancient Rome are well known: the slaughter of exotic animals (and conquered foes) in the Colosseum, mock naval battles fought to the death in a flooded circus. A wild cross-section of humanity, young and old, rich and poor, gathered to marvel at spilled blood and strange novelty.
Slightly more civilized, but with nevertheless the same timeless sampling of all facets of society seeking entertainment and public spectacle is the now long-held tradition of the state fair, joining the fruits of agriculture with socializing, entertainment and a dose of healthy competition.
The "Herds of Fun" Tulsa State Fair, now in its 109th year, continues in this tradition once again when it begins Sept. 27 at Expo Square, 4145 E. 21st St., running for 11 days, through Oct. 7, in a grand mixture of old and new -- of the familiar and innovative.
So put on some comfy shoes, trek down to the fairgrounds, and be sure to take along this guide to what's happening.
What many fairgoers consider the core of the State Fair experience is the Midway. "With all the lights and attractions, it's what fair guests traditionally think of when they think of the fair," said Sarah Thompson, marketing and business development supervisor for Expo Square.
"The Midway is the section between the QuikTrip Center and our livestock complex," Thompson said, "and it contains all the rides, and a lot of the concessionaires -- and the food vendors are outside, as well as the games."
The Midway is operated by Spectacular Attractions, part of the Murphy Brothers Exposition company that puts on carnivals throughout the nation. There will be about 50 rides, Thompson said, "and it's a good mix of spectacular rides, which are a little more thrilling and exciting," mixed with plenty of "middle-of-the-road rides," with a more general appeal.
Two new rides make their Tulsa Fair debut this year, the Galaxy and the Hard Rock, while many favorites return, such as the Comet II extreme roller coaster and the Kamikaze.
As usual, a special section will be set aside for the kiddie rides, such as the Bumble Bee Bop and the Wacky Worm, "so that families with little children are able to kind of get out of the business of the main Midway," Thompson said. "And children are obviously easy to find the way they're contained," in this section, she said.
Ride coupons will cost $1 each, and may also be purchased in groups of 20. Each ride will require between three and seven coupons per turn.
Taking a break from the thrills of the Midway, fairgoers can enjoy a seemingly innumerable series of other attractions, contests and demonstrations, including a stunt dog show, a petting zoo, pony rides and a live shark encounter. The great agricultural heritage of the state fair still thrives in milking parlor demonstrations and the birthing center.
The Just for Kids Adventure will feature Tulsa's largest sandbox, a Lego construction zone, the Pumpkin Shack, and some great classic daily contests such as cookie stacking, bubble blowing, pie eating, and sack racing.
And you'll have 10 chances to catch the Feld Entertainment production of Disney On Ice: Dare to Dream, featuring Rapunzel, Princess Tiana, Cinderella and many other favorite Disney characters.
What would a state fair be without livestock shows? This is where the whole fairing tradition began, with competitive exhibitions of livestock and farm products.
"We have exhibitors from all 77 counters in Oklahoma who come to the livestock shows," Thompson said, "and one of the most prestigious events during that time is the junior livestock auction, where the grand-champion and reserve grand-champion winners of each division will be auctioned off. And the proceeds go toward a scholarship program." Anyone with entries in the shows throughout the week, mostly FFA and 4H participants, are eligible, Thompson said.
Another State Fair tradition begins Friday, Oct. 5, at 7pm at the Pavilion, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo and Concert series. Two nights of PRCA events, including bareback riding, Priefert Texas Thunder hitch, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding are followed each night with hot country acts: Jake Owen, Oct. 5, and the Randy Rogers Band, Oct. 6.
The competitive fair spirit continues with numerous traditional competitive fair exhibits. This is more of the stuff you remember from your childhood and from Oscar & Hammerstein movies.
The Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) Chili Cook-Off begins Saturday, Oct. 6, at Central Park Hall. Let your appetite lead you to the baked goods competition, Sept. 22 from 8am to 4pm at the QuikTrip Center. Adult and junior horticulture competitions take place Sept. 22 from 8am to 4pm at Central Park Hall.
Other battles will include a sandwich contest, the making of a "Killer Brownie," a table setting contest, and pumpkin carving.
The Oklahoma State Picking and Fiddling Championships are on Sept. 29 and 30 at the Muskogee Creek Stage on the lower level of QuikTrip Center. Contestants will compete for cash prizes in the categories of fiddle, banjo, guitar, string and mandolin.
The Quilts for Kids Mission combines friendly competition with charity for children in need. Entrants submit girl's- and boy's-themed quilts that will be judged for creativity before being donated to children with life-threatening illnesses and children with histories of abuse.
On Sept. 22, the Corndog Classic 5K Run/Walk begins at 6pm, with race-day registration starting at 4:30pm. Registration is required, and the proceeds for the event will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Tulsa Area United Way. A fun run/walk -- which is also stroller-friendly -- begins at 6:15pm and participants and friends of both events can join the post race party at 6:30pm.
This year is the 40th celebration of the Miss Tulsa State Fair Pageant, open to women between 17 and 24, and the companion pageant, Miss Tulsa State Fair Outstanding Teen, for those between 13 and 17. Contestants compete for scholarships, prizes and the Miss Tulsa State Fair crown and title. The pageant begins at 6:30pm on Sept. 27, at the Muscogee Creek Stage.
Other featured attractions will include Ask a Master Gardener from Oct. 2-7, the Coca-Cola Recycling Tour Sept. 27-30, PSO's Electric Avenue Oct. 2-7, and a Golden Age Celebration Oct. 1 sponsored by Tranquility Hospice and Reliant Home Health.
What Will They Fry Up Next?
Every year it seems the vendors and organizers try to outdo themselves again in finding the newest perfect fair food. Sarah Thompson again gives insight into the scene.
"One of the craziest new foods is the chocolate-covered corn dog," Thompson said. "It's a corn dog that's dipped in almost like a hard shell." But the madness doesn't end there. "We're going to have deep fried Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies," she said. "And the one I'm looking forward to probably the most is the carrot cake funnel cake."
In all, more than 800 vendors will be serving the hungry crowds almost every kind of food imaginable. "It is a good mix of local and out of state vendors that come in for the fair," Thompson said. "There are a lot of vendors that travel to different fairs throughout the year."
A culinary kitchen stage on the lower level of QuikTrip Center will feature demonstrations by acclaimed sugar artists Martin Howard, Orlando Serrano and Miguel Garcia Sept. 29-30 in conjunction with the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition and Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.
Also, a veggie foodscape carved by "Veggie Master" James Parker will be displayed throughout the fair, Thompson said.
"And then one thing we're featuring this year," Thompson said, "is kind of a behind the scenes of a fair vendor. A couple of our classic fair foods and their vendors will be demonstrating on the stage, and that's the last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."
Near the culinary kitchen stage will be a wine garden featuring a variety of Oklahoma wines, including selections from Summerside Winery, Whispering Meadows Vineyards and Winery, Stableridge Vineyards, Sparks Vineyard and Winery, Oak Hills Winery, and Whispering Vines Vineyards and Winery.
Fairgoers will also be able to enjoy a wide variety of musical styles every night. "We have the Oklahoma stage, which is more of our national recording artists," Thompson said, "but we also have the Bud Light Tailgate Tent and the International Beer Garden that will feature more of like the regional and local bands."
For a full live music preview, see Soundcheck on page 39 of this issue.
With an estimated attendance of more than 1 million annually, just getting to the fairgrounds has been a challenge, but organizers have developed a new system this year, Thompson said.
"New this year we are offering the fair transit system, which is our shuttle, every day," she said. "There's three locations: Nathan Hale High School, Tulsa Public Schools Service Center, and the Promenade Mall, and they will all bring guests to the Pavilion Circle Drive." A similar service has been offered in recent years, but only on the weekends of the fair. "Plus, it is free," Thompson said, "so it's a great way to get to the fair without the stress of looking for a parking spot, and you can just hop on the shuttle, you're dropped off right at the gate, and you can start your fair experience pretty quickly."
Once at Expo Square, visitors can enjoy the hospitality of a Howdy Hut. "They will be located right inside the main gate," Thompson said, and they will distribute our promotional materials, such as the Coca-Cola T-Shirt and the collectors pin, and they will also be kind of a guest service hub."
And finally, a good place to take a last rest after a hard day of fun is the Party Patio at the east end of the Exchange Center, where frozen drinks and other refreshments are available and, in another addition this year, live musical entertainment on the weekend evenings. The Jetset Kings will perform Sept. 28-29, 6-9pm, and Pop Machine Oct. 5-6, 6-9pm.
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