Go to the fair. Go twice before it ends October 21. The State Fair of Texas, now in its 126th year, is still the biggest state fair in the land — and it gets a little better every year.
This year’s theme is “Big and Bright.” That’s nice. In small print they might have added “Expensive and Greasy,” but there are ways around that. Take advantage of some of the discount schemes for lower admission prices. And to rid your paws of the remnants of fried bacon and cinnamon rolls and deep-fried cactus bites, make liberal use of the hand-washing stations located all over Fair Park.
Big Tex, the giant cowboy who welcomes fairgoers to the midway, delivers a Mr. Clean message this year: “Remember to wash your hands, boys and girls.”
More things to love
The way the sun glints off the gold and silver details on the magnificent art deco buildings and statuary all over Fair Park. It’s still the world’s largest collection of art deco architecture and sculpture. Look up; many of the artworks, including beautifully maintained murals and paintings originally done in 1936, are over the entrances to the exhibit buildings.
Big Tex delivers a Mr. Clean message this year: “Remember to wash your hands, boys and girls.”
Free concerts all over the fairgrounds. Be sure to catch the Celtic rock band The Killdares, performing 120 free shows (several each day) on the revolving Backdoor Stage on the north side of the Cotton Bowl. More concerts happen afternoons and evenings on the Bud Light Stage and the Chevrolet Mainstage. You can also catch performances by troupes of African and Chinese acrobats, the United States Marines Drum and Bugle Corps, local high school marching bands and drill teams, as well as Frisbee-catching dogs, trained buzzards (yes!) and racing pigs.
Art pieces, crafts and food demos in the Food & Fiber Pavilion. Take your time checking out the details of blue ribbon-winning needlework, paintings and photographs, chosen from thousands of entries submitted from all over the country to the State Fair craft and art competitions. Our favorite this year is a wide-eyed painting by artist Lindy Cannell done in the style of Chuck Close.
A walk down the Midway at dusk. More than a million and a half light bulbs give the Midway a magical glow as the sun goes down. A better view is from the top car on the giant Texas Star Ferris wheel, which also offers the best photo ops for shots of the fairground from above, as well as a pretty view of the downtown Dallas skyline.
Chinese Lantern Festival on the lagoon. After dark, this little lake on the south side of the fairground turns into a dreamy world of illuminated dragons, temples and lotus flowers. (Admission price is extra, but the ticket price just dropped to $14 and is worth the splurge for the visual spectacle.)
You will ache for the little boy in tears hugging the goat that didn’t win a prize.
Scenes out of Charlotte’s Web over in the livestock barns. For real, this is where the traditions of the State Fair are the sweetest and most genuinely old-fashioned. Little girls in pigtails blow-drying sheep and goats they’ve raised for contests at the fair. Young boys in overalls tossing footballs out behind the bull barn. A kid in a straw hat playing a game on an iPad next to the pen where the pig he raised from birth is dozing until she gets trotted into the ring for judging. Children hanging off the fence as a cowboy patiently explains how to saddle a nervous mare.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to look up in a corner to see a spider web spun into the word “humble.” There’s something humble and beautiful about families carrying on decades-long traditions of bringing kids and farm animals together at the State Fair of Texas. And you will ache for the little boy in tears hugging the goat that didn’t win a prize.
Some things we didn’t love
The parking situation is worse than ever. It costs $15 to park inside the gates, and the attendants excel at misdirection and apathy. If you're going to The Addams Family at the Music Hall, your ticket price for the show does not include parking, and you'll have to park about half a mile inside the fairgrounds and walk to the theater. Take DART, if you can. The train stops just steps from the front gate and the Music Hall.
Too much emphasis on food. There are many more vendors frying up weird stuff this year and in places where there didn’t used to be any vendors (like over by the lagoon). One new booth just outside the Midway uses grills that produce so much smoke that walking past is like reliving the opening scene of Apocalypse Now.
Being reminded how out of shape our fellow citizens are. Really, America, you’re too fat. And deep-fried peanut butter and jelly followed by cotton candy and soda puts you on the roller coaster to diabetes, heart attack and stroke. Remember the old “fun house mirror” at the fair that made everyone look like they weigh 400 pounds? Well, now they do.