This October, the State Fairgrounds will be transformed as they are every fall: Ferris wheels will rise into the air, as will the smells of Southern cuisine and carnival grub, and up to a million people will descend upon Raleigh for the 2016 North Carolina State Fair. Some come for the same beloved attractions, year after year, while others arrive curious about what’s new. 
    “Every year when we’re talking about the Fair and planning for the next one, we always try to strike a balance between some of those traditions that people have come to expect and freshening up some of the entertainment options we have at the Fair,” says Brian Long, public affairs director with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We’ve done that again this year, we think.”
    One of the aims of the State Fair, says Long, is to have a little bit of everything. This year, accordingly, it has dragons, unicorns and pirates. Building upon a new tradition started last year, 2016’s live music will be homegrown as well, while a new official store provides a one-stop location for State Fair gear. A new chairlift, the Fair’s first permanent ride, debuts this year as well.
    What Long couldn’t tell us, though, was what unlikely foodstuffs will be deep-fried this year – usually he learns that information closer to Fair time. “We know that our vendors are creative,” he says. “They’ll be looking to add to their menus as well.”
    The State Fair runs from October 13th-23rd. For Fair information, including updates and park and ride information, visit ncstatefair.org. Below, find out more about what’s new this year.

Rides

The State Fair Flyer: This chairlift ride, similar to a lift at a ski resort, will transport fairgoers from the west end of the fairgrounds (near Gate 8) to the east end of the fairgrounds (near the Scott Building). The seven-minute ride travels 1400 feet at a height of about 35 feet. Years ago, Long says, there was a similar ride in Midway. The State Fair Flyer, however, is a permanent ride that is being built and operated by a North Carolina company.
    “That’s something we’ve been interested in for a number of years,” says Long. “It will do a couple of things we’re excited about.” For one, the State Fair Flyer will let fairgoers get a bird’s-eye view of the grounds. It will also help people avoid congestion, getting them from point A to point B more quickly and easily on crowded days. “It can have an aesthetic purpose and a functional purpose at the same time,” Long says.

Music

Homegrown Music Fest: The State Fair is continuing its focus on local music, which began last year with concerts almost exclusively featuring North Carolina acts. The 117 concerts of this year’s Homegrown Music Fest take place across 11 days on three stages: Dorton Arena, the Waterfall Stage and the Heritage Circle Bluegrass Stage. “We’re excited about continuing the focus on North Carolina talent,” says Long. “We had a very good response to what we did last year and shifting our musical focus.”
    There’s serious stylistic range to these performers, too: major acts include Raleigh heavy metal veterans Corrosion of Conformity, Durham indie mainstay (and Merge Records founders) Superchunk, and Kinston native Maceo Parker, a North Carolina treasure who has played sax with legends like James Brown and P-funk. Other acts range from praise to hip-hop to hard-living honky-tonk – and all of them hail from within the state. The full lineup can be viewed at ncstatefair.org.

Choral Competition: This Preview Day – the first Thursday of the Fair, that is – features a new choral competition in Dorton Arena. The middle school division competes from 4-6pm, while the high school division competes from 7-9pm. Winning schools in each division get $1,000 for their program, but every participating school gets at least $100.
    “It’s a competition for these vocal groups, but it’s also an opportunity for the general public to come out and hear some high-quality school choirs,” says Long. “We felt like showcasing some of that talent in a competition was a logical thing to do.” There are already student photography and visual art competitions, after all, so why not extend that to school choral groups?

State Fair Store

The Nest: This year there will be official State Fair merchandise, but also an official State Fair store. “It’s going to be called ‘The Nest’ because our mascot is Casey Cardinal,” says Long. “It’s going to be open every day of the Fair, and it’s going to have things like t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, coffee mugs, limited edition Christmas ornaments featuring the Fair – things like that.” Find The Nest in the lobby of the Exposition Center.

Discounts

The Daredevil Package: This brand-new package is made for those who go for the rides. It includes two adult admission tickets and six ride sheets, for a total of 108 ride tickets, for $72. This is a savings of $56 off gate cost and $4 off advance price, according to Long. The Daredevil Package is available online only from August 1st through October 13th.

Advance tickets: Advance tickets are still cheaper, with adults paying $8 and children paying $3, and 18-ticket ride sheets costing $10 in advance (to compare, adults pay $10 and kids pay $5 at the gate, while a sheet of 18 tickets costs $18). What’s new this year, though, is that fairgoers can buy discount advance admission and ride tickets from Food Lion cashiers between August 31st and October 13th.

Grounds Entertainment

The Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean: “North Carolina is known for some pirate history, of course, with Blackbeard and there’s that university that’s down in Greenville,” says Long. “It makes sense to have some pirate element at the North Carolina State Fair.” The Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean show features a family of performers doing high-wire tricks and acting out pirate scenes and battles. 

FireStryker: This dragon and its trainer will roam the fairgrounds.

Stilt-walking unicorns: “We usually try to have stilt-walkers at the fairgrounds, and this year they’re going to take the form of unicorns,” says Long. “It’s a group called Dream City Vegas. We like to say that the State Fair has a little bit of everything – we’re even going to have unicorns this year.”

Wolves of the World: This pack of trained wolves will be performing tricks for fairgoers. “It also has an educational component,” says Long. “The trainer, Sharon Sandlofer, will be talking to the audience about the importance of wolves to the ecosystem.”

The Red Trouser Show: Acrobats David Graham and Tobin Rinwick will balance on each other’s heads and juggle flaming batons, among other acrobatic feats.

The Lost Toys: A stilt-walkingpuppetmaster and his human marionette wander the grounds, interacting with fairgoers.

All Star Big Top Circus: Circus dogs will do tricks and give a canine fashion show.

Kids’ Entertainment

The Cutest Show on Earth: “It is a children’s theater show,” Long says – one starring kids. No two shows will be alike, as children will be given costumes and encouraged to create unique and silly performances. 

The Magic Bean: This agriculture-themed magic show, which incorporates skits, tricks and audience participation, is aimed at getting kids to think about where their food comes from.

Guy Gilchrist: This cartoonist will be part of the Field of Dreams exhibit (which, like the Magic Bean, is designed to teach about where food comes from). Gilchrist will do drawing demonstrations and play the guitar. .

< Back to Current Issue