The State Fair Experience

Kristin Otto

West Side Story: So if marching bands are not your thing, an alternative musical attraction this weekend is the renowned musical theater production West Side Story. A made-in-America musical, “West Side Story” is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” But for all you football-watchin’, beer-drinkin’, fried-food-eatin’ football fanatics, do not let the romantic undertones be a turn off. There are gang rivalries, knife fights and a shoot out. How appropriate. The Broadway cast album for this musical won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2010; one song on the “West Side Story’s” score is “Something’s Coming”. “Something’s coming, don’t know when, but it’s soon; Catch the moon, One-handed catch!” sings Tony, the musical’s ruffian “Romeo.” Could he be forecasting a Longhorn victory?

Chevrolet Main Stage: During the course of the State Fair of Texas, 24 musical artists are scheduled to perform at the Chevrolet Main Stage, the Fair’s outdoor concert venue. Fairgoers this weekend will have the choice of country, country and more country music. JB & the Moonshine Band, a dynamic group of four East Texas boys, will play on Friday at 8:30 PM. Saturday night’s entertainment will be provided by Jack Ingram, born and raised in The Woodlands, also at 8:30 PM. Sugar Land’s native Katie Armiger will wrap up the weekend, bringing her talent to the Main Stage at 1:00 PM on Sunday. A lot of Texas country music to compliment a lot of Texas football spirit.

Big Tex: No trip to the State Fair of Texas is complete without a good look and admiration of its official mascot, Big Tex. This year will mark Big Tex’s 59th birthday. Standing 52-feet tall, he will greet Fair visitors with the biggest Texas welcome they will most likely ever hear. Tex wears size-70 cowboy boots custom made by Twisted X Boots and flaunts a 75 gallon Stetson hat. This year Dickies has set him up with a new shirt, pair of jeans and belt. So recycle your Vogue magazine and let Big Tex show you what fashion forward means to the Lone Star State.

Illumination Sensation: When the sun goes down, the Fairgrounds will light up with the breathtaking theatrics of Illumination Sensation. Visitors will line up on the grassy esplanade and watch as the show takes place over Fair Park’s 700-foot reflecting pool. Illumination Sensation pairs pyrotechnic events — for example, spewing liquid fire over the waterscape — with classical as well as modern music. Unique aspects of the show also include a 3-D light projection screen and high-tech graphics. Illumination Sensation combines the elements of light, fire, music and water to create a spectacle that not even the Red River Rivalry can rival.

Farmer Mike: He is The Picasso of Pumpkin Carvers. Using a folding Buck knife and a chisel, he tackles and transforms more than half-ton gourds into three-dimensional Puff the Magic Dragons and other famous personalities. He will be whittling away at pumpkins at the State Fair of Texas from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM on Friday and Saturday and 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM on Sunday. His name is Mike Valladao, but you can call him “Farmer Mike”. Sporting a pair of orange overalls, Farmer Mike broke out onto the pumpkin-carving scene at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. That was 25 years ago, and he is still going strong. Farmer Mike has become such a sensation that he was invited and made an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Get pumped up for the game this weekend by watching Farmer Mike working on his prized pumpkins.

Midway: “Besides the food, the carnival is my favorite part of the Fair. Word to the wise, though — if you’ve been doing some celebratory hydrating a little too much before the game, you may want to stick to the kiddy rides” warns Leslie Slaughter, a pre-journalism sophomore anticipating more than 70 rides that will be at the State Fair’s Midway this year. If heights do not bother you, get an aerial view of the State Fair of Texas while riding on the $5 million Texas Skyway, a gondola ride spanning 1,800 feet across Fair Park. Other headline hallmarks of Midway are the 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel and the 1914 Dentzel carousel. If the football game is not enough excitement, look to the Thrillway region of the Midway for an adrenaline rush. Just remember to heed Slaughter’s warning … if you choose to combine fried food, pre-game beverages and high-speed coasters, there is a good chance that the opponent you will be going up against this weekend will be your stomach.

Food: Two words: fried food. The State Fair, widely referred to as the Fried Food Capital of Texas, will feature more than 200 food locations. Since the invention of the first “corny dog” in 1942, the evolution of fried food is furthered every year at the State Fair of Texas. The tradition of the Big Tex Choice Awards, honoring vendors with Best Taste and Most Creative prizes, began in 2005 and has since sparked a fried food creativity competition. Last year’s Best Taste went to Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack while Fried Bubblegum won Most Creative. New items to look out for this year are Heavenly Deep Fried Brownies, Deep Fried Biscuits and Gravy and Deep Fried Chicken Skin. And while the wide receivers are catching footballs, make sure to be cheering them on with a mouth full of Deep Fried Cake Balls.

TEXAS!: This year marks the 125th Anniversary of the State Fair of Texas as well as the 175th Anniversary of Texas’ statehood. In commemoration and celebration of these landmarks, the TEXAS! exhibit will have on display an array of intriguing historical objects which will surely spark pride every Texan’s heart. The State Fair has released a list of artifacts that will be part of TEXAS!, including Davy Crockett’s pipe and pistol, Santa Anna’s spurs and vest, the sword used to capture Santa Anna, Sam Houston’s battle of San Jacinto report, Stephen F. Austin’s pocket telescope, the only original Juneteenth document declaring emancipation for all Texas slaves and a life-sized replica of the Alamo.