RALEIGH — When the N.C. State Agricultural Society organized the first State Fair in Raleigh 160 years ago, the goal was to bring farmers to town to show them the latest know-how and techniques.
Agriculture is still a big part of the 11-day fair, which opens Thursday afternoon, though now the aim is to teach the rest of us a little about farming and where our food comes from, says Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s secretary of agriculture.
And while the farmers of 1853 might still recognize the livestock shows and vegetable competitions, they’d surely be amazed, and perhaps a little horrified, by what else they’d find, including for the first time this year a deep-fried Sugar Daddy and a sloppy joe sandwich served on a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Here’s our opening day guide to this year’s fair:
Petting zoo: Don’t go looking for the petting zoo – there isn’t one this year. Concerns over the spread of illness made it impossible for the zoo operator to get liability insurance, fair spokesman Brian Long said. But, as always, you can get up close to farm animals at the N.C. State Animal Science Club’s State Fair Ark in the Expo Building, near the milking booth, where you can grab the business end of a cow.
Crowds: If you don’t like crowds, consider going on Monday or the first Friday. Those days drew the smallest attendance on average over the past decade, less than 61,000. Compare that to the busiest day, the final Saturday, which draws more than twice that many people on average. Of course, the least crowded days are always the rainy ones.
Rides: There are a few new rides this year, including one that’s coming straight from the factory, says Corky Powers of Powers Great American Midways. The Rampage is a double Ferris wheel, in which both wheels can spin independently, one atop the other, and together. The ride was due to arrive from the Wisdom Rides factory in Colorado on Wednesday night.
Cakes: It should be easier to get a good look at the winners of the decorated cakes contest, which always draws a crowd in the Education Building. The fair has reconfigured the cake display and installed 50 turntables that will spin each cake around so you can see all sides. And the blue-ribbon winners will be in a separate display case in the middle that you can walk around.
Hunger relief: It’s going to take five cans of food instead of four to get free admission on Food Lion Hunger Relief Day next Thursday. That’s still a bargain compared with the $9 adult walk-up price. Last year, Hunger Relief Day generated 214,000 pounds of canned food for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. The goal this year is more than 250,000 pounds.
Late start: If the fair seems late this year, that’s because it is, relatively. The fair always starts on the second Thursday after the second Monday of October. By that reckoning, Oct. 17 is the latest it can ever open. Last year’s start on Oct. 11 is the earliest.
Ride the bus: The drop-off point for CAT, DATA, Triangle Transit and commercial buses has moved from Gate 10 to Gate 1, near the corner of Hillsborough and Blue Ridge roads. This dedicated bus area should be safer and easier to use, and it is a prelude to expanded park-and-ride options next year. Details are at www.ncstatefair.org/2013/General/GetToFair.htm.
Fireworks: Remember, the fireworks are no longer launched from the lake in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. They go up from across Trinity Road at 9:45 each night, signaling the close of buildings and gate ticket booths.
Shows: As of late Wednesday, tickets were still available for all but one of the evening shows at Dorton Arena, though one of the two Scotty McCreery shows was close to selling out, too. All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Here’s a schedule:
• Thursday: Sister Hazel, $5
• Friday: Building 429 and Francesca Battistelli, $10
• Saturday: Joe Nichols, $10
• Sunday: Florida Georgia Line, $10 (SOLD OUT)
• Monday: Scotty McCreery, $25
• Tuesday: Scotty McCreery, $25
• Wednesday: Dailey & Vincent, $5
• Oct. 24: Who’s Bad (Michael Jackson Tribute Band), $5
• Oct. 25: MercyMe, $15
• Oct. 26: Randy Houser, $10
• Oct. 27: Eli Young Band, $15