After a one-year hiatus due to the covid-19 pandemic, the 81st Arkansas State Fair opens Friday, offering 10 days of rides, fair food, music, games, "unique attractions," livestock and crafts competitions, through Oct. 24, at the State Fairgrounds, 2600 Howard St., off Roosevelt Road, Little Rock.
Farmland, Ind.-based North American Midway Entertainment provides this year's carnival attractions. Rides include the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, Euro slide, Giant Wheel, Mach 3 and Mega Drop, with "kiddie" rides including Balloon Race, Bumble Bees, Kite Flyer, Lollipop Swings and Spidermania.
It wouldn't be the fair without the usual fair food favorites, — corn dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy, hamburgers and pizza. There will be 52 food and beverage locations throughout the fairgrounds — on the fairground's main food court, in the Hall of Industry and on the midway.
The Big Show Diner will be serving "freshly prepared foods 'cafeteria style' for fast service, including American specialties, Blue Plate dinners, homemade pies and a children's menu," says the fair's interim general manager, Anne Marie Doramus. Find the Fair Food Vendors Map online at ArkansasStateFair.com.
Weekdays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., have Lunch at the Fair (sponsored by Entergy). Gate admission and parking are free.
The fair concert lineup:
◼️ Friday: Maddie & Tae at 8 p.m., with opening act Anna Brinker at 6:30.
◼️ Saturday: Bone Thugs-N- Harmony at 8 p.m. Dazz & Brie open at 6:30.
◼️ Sunday: Bel Biv Devoe, 7 p.m.
◼️ Monday: Zac Dunlap, with Jettway Music Group, 6 p.m.
◼️ Wednesday: Fox Green, 7 p.m.
◼️ Oct. 21: Better Than Ezra, 7 p.m.
◼️ Oct. 22: Blackberry Smoke, 8 p.m. Stephen Neeper & the Wild Hearts opens at 6:30.
◼️ Oct. 23: Country singer Riley Green, 8 p.m. Saving Grace and the Sinners opens at 6:30.
Concerts are free with gate admission, but for patrons interested in a "premium concert experience" can pay $25 for limited deck seating (gate admission is not included). Visit the fairgrounds box office or ArkansasStateFair.com.
The Farm Bureau Arts & Crafts Building hosts competitions for crafts, hobbies and cooking skills, including flower arranging, Arkansas commercial wine, open baked foods, State Fair pie, Arkansas honey cooking, Hiland Dairy and Petit Jean Meats cooking, Tammy Sue's meatloaf cooking, Arkansas Cattlemen's Association barbecue ribs, the Arkansas Cattlewomen's Association chili cook-off and various cooking demonstrations.
Livestock Show exhibitions and competitions include beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, sheep, Boer goats, dairy goats, poultry and rabbits. According to new Livestock Chairman Chris Bacchus, the fair will welcome more than 7,000 Arkansas 4-H and FFA members who have worked with their animals all year long in preparation for the fair. Competition schedules are at ArkansasStateFair.com.
◼️ Hiland Dairy Foods is once again sponsoring the Show Me Swine Racers, athletic porkers chasing down an oatmeal cookie, on Hiland Hill just off the midway.
◼️ The Museum of Discovery presents "larger-than-life experiments that are unusual, unexpected and downright mind-blowing," according to a hyperbolic news release.
◼️ "Bears of Bearadise Ranch," billed as the largest traveling educational bear exhibit in the country, provides "an up close and personal look at these majestic creatures" with information "about the bears and their favorite pastimes" and a chance to "see them show off their amazing skills."
And don't forget about the State Fair Petting Zoo, in an enclosed building on the south end of the midway.
Youth Talent Competitions and Fair Queen Pageants take place at the Arkansas Building. Talent finalists perform at 1 p.m. Oct. 23; the Fair Queen finals start at 5 p.m. Award ceremonies and the crowning of the 2021 Arkansas State Fair Queen, Junior Fair Queen, Ms. Fair Queen and Senior Ms. Fair Queen follow.
Although the State Fair no longer includes a rodeo, it still crowns Rodeo Queens. Contestants will compete through a riding competition and private interviews. The crowning ceremony will be between 11 a.m. and noon Sunday in Barton Coliseum.
◼️ Vaccinate Arkansas will sponsor a free covid-19 vaccination clinic in the Hall of Industry on both Fridays and Saturdays during the fair.
◼️ The official State Fair Guide, including daily schedules, maps and a food vendor list, available in printed form in previous years, will now be available online and on your smartphone via the website, ArkansasStateFair.com. You can also use your smartphone to access the daily schedule of events and fairgrounds map by scanning QR codes on the information towers throughout the fairgrounds.
◼️ Regular daily gate admission is $12, $6 for children 6-12 and senior citizens 60 and older, free for children under 6. Ride bands bought on-site are $35. Buy advance gate admission at ArkansasStateFair.com today, before the fair opens, and pay $8, $4 for children and senior citizens; one-day ride bands are $30.
◼️ Regular fairground parking is $10 per vehicle; premium parking — park closer to the action in designated lots — is $20.
Call (501) 372-8341 or visit ArkansasStateFair.com.
CORRECTION: Stephen Neeper & the Wild Hearts will be the opening act for Blackberry Smoke Oct. 22 at the Arkansas State Fair. An earlier version of this story spelled the name of the band incorrectly.