Summer’s end means a good time in Palmer. Given how insanely fine this summer has been, the 2019 Alaska State Fair theme of “Crazy Good” seems particularly appropriate.
The usual suspects have been lined up for Aug. 22-Sept. 2: animals, vegetables and minerals; fresh local produce and greasily delicious fried treats; rides and carnival games and commercial exhibits; temporary tattoos and wild hairstyles; still-long days and, maybe, termination dust on Pioneer Peak.
If you grew up here, reading that probably made you long for the days when the end of August meant farm exhibits and the noisy midway. But that’s the great thing about the Alaska State Fair: It lets you be a kid again, no matter how old you are. It isn’t just children riding that merry-go-round or tossing rings at bottles.
Indulge your inner child, or bring your own kids, and have fun. We couldn’t possibly list everything that’s going on, but here’s our A-to-Z list to get you started. (For full details, see alaskastatefair.org)
A is for admission
The Alaska State Fair is Aug. 22-Sept. 2. General admission for adults is $13 Monday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. For seniors and youths, it’s $9 and $10; kids under 5 get in free. Workarounds exist, however:
-Season Fun Pass, good for all 12 days and including free parking, costs $60, $40 for seniors. The Youth Season Pass, also good for all 12 days, costs $30. Buy them before Aug. 21 online at alaskastatefair.org.
-Costco 4-Pack ticket packages cost $25.99-$39.99, available at Costco through Aug. 21.
-Unlimited carnival ride wristband deals are Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 26 and 27. $40 per person, or $50 with fair admission included, when purchased online by Aug. 21; It’s $60 plus admission day-of.
-Two-Buck Thursday: Get in for $2 if you’re through the gate between noon and 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22. A donation of two shelf-stable foods encouraged.
-Friday, Aug. 23 is GCI Kids’ Day, when children under age 12 get in free. A donation of two shelf-stable foods encouraged.
-#Club49 Family Day is Saturday, Aug. 24, with a $2 discount per child aged 12 and under.
-Buddy Days are Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 28 and 29. Pick up a “Coca-Cola Buddy Days” coupon at Holiday stores and bring it to the fair for a free ticket of equal or lesser value with your paid admission. Even better: When you buy your ride tickets, your buddy rides for free.
-Military Appreciation Day on Sunday, Sept. 1: Active and retired military get in for $5 and can bring as many as three dependents in for $5 apiece.
-First Responders Day, on Monday, Sept. 2: $5 admission for police, firefighters and EMS personnel with valid ID.
-Military discount tickets, available at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, cost $11 for adults and $7 for seniors and youths.
-Other special deals are available when you buy online before by Aug. 21, see alaskastatefair.org/site/buy-tix for details.
B is for Blackwater Railroad
This band originated in Seward and has a sound that’s hard to categorize and impossible to ignore. Blackwater Railroad takes the best aspects of rhythm and blues, country (from the ’60s and ’70s), folk and bluegrass and stirs them together to provide a danceable, upbeat playlist that’s crammed with original tunes as well as covers of favorite songs.
Catch BWRR at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $20 including fair admission if purchased online by Aug. 21, or $10 plus fair admission at the door.
C is for cosplay
Like to dress up? Find your people at the fair! There’s a meet ’n’ greet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the Borealis Plaza Tent. Don the regalia of your favorite anime, video game, sci-fi, superhero or movie character and mingle with those who get it.
Stick around until 5 p.m. for the cosplay contest. Oh, and prepare to have your picture taken a lot.
Also on the topic of costumes: Several Alaskan “Star Wars” costuming clubs will do a meet ’n’ greet on Wednesday at the Events Tent. The 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and Mandalorian Mercs will interact with crowds (and, yeah, pose for selfies) from noon to 6 p.m. Your donation will go to the Alaska Make-A-Wish Foundation.
D is for Dropkick Murphys
Get your Celtic punk on with this loud and proud band, which sells out crowds everywhere it goes and also has opened with acts like Bruce Springsteen, Mumford & Sons and the Foo Fighters.
Show time is 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $45 and $60 including fair admission if purchased online by Aug. 21; after that, they’re $35 and $50 plus fair admission. Note: There is no seating at this performance. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll probably won’t be able to sit still.
E is for exhibits
Every year hobbyists bring their best to the fair. Enjoy displays of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, home canning, fiber and fleece, quilting, woodworking, honey and beekeeping, sewing, clay arts and more.
Visiting these exhibits is more than a feast for the eyes: It’s also a good way to escape the noise and the crowds and to marvel at the creativity of your neighbors.
F is for Foxworthy
Sure, he tells some funny stories about rednecks. (Full disclosure: My father describes himself as “a redneck with a master’s degree.”) But Foxworthy isn’t just about the Walmart jokes. He’s won a bunch of Grammy Awards, written more than two dozen books for children and adults, hosted or starred in five television shows, and is one-fourth of “The Blue-Collar Comedy Tour,” one of the most successful comedy tours of all time.
Foxworthy performs at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1 at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $55 and $85 including fair admission if purchased online by Aug. 21; after that they’re $45 to $95, plus fair admission.
G is for Gathering Place
This special area of the fairgrounds celebrates Alaska Native heritage and culture. Among this year’s guests and performers are Pamyua (Inuit soul music), King Island Dancers, Naa Luudisk Gwaii Yatx’i, Yurapik Dancers, Irene Bedard, Lepquinm Gumilgit Gagoadim Dancers, Ricko DeWilde, Northern Lights Dancers, WEIO blanket toss and traditional games, Imamsuat Dancers and The Path (Native contemporary Christian music). Look for a schedule of performers at the fairgrounds.
H is for huge veggies
Although many of us associate the state fair with giant cabbages, lately the “Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off” has been attracting a lot of looky-loos. And our freakishly warm summer may have created a new record.
For the pumpkin competition, be there at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27. To see the cabbage weigh-off, show up at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. And if you just want to look at all the giant zucchini and rhubarb and the prize-winning fruits, herbs and vegetables, show up any time the fair is open.
There’s also a new agricultural competition this year: the “Last Frontier Poultry Show”, which takes place at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 25.
All events and exhibits take place at the barn.
[From 2018: Giant pumpkin sets new Alaska State Fair record]
I is for Iditarod Trail song
Hobo Jim, aka “Alaska’s State Balladeer,” plays original tunes about commercial fishing, cowboying, riding the rails and lumberjacking. But the song we most associate with him is “Iditarod Trail.”
So be ready to sing (and to howl like a husky) at, at 4 p.m. Friday and Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 at the SBS Woodlot Stage, and at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 and 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sept. 2 at the Sluicebox.
J is for judging
Those sheep, pigs, goats and cattle aren’t just there to make the fair a cooler place. They’re being judged for their quality and, in many cases, “showmanship” – how their owners have cared for and trained them to be shown in an arena setting.
Go to the farm exhibit building to see dairy and beef cattle being shown at noon today; swine, sheep and goats will be shown at noon Saturday. Another fun event is “Small Fry Showmanship,” at noon Sept. 2, when kids age 8 and under bring their livestock to display.
K is for Kansas
Since 1974 this rock band has been touring the world and selling more than 30 million albums along the way. Songs like “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind” have become part of our collective musical wallpaper, appearing in TV shows and commercials and dominating the classic rock stations.
Show time is 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $50 and $85 including fair admission if purchased online by Aug. 21; after that, they cost $40 and $75 plus fair admission.
L is for LuLu Small
This raucous chanteuse will have you up and dancing before you realize it. With her five-octave vocal range and choice of both original tunes and dead-perfect renditions of famous musicians, she’s been entertaining Alaska audiences for three decades.
Small will sing at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at the Alaska USA Bluebonnet Stage, at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at The Watering Hole, and at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at the Sluicebox.
M is for mammogram
Yep, you read that right: The Providence Imaging Center’s Mobile Mammogram Truck will be on hand from noon to 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.
All insurance companies will cover the cost of a screening. If you haven’t had this test, or if someone you love has been avoiding it, use this opportunity to make a smart healthcare choice. Call 907-212-3151 to make an appointment.
Don’t have insurance? Call to see if your mammogram can be covered some other way.
Bonus: Afterward, you get to go to the fair.
N is for Ninjas
Meet the self-described “Eskimo Ninja” Nick Hanson, a native of Unalakleet and three-season veteran of the physically grueling “American Ninja Warrior” television show.
You can even take a shot at ninja-hood yourself, by running the same course the TV competitors do. Hanson and the course will be on hand from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23 and Saturday, Aug. 24 at the Events Tent. No registration is required. You can run the course once for $10 or three times for $25.
Hanson and several other ninjas (Grant McCartney, Jessie “Flex” Lebreck, Chris DiGangi, Ethan Swanson and Tiana Webberley) will conduct “Ninja Warrior Pro Camp,” 90-minute training sessions. These take place at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, and 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24. The cost is $60, or $55 with fair admission if you register in advance.
Hanson will also appear at The Gathering Place over the course of the fair.
O is for overdoing it
As Mae West is alleged to have said, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” The state fair is all about excess.
The rides! The games! The food! What would the fair be without the delighted shrieks of folks riding the Zipper, the smiles on kids’ faces as they carry the stuffed unicorns they won, the fragrance of everything from cotton candy to barbecued turkey legs?
Not as much fun, that’s what. Use the “A is for admission” section to get as much bang for the buck as you can with regard to the rides. And if we may make a suggestion: Enjoy the cotton candy and turkey legs after you’ve ridden the Zipper.
P is for pets
We know you love your furry buddies. However, they are not allowed on the fairgrounds. Leave them home.
Q is for quiet
Dance until you drop at the “Silent Disco,” in the Borealis Plaza Tent. Wear headphones and dance from 5 to 11:30 p.m. Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.
Note: The 5 to 7 p.m. slot features “kid-friendly” music – still rockin’, but no adult themes. And speaking of adults, there’s a beer garden from 8 p.m. until closing.
R is for robotics
The Mat-Su Schools Tech Showcase takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Events Tent. Robotics, an interactive broadcast simulator and other tech stuff will be available to explore. You can also learn about groups like Girls Who Code. Bring your kids and watch them learn while having fun.
S is for science
The “Wild Science” exhibit at the eWorX Don Sheldon Events Center offers hands-on activities that demonstrate basic scientific concepts. Brad’s World Reptiles, in the Matanuska Federal Credit Union Kid Zone, gives kids (and adults!) a chance to learn about reptiles, amphibians and other creatures, including the bioluminescent fish, reptiles and insects in the “Glow Zone.”
T is for Tower of Power
Serious old-school fusion: This band formed in 1968 and mixes soul, rock, jazz and pop sounds, with hits like “Down to the Nightclub” and “Soul Vaccination,” as well as ballads like “You’re Still a Young Man.” You’ve got to love a band that has five horn players.
Tower of Power performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $45 and $65 including fair admission if purchased online by Aug. 21; after that, they’re $35 and $55 plus fair admission.
U is for umbrella
It will probably rain during the Alaska State Fair. It will probably rain more than once. Some of us old-timers refer to a typical late August wet ’n’ blustery forecast as “state fair weather.”
And we deal with it. A good slicker and/or a folding bumbershoot plus a cheerful attitude makes those gray days just part of the experience. The damp chill makes a hot chocolate or the coffee and pie at the Slippery Gulch booth that much more satisfying. (Pro tip: Don’t hog the table because you don’t want to go back out into the wet. Finish your food and let some other family warm up.)
V is for very cute baby animals
Hard to find many things cuter than a piglet or a calf or a baby goat or a long-eared kitten (yep, baby rabbits are called “kittens”). The “Fowl Weather Friends” hatchery will be rife with baby chicks. Visit the farm exhibits building to see these and other critters.
You’ll see plenty of larger animals, too. One look at a giant hog or a sturdy steer and you’ll feel downright dainty by comparison.
If your kids (or you!) want an up-close-and-personal experience, drop by the GCI Petting Zoo, which is open from noon to 8 p.m. daily.
W is for women (strong ones)
New this year to the fair is the “World’s Strongest Woman” competition. Thirty women from 10 countries will compete in feats of strength such as pushing a 15-passenger van, tossing a 50-pound salmon and pulling a 300-pound dogsled. The competition takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Borealis Plaza Tent.
X is for X-tremes
Go big or go home, right? Among the extreme (and free) entertainment at the fair this year are:
-Monster trucks – they’re big, they’re scary, they’re surprisingly agile. Catch these giant-wheeled terrors at 1 and 5 p.m. Aug. 31 and 1 p.m. Sept. 1. Tickets are $15, $10 for kids ages 5 to 12 and $5 for those under 6.
-Demolition derby, an annual favorite, shows just how much abuse a vehicle (and the human body?) can endure. It takes place at 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at the BP Grandstand. Tickets are $12, $8 for kids ages 6 to 12.
-The King BMX bike team riders will defy gravity at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. daily at the Purple Plaza. (Hope your kids don’t get any ideas.)
-Canine Stars, a group of mostly rescued pooches, shows off extreme Frisbee tricks, agility racing, high jumps, dancing and “dock diving.” The group, new to the fair, performs at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26 through Sept. 1, with an additional 7 p.m. show on Aug. 30 and 31.
Y is for young
Sure, the fair can make even the codgeriest of codgers feel young again. But we’d also like to point out some of the deals and special events aimed at kids:
-GCI Kids Day is Friday, Aug. 23, with free admission for kids 12 and under (although a donation of two shelf-stable food items per child is requested for local food banks). The Princesses of Alaska will be on hand, and your kids can also watch the Junior Rodeo (6 p.m.) and participate in games for the very young (diaper derby and toddler trot at 1:30 p.m.) and the toilet-trained (wheelbarrow race, frog jump, sack race, pie-eating starting at 3 p.m. for those ages 5 to 9).
-Got a young pastry chef in your family? The Just for Kids Cookie Contest, for children ages 5 to 12, takes place on Friday, Aug. 23. The recipe must be original and unpublished; keep the fair’s “Crazy Good” theme in mind when creating the flavors. Bring six cookies on a disposable plate covered with plastic wrap to the Hoskins Exhibit Hall between 4 and 6:45 p.m., and provide a typed recipe on an 8½ by 11 inch sheet of paper with the name of the cookie at the top and the young baker’s name, address and phone number at the bottom.
-Been told that your kid a chip off the ol’ block? Test that theory at the Parent Child Lookalike contest on Saturday, Aug. 24. Registration starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Borealis Plaza Tent. Judges will be looking at similarity of behavior, hair and clothing.
-And if your kids get a little over-stimulated and need a place to relax? The Family Rest Stop, at the south end of Raven Hall, is a quiet place to take five, change diapers or let the children decompress from all the noise.
Z is for Zoltar
Remember the fortune-telling booth from the movie “Big”? Or maybe you’ve seen “Zoltar Speaks” booths at fairs, carnivals and boardwalks.
This time Zoltar is real. Kind of. Comedian and magician Robert Nash will entertain young and old alike with magical effects, humorous banter and a funny fortune. Look for his booth around the fairgrounds every day, and push the button to learn your fate – if you dare.
(Former Daily News reporter and personal finance author Donna Freedman lives in Anchorage and blogs at DonnaFreedman.com.)
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified “Eskimo Ninja” Nick Hanson.