If last year's inaugural Denver County Fair was a grand experiment, this year's "is going to blow the first one out of the water on all counts!" says DCF maestra Dana Cain. That's because Cain's mental notepad was a cover-to-cover frenzy of new ideas and lessons learned by the time the 2011 event was over, and she is, if anything, the most meticulous of event planners. She and fellow fair promoter Tracy Weil started planning for modifications a year ago, beginning with a date change allowing for extra produce-ripening time for contest entrants.
What they've ended up with is a fair that's bigger, wilder and even more Denver-centric than before: "Every fun thing that happens in Denver all year long is happening in three days here," Cain promises. But it's not just about popular culture, either -- all the traditional competitions, from sanctioned chicken judging to pie contests, will still be very much a part of the mix. "Every resident of this state should be able to find five things on the schedule that they will not want to miss," she adds.
Our ten favorite Denver County Fair 2012 improvements follow:
10. Andrew Novick
Cain and Weil were looking for a ringer, and they found one in Andrew Novick, whose successes at last year's fair -- in particular, his X-treme Pancake Breakfast, which featured scores of unique flavored butters and wacky toppings -- prompted them to promote him to Events Director in 2012, sealing the deal on a triumvirate of creative thinkers that Cain calls "the rock star, the gay farmer and the crazy grandma," adding that "we all bring different elements and specialties, but with the same vision." Novick -- who's known for being a compulsive collector, an eccentric artist/event planner and a founding member of Denver's legendary Warlock Pinchers -- will serve the underbelly of Denver culture by expanding his pancake spree and adding a breakfast burrito version on Sunday, introducing such pop-culture niches as zombies and J-pop fashion, adding a roundup of tribute bands and bringing Casa Bonita into the fair's mashup of presenters, to name just a few of his projects.
Jeff Ball, Denver County Fair
9. Fair food and drink improvements.
Due to contractual limitations posed by National Western's in-house servers K-M Concessions, last year's fair-food selection left something to be desired and was pricey, to boot. But the DCF team has done some tweaking to make it easier to bring in outside concessionaires -- most notably, food trucks -- and variety. In 2012, the fair will host daily Food Truck Round-Ups outside in the evenings (and late afternoon on Sunday), along with special outdoor events to keep things interesting, including a live cheeseburger-eating contest, Charles Phoenix's Cookie Castle Blast-Off, a graffiti art competition and a hot pepper-eating challenge. Indoors, a beer garden will be added, featuring Colorado wine and brews, and you'll be able to sample fried pickles, chocolate bacon, funnel cakes and the like throughout the weekend, using a free food map to find your way from booth to booth. And don't miss Ruby Ann Boxcar's trailer-trash cooking demos.
8. More competitions.
Make that more live competitions, in particular, where unregistered contestants can jump onstage in the heat of the moment to compete: Those will include everything from frequent diaper derbies to an impromptu costume contest. Official additions for 2012 are all over the map -- there's an all-ages spelling bee, the Magic Cyclops Denver Idol Karaoke Contest, supper hollerin', the Corpses & Crowns Zombie Pageant, Casa Bonita's Sopapilla Toss and Name That Sci-Fi tune with Tim Simpson, to name a few. Let your freak flag fly!
The list continues on the next page.
Each pavilion will have its own pet charity; a portion of every entry fee will go to the designated cause.
6. Animal Pavilion will quadruple in size.
A county fair isn't a county fair without the animals, and what was a big hit last year will become an even bigger one this year, with more animals and attractions. There'll be bear cubs and baby tigers from Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, FidOlympics shows with Denver Dog Sports and miniature horses from Cheyenne Miniatures; adorable chihuahuas and iguanas will be paraded. But there will also be a sanctioned chicken show, urban pet competitions of all kinds, a petting zoo and pony rides and everything you'd expect -- we've even heard a rumor about unicorns there, too. Unicorns!
Jeff Ball, Denver County Fair
5. Carnival moves indoors.
There really has to be a carnival with rides at a county fair, but last year, the fair's organizers overlooked the heat factor when they installed the metal rides outdoors on concrete, under the hot sun. This year, the carnival will move indoors into National Western's Stadium Arena, lessening the thigh-burn quotient and upping the overall fun. FunZone Amusements is covering every carny base, including the addition of a roller coaster, but it'll all be under the roof -- rides, midway and a great value: unlimited ride wristbands go for $20, or buy tickets in $5 increments.
The list continues on the next page.
4. Kids Pavilion.
Right next to the carnival will be the new Kids Pavilion, because, gee, weren't fairs made for kids? This year's fair will cater to the young'uns big time, beginning with its own set of wee, child-sized contests. Pint-sized cake decorators will be set loose for a Mini Cake Boss event, crawlers can motor off in diaper derbies and little ones can proudly gallop in a stick horse race or hoop it up in the hula hoop competition. The pavilion will also have its own art show with prizes, a forest of inflatables and bounce houses, human hamster balls, a gigantic model train and more formal competitions in craft, cooking and gardening categories. Like to get scared? Adjacent to the pavilion, there'll be a 3D Circus of Fear haunted house guaranteed to make you dizzy and scare your pants off.
Denver County Fair
3. Geek Pavilion.
Perhaps the biggest addition, and the boldest -- at least in Dana Cain's rapidly computing mind -- is the Geek Pavilion, a virtual Big Bang Theory on steroids that pays tribute to Denver's healthy nerdist population. "I'm pretty sure we're the only fair in the world with a Geek Pavilion," Cain boasts. "Because Denver has a rich geek history and palette of geekery, we're all about the geeks and nerds here." And how: Within the area's walls, homemade-robot battles -- based on MileHiCon's famous Critter Crunch, which was invented in Denver -- will go down and Scrabble will be played, Peeps dioramas will be unveiled and sci-fi and fantasy art will be celebrated. Prizes will be given out for geeky toy collections and original comic books, and Geeks Who Drink will preside over trivia rounds. The geeky also won't want to miss the Unsinkable Molly Brown Dunk Tank, sponsored by the Molly Brown House Museum and the DCF's little way of offering a peek at the fair's future: Plans for 2013 include the addition of a History Pavilion.
2. ¡Viva Denver!
The Colorado State Fair and National Western Stock Show both have their fiesta days honoring Colorado's Latino community; this year, the Denver County Fair is following suit by adding ¡Viva Denver!, its own modernized version of south-of-the-border fun. It'll kick off with Andrew Novick's X-treme Breakfast Burrito event and will showcase Casa Bonita's presence at the fair: The venerable tourist trap will contribute costumed characters and the Casa Bonita Sopapilla Toss -- a DCF exclusive team competition that involves tossing a honey-dripped dough puff into the brim of a sombrero. Throughout the day, celebrate culture with Frida Kahlo Unibrow contests, chihuahua fashion shows, piñata bashing and a sugar-skull workshop hosted by the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council; festivities -- and the fair -- will wrap up with a gigantic dance party with a DJ and the Latino rock group iZICALLi.
Denver's love affair with rotting flesh-eaters is obvious: We're rumored to have one of the biggest zombie crawls in the nation, and it seems like folks around town are always painting their faces white at the drop of a hat to go drooling and lumbering after one another in the name of fun. Hence the Saturday night Corpses & Crowns Zombie Pageant on the Fashion Stage, followed by a night of zombie dancing in the Geek Pavilion's Lounge of the Dead. A match made in, um, somewhere? "These are not gratuitous zombies," Cain notes. "Denver is the zombie capitol of the U.S."
Find information on hundreds of other arts and entertainment events in our online Calendar.
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