If you've never been to the Colorado State Fair, it's time. And if you go every year, you need to begin planning the annual trek to Pueblo, which still hosts the fair despite occasional attempts to move it. (Extra points if you pronounce the city's name properly: Poo-EBB-low!) Why should you go?
First of all, the fair is an essential connection to the region’s heritage, having originated as an agricultural exposition in 1872, four years before statehood. Few people remember that farming and ranching were the prime economic movers in the state for nearly a century, and that they still figure strongly today. The state fair celebrates everything about the raising of crops and animals, as well as handcrafting – a whole ‘nother world of analog skills that get short shrift in the age of the digerati, but that undergird the essentials of life that we often take for granted.
Second, it’s fun — old-school fun! The rodeos, the 4-H competitions, the carnival midway, the delicious greasy fair food washed down with soda pop and the bonne bouche of Indian fry bread. It’s like being dropped into the middle of Charlotte’s Web.
Third, it’s unmediated reality. The Poser Percentage at the state fair is about 0.087. So let go of your postmodern sensibilities, release your inner David Foster Wallace and just go with the flow — it’s a blast. The Colorado State Fair is one of the last bastions of the non-ironic Real. You can also see some of the best and worst tattoos ever inked.
What to bring:
a) Sunscreen and water. On some late afternoons, the fairgrounds will seem hotter than the surface of the sun. This is not an illusion, so prepare accordingly.
b) Cash. The ATMs are more numerous and better marked than in past years, but it’s much easier to enjoy the attractions if you are ready to whip out the long green instead of the plastic.
c) Children. Kids, of course, are the perfect excuse for YOU to do all that fun fair stuff you might not normally do because you think you’re all grown up now. (You’re not.) Kids’ enthusiasm is infectious, and I guarantee they’ll remember the fair for a long, long time. If you don’t have any children handy, borrow someone else’s.
Take it from the person who’s been to the fair so many times he has chronic heatstroke. Here are some of the highlights to anticipate at the 2015 Colorado State Fair:
10) Terry Fator
He tells jokes, he sings, he does impressions, and he’s a ventriloquist. And his puppets tell jokes, and sing, and do impressions. They might be ventriloquists, too, for all I know. This guy is an eight-tool player. Fator honed his act over nearly twenty years of hard work in tough venues such as state fairs, and the result is an all-ages show that’s actually funny.
9) Celebracion de los Charros
You can call it “Mexican rodeo,” but this predates that term. A kind of apartheid still seems to stand between mainstream and Hispanic culture in our state, which is weird, because Hispanics were here first; this event is a great opportunity to get some appreciation for other traditions. The charreada includes unique competitions such as the baile de los caballos (precision horseback maneuvers) and the jineteo de toro (like bull riding, only much scarier). And the event ends with a concert by one of the great norteno bands, Los Rieleros del Norte.
8) Toughest Monster Truck Tour
September 4 and 5; Demolition Derby, September 5; Pueblo Thunder in the Mud, September 7
Giant, loud, ridiculous, methane-spewing, overpowered, fossil-fuel-burning vehicles lurching chaotically at each other through an ozone-blue miasma of dust and filth, fighting for dominance over — if not total destruction of — all opponents. Here is the essence of America. C’mon, you know you want to go.
Now, I’m sure we all have horrible memories of being whipped viciously around the Tilt-a-Whirl at the hands of a sun-charred, chain-smoking, hung-over, toothless carny worker. Okay, maybe it’s just me. But Crabtree Carnival is in its ninth year at the fair, and it does a great job, with rides from toddler level up to the cool stuff like the Tornado, the Twister, the Fireball and the Freakout. (Other kids’ attractions elsewhere at the fair include a Krazy Maze and Zombie Acres.)
6) 4-H, small animal and livestock competitions
Animal husbandry is a phrase that makes many look askance, but if you go to these exhibitions and competitions, you will see bright-eyed kids taking care of their livestock with touching earnestness. Goats, pigs, cattle, chickens, rabbits, horses, sheep, llamas — you could spend a whole afternoon checking out the different breeds. Yes, it stinks a bit, but as Grandpa used to say, “That’s the smell of money.”
These displays, in buildings across the complex, staffed by helpful participants who are more than happy to get you started on their favorite pastimes, include intriguing quilt work; porcelain art; needlework such as weaving, embroidery and needlepoint; and competitions for the best homemade beer, cookies, rolls and more. What was once thought of as “woman’s work” is finally being recognized as the significant, utilitarian folk art it is.
4) The 12th Annual Street Vault
Just what it says. Pole vaulters from across the country compete right in the middle of the fair for cash and prizes. No, I don’t know who came up with this idea, but you could do worse on an afternoon than watch a bunch of people try to jump over one big, tall stick using another big, long stick.
3) “The Strongman”
John Beatty bends horseshoes with his bare hands! He drives nails with his fists! He can make water bottles explode with his breath! He can probably pick up a VW Bug all by himself! And if they still make phone books, he can tear one in half. The lost art of “strength sports,” as this kind of showmanship is now called, is alive and well. This is as close as you will get to a genuine sideshow act at this year’s fair.
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2) The Pet Rock Olympics
No, I’m not kidding, and there are cash prizes for Farthest Distance Rolled and Best Dressed, in three separate age classifications. You could make money on this trip!
1) The charging stations
How can you send all your cool fair photos to your jealous friends if your phone is dead? Finally, the fair has a plethora of places to get rejuiced. Look for them in the Agriculture Pavilion, the Colorado Building and the Palace of Architecture.
The Colorado State Fair runs Friday, August 28, through September 7 at the State Fairgrounds, 1001 Beulah Avenue, Pueblo. For tickets and information, visit coloradostatefair.com.