Alaska State Fair
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The Alaska State Fair is an annual state fair held in Palmer, Alaska, USA. The 2011 Alaska State Fair, which marked the event’s 75th birthday, was held August 25 to September 5 with the theme “75 Years and Growin’.”
The first Alaska State Fair was held September 4–7, 1936. It was organized by the families who moved to Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley in 1935, when the U.S. government established a farming colony there with the intent of opening up Alaska, providing food to the military in case of war, and giving families on relief a new start.
That first year’s Fair included the crowning of the Fair queen, a baby show, boxing matches, horse races, dances, a rodeo and baseball games. There were also agricultural entries, including giant cabbages, grain, carrots, onions, celery, peas and other vegetables.
During World War II, the Fair took a five-year hiatus from 1942 to 1946. But the Fair was back in operation in 1947. 1950 saw the first carnival rides at the Fair. In 1956, the Fair Board petitioned the Alaska Legislature for official designation as the Alaska State Fair. In 1960, the Fair celebrated its 25th anniversary and was paid a visit by President John F. Kennedy.
1967 was the Fair’s first year in its present 300-acre location at 2075 Glenn Highway in Palmer. The total attendance that year reached 72,000. Over the years, Fair attendance has continued its upward trend. During the 18-day Fair in 1998, a record 361,804 people participated in the event. That same year, the Fair accepted 10,890 exhibit entries – the highest on record. The Fair set another record in 2003, with 312,419 visitors attending the Fair over a 12-day period.
Fairground facilities have also continued to grow. In 1975, the Fair became home to Colony Village, which preserves some of the historic buildings from the Valley’s early days. In 1997, the construction of Pioneer Plaza and Raven Hall was completed. In 2004, the Fair opened its new Green Gate and Railroad Depot.
In 2010, it was estimated a total of 290,119 people attended the Fair, which featured 8,081 exhibit entries and 450 vendors.
Also in 2010, Valley resident and protester Sidney Hill was arrested for fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and trespassing after he caused a disturbance on the fairgrounds while carrying a large political sign. The incident was addressed on the Fair blog, and subsequent articles regarding Mr. Hill’s activities were published in the Anchorage Daily News and The Frontiersman.
Recent attendance figures
Taken from internal Alaska State Fair financials.
Situated in the heart of the fertile Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the Fair features giant vegetable exhibits, like 2010’s pending world record-breaking 46-foot, 8-inch gourd vine, and the state record-breaking 39-inch bean, 83-inch gourd and 1,101-pound pumpkin.
The Fair’s giant cabbage contest tradition began in 1941, when a $25 prize was offered for the largest cabbage and Max Sherrod of the Valley took the prize with a 23 pounder. The official Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off was established in 1995. In 2009, grower Steve Hubacek entered a 127.0-pound cabbage, which not only took first place, but also set a new world record.
Topping the list of fairgoer favorites is Fair food. Nearly 70 food vendors are scheduled to attend the 2011 Fair, offering staples like hot dogs, pizza, burgers and nachos, to more exotic selections including gyros, Alaska seafood and all kinds of food on a stick, to desserts like ice cream, cream puffs and more. More than 400 non-food vendors are also present at the Fair each year.
The Fair also features thousands of exhibits, in categories including art, baked goods, canning, clay arts, crops, fiber and fleece, flowers, handwork and needlework, homebrew, honey and bee products, livestock, photography, poultry, quilts, rabbits, sewing, spirited beverages and soda pop, and woodworking.
The Fair also features free entertainment around the grounds, and events and contests like the rodeo, Diaper Derby, and Alaska Grown Games. The Fair also hosts a midway with carnival rides and games, and presents big name concerts each year as part of the AT&T Borealis Concert Series.
The AT&T Concert Series is a big draw for the Fair, which has played host to dozens of bands and performers over the last 75 years.
Previous performers have included Ted Nugent, David Archuletta, Lonestar, Hinder, Shinedown, Boyz II Men, Darryl Worley, Collective Soul, Seether, Bucky Covington, Beach Boys, Bill Engval, Rodney Atkins, Kansas, Gin Blossoms, The Rembrandts, Emerson Drive, Charlie Daniels Band, Craig Morgan, Terri Clark, Cheap Trick, Terry Fator, Uncle Kracker, Los Lobos, Toby Mac, Tanya Tucker, Tracy Byrd, Carmen, Kenny Rogers, Howie Mandel, Chris Cagle, Chris LeDoux, REO Speedwagon, Sean Kingston, Tracy Lawrence, and Micky Dolenz.
2011 AT&T Concert Series
- Craig Morgan
- Garrison Keillor’s Summer Love Tour
- Charlie Daniels Band
- Rat Pack Revue
- Uncle Kracker
- Gabriel Iglesias
- Colbie Caillat
- Alaska State Fair History Website
- Matanuska Valley Fair Association programs; 1937–1958. EPH-0054
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
- State Fair History Website – Fair Facts
- ASF blog archive
- Anchorage Daily News
- The Frontiersman
- Anchorage Daily News
- GardenSMART show archive
- Alaska State Fair: Household Opinion Survey, May 2010
- State Fair History Website – Exhibits