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Arkansas State Fair to have lots of new rides, armadillo eggs

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Photographs by Mitchell PE Masilun

Cows, pigs, goats and lambs join the rides, food and music at the Arkansas State Fair. With a new carnival company, new foods and other changes, fairgoers will have a different experience this year.

There's a lot to see, a lot to hear, a lot to taste and a lot to do at this year's Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show and they're giving everyone an extra day to fit it all in.

Instead of the usual Friday start, the fair will open with a ribbon cutting ceremony a few minutes before 4 p.m. today.

That's good for fairgoers because even regular attendees will find quite a bit has changed.

First of all, there's a new carnival company. North American Midway Entertainment is supplying the rides this year -- 61 in all, six more than 2016 -- and, according to the fair's president and general manager Ralph Shoptaw, at least half of those rides have never been in Arkansas.

"We're pretty excited about them. It's going to be a noticeable difference. Everything they have is bigger."

The company also offers an Express Access pass ($15 per day) that allows the purchaser to jump to the front of the line. The passes will be available for sale at the fairgrounds.

For the last few years, there has been bull riding in Barton Colosseum, but this year that has been expanded to a full list of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association activities such as barrel racing and calf tie-downs. Admission is $10, $5 for children.

Naturally, the fair also means food and there will be plenty from which to choose.

"We have about 50 food vendors just in the independent midway," Shoptaw says. "The carnival will have about 20."

In addition to the traditional delicacies including corn dogs, cotton candy and chicken on a stick, there will be armadillo eggs, roast beef sundaes, apple pie fries, Koolickles (Kool-Aid pickles), Frosted Flakes chicken and pizza on a stick.

The increasingly popular Lunch at the Fair continues this year. That's free admission and parking from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays.

While many people take advantage of the free admission to spend a full day and evening at the fair, Shoptaw says, many workers use it as a unique workday lunch break.

Free shuttle service from the state Capitol grounds, starting at 6 p.m. Friday and continuing all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon, will be offered again this year.

And once on-site, people will notice new security measures. The old wand system is gone, replaced with walk-through metal detectors that should be more effective and quicker.

Nights at the fair mean music. While concert admission is included in fair ticket prices, people can upgrade to stage front and VIP deck seating. Here is this year's lineup of headliners:

• Next, 8 p.m. today, $15-$25

• Motley Crue's Vince Neil, 8 p.m. Friday, $15-$25

• AJR, 3 p.m. Saturday, $15-$25

• Avant, 7 p.m. Sunday, $15-$25

• Freddie Jackson, 8 p.m. Tuesday, $20-$40

• Tracy Lawrence, 8 p.m. Wednesday, $15-$25

• Ann Wilson of Heart, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, $25-$50

• Tom Keifer of Cinderella, 8 p.m. Oct. 20, $15-$25

• Keith Anderson, 6 p.m. Oct. 21, $15-$25

• Coolio, 7 p.m. Oct. 22, $15-$25

The food and rides and headliners may get the most attention, but Shoptaw points out that there's still much more to see and do.

The livestock show keeps getting bigger, with some 6,000 entries in the junior livestock divisions alone. The hog and cattle shows continue to be huge and the goat and lamb shows grow every year.

The arts and crafts building has everything from quilts and baking contests to canned goods.

"There's a lot of art there and it's good quality art," Shoptaw says.

There's also the fair museum that gives the Arkansas State Fair's full story, going all the way back to the 1800s. (The first Arkansas Livestock Show was held in North Little Rock on Nov. 9-13, 1938, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.)

Shoptaw says, "There are just so many aspects to a fair. You can come and spend the whole day here and not see it all."

Weekend on 10/12/2017

Arkansas State Fair

Today-Oct. 22, State Fairgrounds, 2600 Howard St., Little Rock

Advance tickets at Walgreens: $5.99, children $2.99, armbands $27

Gate admission: $7.99, children $3.99, armbands $30

Parking: $10

(501) 372-8341

arkansasstatefair.com

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