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This Weekend special edition: The 2013 Alaska State Fair

Katie Medred,Ben Anderson
Have an event worth featuring? Submit it to Alaska Dispatch's calendar and you may just see it in "This Weekend." Email us at calendar(at)alaskadispatch.com. Aaron Jansen illustration

KATIE: This week, we're talking all things fair. From elephant ears to Ferris wheels to Foreigner; it's all fair, all the way through. Welcome to the special 2013 Alaska State Fair edition of "This Weekend." I'd like to start with a short introduction of how our, ahem, fair fair began, back in the day. Allow me to put my horn-rimmed glasses on for this one. Okay, ready Ben? Here we go.

The event that would eventually become the Alaska State Fair was founded in 1936 as a celebration of the newly populated Matanuska Valley, then a young quasi-experimental farming colony. The first event, organized by the Matanuska Valley Fair Association and held in early September, was a modest four-day affair. Admission, in the good ol' days, was a reasonable $1 for adults, a season pass was $2. The fair grew each year afterward, until the early 1940s when it's reported that "war jitters" contributed to a hiatus from 1942 to 1946. But all's well that ends well, Ben, and in the fall of 1947 the fair was back, with a whopping 160 exhibitors.

By 1956, the Alaska Legislature officially christened the Mat-Su happening as the "Alaska State Fair," the "official" fair of the state. In 1960, the fair turned 25 and received a visit from then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy who had traveled up north to kick off his "New Frontiers" campaign (see an awesome picture of JFK handling a cabbage here). And in 1967 the fair moved to a newly purchased 221-acre parcel of land on the edge of Palmer where the event has been held ever since. And the rest, as they say, is historic rock bands, like Foreigner.

Speaking of Foreigner, the famous British-American rock band will take the stage at the Borealis Theater on Opening Day at the Palmer fair, Thursday, Aug. 22. Tickets are $35 and the fun begins at 7 p.m. And yes, Ben, it WILL feel like the first time, the very first time.

BEN: Y'know Katie, it seems kind of silly to me to do an event rundown for the state fair. Most of my fair-going experiences involve eating as much really-bad-for-me food as possible, then lying down on a grassy hill in a meat coma for a while in order to make room for more. Long story short, if it comes on a stick and is deep-fried, I want it. Just stay out of my way.

BUT, I guess if you're looking for a real fair-going experience, then we can work something up. As always, there's loads of shopping for an immense variety of things, everything from t-shirts and grass skirts to novelty playing cards, jewelry and pet stuff.

Really, though, it's all about the events. You mentioned Foreigner, and in recent years, the Alaska State Fair has really stepped up its game in bringing bigger and bigger acts -- along with the usual medley of aging classic rockers that have become a fair cliché *coughForeignercough* -- to the main stages out at the fair. In the first week of the fair alone, you have:

Halestorm -- Friday, Aug. 23

Brantley Gilbert -- Saturday, Aug. 24

Bill Cosby -- Sunday, Aug. 25

Love and Theft -- Monday, Aug. 26

Tenth Avenue North -- Tuesday, Aug. 27

Aaron Tippin -- Wednesday, Aug. 28

And those are just the headliners. On the smaller stages around the fairgrounds, you'll also have acts like John McEuen, formerly of well-known country group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who's playing much of the first week around the grounds, including an Aug. 25 performance at the Borealis Theater, and numerous showtimes at the 21-and-over Sluicebox. Those shows are free with fair admission, aside from McEuen's opening for Love and Theft on Aug. 26.

On another tack, you could check out the Gothard Sisters, a trio of young women who "have quickly risen to the ranks of professional Celtic musical recognition," according to their fair bio, and are playing three shows every day from Aug. 26-30 at the Colony Stage.

The early days of the fair also boast some interesting motorsport events, including Supercross events for young riders and old. The 6th Annual Alaska Supercross revs up on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 5 p.m. Cost is $20.

If you're looking for free events, you could check out an exhibit of replicas recreated from artifacts recovered from the tomb of King Tutankhamen at the Don Sheldon Events Center throughout the fair's run. You could see the fireworks on Friday night at 10 p.m.  Or you could hit up the annual, always-draws-a-crowd weighing of the giant pumpkins at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27. Could be an interesting year with all the sun we've had, so maybe some records'll get broken?

Well, that's a lot for one entry, Katie, and its all in the first week! Got any favorites you'd like to share?

(P.S. DON'T STEAL THE LUMBERJACK SHOW FROM ME!)

KATIE: Uh, okay Ben. Way to steal everything cool about the fair, jam it into one compact entry and then, AND THEN, tell me not to "steal" the Lumberjack show!? What am I supposed to do? What can be done? What else is there to say about the Alaska State Fair?

Oh, I know: Palm readers. I love palm readers at the fair. I don't exactly know why, because I'm pretty sure every palm reading I've ever had in Palmer (pun optional) has either predicted I'd become a mediocre fact gatherer or told me I'd live alone in Spenard with a cat named Boots ... wait ....

Enough about me, let's talk about the week two events on the state fair's main stage.

Kendrick Lamar on Thursday, Aug. 29

3 Doors Down on Friday, Aug. 30

Brian Regan on Saturday, Aug. 31

Bret Michaels on Sunday, Sept. 1

Phillip Phillips on Monday, Sept. 2

Now, Ben, the grand tradition of bizarre fair "novelty shows," I'd like to point your attention to the fact that there will be, on Friday, Aug. 30, a Text Messaging Contest at the Borealis Plaza tent. Yes, you read that right, a text messaging contest. It starts at 3 p.m. if you think you have what it takes. Not a text wizard? How about just a regular wizard? Sunday, Sept. 1, from 1 to 2 p.m. near the woodlot, something magical will happen: a special contest for "men that cherish their facial hair, no matter how long or short." It's a beard contest, Ben, a beard contest! There will be ribbons, cash prizes, and four categories to enter. My favorite is the "Urban Alaskan," which welcomes an array of facial possibilities, including the classic "groomed beard," the slightly dated goatee, or what the contest describes as the "chin curtain." By the looks of yah, Ben, you better get growing if you're going to be the fair's next Urban Alaskan beard contest winner, a title that would fit nicely your adoration of the mighty lumberjack.

BEN: I won't apologize for my whiskers' succinctness. Nor will I apologize for my interest in the lumberjack show. Those who know me best know I have a weird, possibly unhealthy obsession with obtaining and chopping firewood, despite the fact that I live in one of the few places in Alaska that actually has natural gas. If anyone has a cabin out in the middle of nowhere and needs eight straight hours of wood-chopping help, I'm your guy. (ed.'s note: Email Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com)

So the lumberjack show, which runs three times daily (1, 3 and 6 p.m.) throughout the course of the fair, is pretty much my favorite thing ever.

But while I'll be sitting at the woodlot, waiting for the next round of the lumberjack show, there will still be lots of other stuff going on the second week of the fair. If you missed the giant pumpkin weigh-off, don't worry -- there are lots, LOTS more giant veggies to behold. The other big draw for giant vegetable fans is the cabbage weigh-off, which kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30. And that's plenty of time to get out to the fairgrounds after work.

Not far from the displays of award-winning vegetables are the livestock and poultry, the goats, fancy poultry, sheep, pigs and whatnot. But if you'd rather see pigs racing than hanging out in a pen -- who wouldn't? -- that is, fortunately, an option. The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs will run three races a day, Monday through Saturday, at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. at the Pebble Corral.

And if the pigs get you hankering for a pork chop on a stick, you can always scratch that itch nearby. If you need something to wash down all the turkey legs and bread bowls, the fair has a couple of spots where you can grab adult beverages, including a wine bar, a beer garden and the perennial watering hole, the Sluicebox.

For the kiddos, there's a daily petting zoo set up at the farm exhibits pavilion, as well as a kid zone. Then, there are all the midway rides, many of which are young-child friendly, though make sure you're abiding by the "you must be this tall to ride" signs. Of course, if you're watching your friend's kids or babysitting for someone you hate, you can always get them sugared-up with ice cream, cotton candy, cookies and fudge, then send them happily home.

Finally, there are a couple of cool events that bear mentioning near the end of the fair, including an Alaska Native Fashion Gala at the Alyeska Pipeline stage at 1 p.m. on Sept. 1. A couple of hours later, the Kodiak Island Drummers will take the same stage, along with additional performance at 7 p.m. They'll also perform at 7 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Monday, so there're lots of opportunities over Labor Day weekend to check out the beats.

Whew. Katie, any famous last words?

KATIE: No apologies? Pff, what else is new, Ben?

Those, good sir, are my last words.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com and Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com