In some ways the Alaska State Fair is the same every year: same carnival, same lop-eared bunnies, same vendors, same chancy weather, same homemade vegetable soup at Slippery Gulch.
Yet every year is just a little bit different. Your kids are old enough to pet the baby goats, to ride without an adult standing next to the carousel horse, to try a food that was too spicy last year. At some point they age out of wanting to hang with the parents, which means you get to spend more time looking at quilts or knives or whatever floats your boat.
Single and/or child-free? The fair changes along with your interests as well. One year you'll be all about the begonias or the chainsaws, and the next you're mad for emergency preparedness or local politics. Some years you realize you actually like bluegrass more than rock 'n' roll, or that wildly spinning rides are no longer your cup of tea.
There's something for pretty much everyone – so many things that it's impossible to include all of them in one article. Read on for some of the highlights, and remember that these are just some of the things to do and see. Visit the Alaska State Fair website for the complete daily lineup.
A is for advance purchase
Avoid convenience charges by buying concert and event tickets by phone or at the Alaska State Fair office. Or buy them at the ConocoPhillips box office at the fair on the day of the events (keeping in mind that some might sell out if you wait until then).
You'll save up to 22 percent when you buy fair admission tickets before Aug. 22, paying $7 to $13 (depending on the day of the week you want to go). After that, Monday to Thursday admission is $13 adults, $9 seniors and youths, and Friday to Sunday tickets are $15 and $10.
Or choose from other ticket-buying options:
The "Me Plus Three" pack, available through Aug. 22, includes four daily tickets for savings of up to 30 percent.
Buy a six-pack of tickets online before Aug. 22 and you'll save $5 per admission on half a dozen adult tickets, and $3 per senior and youth tickets. These tickets are transferable, so go in together with a couple of friends/other families to save.
The Costco four-pack, available at the retailer through Aug. 22, costs $39.99 for four adult tickets and $25.99 for senior and youth tickets.
The "Park Free Season Fun Pass" for adults ($60) and seniors ($40) lets you go any time you want and also park for free. Got kids? The "Go Any Time Youth Season Pass" is $30. Both kinds of passes are available online through Aug. 22.
B is for Baby Boomer rock
Three Dog Night will bring a little joy to our world on Sunday, Aug. 26 at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Those old enough to remember their arena-filling shows and their 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, will revisit their teen years; their kids will simply bop around to songs like "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," "Never Been to Spain" and "Shambala." Show time is 6 p.m.; tickets are $30 and $45.
C is for cosplay
On Wednesday, Aug. 29, wear your favorite costume from any genre (superhero, sci-fi, anime, movies, TV) and enter the Cosplay Contest at 3 p.m. It's at the Borealis Plaza Tent, where you'll also see costumed characters from Senshi Con (a local anime conference) and the 501st Legion (think "Star Wars"). Definitely some photo opps that day.
C is also for "cash" – bring some, because not every vendor accepts debit or credit cards. And if you run out, ATMs are located around the fairgrounds.
D is for demolition
The demolition derby inspires strong emotion. If you love it, show up at the Ram Truck Grandstand at 6 p.m. Aug. 31 to watch drivers crash cars on purpose. (And if you hate it? The fair has plenty of other stuff for those who don't like the sound of scraping metal.)
Tickets to the derby are $12, $8 for kids ages 6 to 12, and free to those 5 and under. Oh, and don't try this at home.
E is for Events Tent
This is the site of a truly mixed bag of activities and entertainment, including but not limited to: powerlifting, card table games, fly-tying, a kids' obstacle course, the chili cook-off, "ag games" like the Hay Bale Toss and Pass The Pea, arm-wrestling, a celebration of the fair's 80th anniversary and a performance by homegrown hip-hop artist Tayy Tarantino. Check the daily schedule to learn more.
F is for flowers
First, take time to admire the vivid floral beauty in situ at Millie's Garden and the Perennial Garden. Next, swing by the Hoskins Exhibits building to gaze upon live, cut and arranged flowers and other plants in scores of categories. You'll need some time to appreciate them fully.
G is for the Goo Goo Dolls
The multi-platinum rockers have been recording and touring for more than three decades. Along the way they've had 14 Top-10 hits (more than any other performers in the Hot Adult Contemporary format). Their 1998 single "Iris" held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Adult Top 40 chart for 17 weeks straight.
Show time is 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $40 and $55.
H is for Hill
Alaska musician Emma Hill brings her "certified bluesy folk, and a touch of pop" sound to the fair on Thursday, Aug. 23. She'll perform at 2 p.m. at The Watering Hole, and 4 p.m. at the MEA Bluebonnnet Stage.
I is for Iditarod
At the Great Alaska Athlete Meet and Greet, mushers like Dee Dee Jonrowe and Martin Buser will meet with their fans. Just as important: Puppies! They'll all be at the Events Tent at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 3
Over at The Sluicebox, Last Frontier balladeer Hobo Jim pretty much has to perform "The Iditarod Trail Song." You'll likely be invited to help sing the chorus, and to howl like a husky. His show times are 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 and 2, and 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3.
J is for Jim Gaffigan
The Grammy-nominated funnyman, who performed at the fair in 2015, returns for shows at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, in the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Gaffigan is family-friendly, with routines that include few (if any) swear words – but he's never boring. His two books ("Dad Is Fat" and "Food: A Love Story") spent months on The New York Times bestseller list. In addition to touring and appearing on late-night talk shows, Gaffigan is also developing a reputation for TV and film acting. Tickets are $35 to $95.
K is for kid stuff
The fair brings out the child in most people, but young kids get the most out of the experience. Watching the baby chicks hatch close enough to touch at the petting zoo. Storytelling. Face painting. Magic shows and other live entertainment. Live reptiles. Fried foods and the merry-go-round. Pedal tractors! And if you think your kids are in danger of going for an entire day without some kind of self-improvement you can take them to Sudsy's Barn, a "play-based, interactive hand-washing station."
L is for lumberjacks
A perennial favorite, especially among children, Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show mixes "timber sport" prowess (sawing, ax work) with humor and audience participation (but not with the sharp stuff!). Show times are 1, 3 and 6 p.m. daily at the Spenard Builders Supply Woodlot.
M is for money saved
Advance ticket purchase isn't the only way to stretch your fair-going budget:
From noon to 2 p.m. on opening day, Thursday, Aug. 23, bring at least two shelf-stable food items per person and you can enter the fair for $2. (The comestibles will be donated to the Alaska Food Bank.)
Kids' Day, Aug. 24, is free to children 12 and under. A donation of two shelf-stable food items is encouraged.
On Family Day, Saturday, Aug. 25, kids 12 and under get $2 off admission by donating two of those food items.
Buddy Days, on Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 29 and 30, need a little advance work: Visit a Holiday store to pick up a Coca-Cola Buddy Days coupon. Do this now, as supplies are limited. Turn it in when you buy your ticket at the gate and you'll get another ticket of equal or lesser value for free. Bonus: When you buy ride tickets, your buddy rides with you for free!
"Alaska Grown" Day, Thursday, Aug. 30, offers a $2 admission discount to anyone wearing an Alaska Grown T-shirt.
Military Appreciation Day, on Sunday, Sept. 2, lets military personnel (active, retired military and veterans) get in for $5 – and each can bring in up to three dependents at that price. Bring valid military ID or proof of service. For all other days of the fair, pick up military discount tickets ($11 adults, $7 seniors and youths) at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.
First Responders Day, on Monday, Sept. 3, lets police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel get in for just $5 (with valid ID).
N is for Native culture
Traditional dances from Southeast, actress Irene Bedard, "country classics from the north," Inupiaq rap and performance art, Yup'ik dancing and drumming, a blanket toss, Eskimo Ninja Warrior Nick Hanson – it's a blend of old and new at the Dena' People's Stage at The Gathering Place. For a full lineup, check alaskastatefair.org.
O is for old bones
Local scientists will talk about Alaska's latest paleontological finds at "Age of the Dinosaurs," at the Eworx Don Sheldon Events Center. In addition to old bones you'll see new technology: a bunch of animatronic critters in dinosaur habitats. Your kids will have a shot at operating an animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex (or get a photo of themselves riding the lizard), to "dig" for fossils, and learn more about the Alaska Paleo Project. It's open daily at noon, and the dino shows take place at 2, 5 and 7 p.m.
P is for pyrotechnics
Make it a late night at the fair on Saturday, Sept. 1, because that's when Fire Art Pyrotechnics will touch off a skyward show of color and dazzle. The big bang starts at 10 p.m.
Q is for quiet
Roaring generators, chattering vendors, revving chain saws from the Lumberjack Show, the screams from the carnival rides – the fair can get pretty darned loud. If you and/or your kids need a break from the sensory overload, check out the Family Rest Stop, in the back of Raven Hall. You can feed a baby, change a diaper or just get away from the clamor. (Incidentally, you can also change a diaper in the brand-new restrooms on the Yellow Trail, near the Gathering Place. Changing spaces are available in both the women's and men's rooms.)
R is for rock and rap
Why should you have to choose? Juice WRLD mixes the two musical genres to create his own masterful stage presence. At just 19 years of age, the Chicago native signed a $3 million recording contract. His music garners multiple millions of views and plays on platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud and Lyrical Lemonade.
There's no seating at this concert – but then again, fans will be dancing anyway. Show time is 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $35 and $45.
S is for scarecrow contest
Get yourself a team and be ready to beat the clock by using the supplies provided to build a scarecrow. Teams will be judged on originality, creative flair and how well their straw-filled figures mesh with this year's theme, "Memories in the Making." Sign up in advance at alaskastatefair.org/site/events/scarecrow-contest, or just show up and watch at the Craig Taylor Farm Exhibits building at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27.
T is for talent
Watch locals strut their stuff at two "Alaska's Got Talent" competitions: the preliminary, which takes place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Spenard Builders Supply Woodlot, and the finals (featuring winners from two other fairs) at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3. Who knows: You might be able to say "I saw that performer before he/she hit the big time."
U is for unlimited carnival rides
All that spinning and whirling costs a bundle. For two days, Monday-Tuesday, Aug. 27 and 28, you can buy wristbands for unlimited rides:
Before Aug. 22, buy online and pay $40 per wristband or $50 for unlimited rides plus fair admission. At the carnival on Aug. 27 and 28, you'll pay $60 per wristband.
Visit alaskastatefair.org/site/discounts for full details.
V is for violin
Lindsey Stirling brings her strings north to mix a classical background with dance/electronic influences. Her "Crystallize" video – which should appeal to Alaskans, set as it is in a frozen wonderland – has brought in more than 177 million YouTube views. (The performer has nearly 10 million subscribers, and has garnered nearly 2 billion views on her channel.)
Stirling mixes graceful, balletic dance moves with violin work that's by turns sweet and shattering. She packs them in at venues like the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, Central Park's Summerstage, the Chicago Theater and Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Show time is 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3 in the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre. Tickets are $40 and $75.
W is for Wi-Fi.
Yep, it's available at the fair. Upload those selfies!
W is also for weather. Remember to bring an umbrella and/or wear something waterproof. You might luck out and get one of those golden late-summer days when the mountains are so beautiful you're glad when you stop at the top of the Ferris wheel. Other days, well, "state fair weather" might not be so fair.
X is for x-tremely large vegetables.
Big cabbages are a given; it's a bad year when the winner doesn't weigh more than 100 pounds. You can see lots of other champion veggies as well at the Craig Taylor Farm Exhibits. That is, unless the sight of freakishly large turnips and radishes will scare you too much.
The weigh-in takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31. Will there be a new world record?
Lately, though, the Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off has been stealing the spotlight. Watching giant gourds being lifted into place by cranes really can be pretty exciting, if you like that sort of thing. It happens at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the farm exhibits.
Y is for yum
Yes, some of the food found at the fair – OK, most of it – isn't the healthiest thing in the world. But what's life without a little sin? (Or a big turkey leg?)
People wait all year for homemade vegetable soup, cheese curds, curly-fry logs, giant cream puffs, veggie tempura, freshly baked cookies, candy apples and other non-haute cuisine. Enjoy the annual treats, and think of it as supporting the local economy. (Pro tip: Avoid the rides for a while afterward. Ask us how we know.)
Z is for Zuma Zuma
As in "Cirque Zuma Zuma," a high-energy act that's been called "an African-style Cirque du Soleil." Performers showcase multiple aspects of African culture, using live music, humor, acrobatics, dance, balancing acts, contortionism, hoop work, juggling and other family-friendly, high-energy entertainment.
Show times are 2, 4 and 6:30 p.m. daily at the Alaska Pipeline Colony Stage.
Donna Freedman, a former Daily News reporter and reviewer, blogs at donnafreedman.com.
THE ALASKA STATE FAIR takes place from Thursday, Aug. 23, through Monday, Sept. 3, at the state fairgrounds in Palmer. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Labor Day. (907-745-4827)