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Monday, Oct. 18, 2021

STEP RIGHT UP

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The Ark-La-Tex welcomes the return of a treasured community pastime.

Absent the past two years because of Covid restrictions, the traditional State Fair of Louisiana returns to the State Fairgrounds Oct. 28-Nov. 14.

The best part? The fair will have a familiar look, smell and sound.

"It's a full-fledged annual fall state fair that everyone is accustomed to," said fair president and General Manager Chris Giordano.

This past late April and early May, for the first time, there was a spring fair. While it brought in much-needed money — "It was very successful," Giordano said — the fair was much smaller than what we're used to seeing.

"At that point in time, our organization was looking at making some very tough decisions about possible furloughs and layoffs (to the fair's year-round staff)," Giordano said. "We were in a real financial hardship. That spring fair turned it completely around."

Giordano says 175,000 people went to the 11-day spring fair. He hopes the fall fair will bring in the usual average crowd of 350,000-425,000 during its 18-day run. (The fair is closed Monday and Tuesday.)

"There have already been fairs in the Midwest and on the East Coast for the first time in two years," Giordano said. "A lot of those had record-breaking, monster crowds."

However, in the past few months, people in Shreveport-Bossier have had a chance to get outside and enjoy events like Mudbug Madness and the Red River Revel.

"My goal for this fall fair is to have a normal fair and normal attendance," Giordano said. "If we exceed that, I will be ecstatic."

The 115th edition of the State Fair will mostly be a throwback to attractions and food you have come to know and love. However, Giordano never wants the fair to get stale.

"There will be some new food items on the midway," Giordano said. "There will be some new rides on the midway. We are always changing up the shows and attractions."

For the first time in several years, you can watch a high-dive show. The Pirates of the Caribbean is produced by former world-record high-dive champion Dana Kunze.

"They will be in pirate costumes," Giordano said of the divers. "At their night show, they go up to the top — around 75 feet — and do a fire dive. A person puts on a suit and lights himself on fire and dives."

Animals are also part of the new attractions. Pork Chop Revue will feature pigs performing in a circusstyle show.

"They do different tricks in a circus ring outside," Giordano said.

Not to worry, though. This pig show does not replace the always popular pig races.

And what would a fair be without a circus? We won't find out, as there will be a circus. However, this year's circus will be a little different.

"It won't be in a big-top," Giordano said. "It's an open-air, outdoor circus. It's been doing magnificent at the other fairs they've taken it to. Other fair managers around the country have said, "even when we get back to normal, we don't want to put the tent back up. We like the open-air circus."

When your stomach starts growling, you can look for favorites like turkey legs, cinnamon rolls, saltwater taffy and funnel cakes. But if you have a taste for something new and different, you can try fried honey, as well as deep-fried honey buns (calorie information was unavailable).

There will also be vendors cooking Jamaican and Asian food.

"We don't want everyone here selling a corn dog," Giordano said. Each year, he and his staff go through a detailed process to choose which vendors to bring to the midway. "We want variety. We look at presentation and professionalism."

On the fair's three weekends, nationally-known musical acts will take the stage — acts like Wayne Toups, The Bigg Robb Show, Nappy Roots and Arrested Development.

"One of our biggest days at the fair each year is our Latino-themed day, which is Fiesta at the Fair," Giordano said. Sunday, Nov. 7, you can hear bands all day. The headliner is La Energia Nortena.

"They are very popular," Giordano said. "They've been nominated for Grammys. They are from Dallas. They played the Texas State Fair, and it was packed."

Closing day at the fair will feature a Vosbury family reunion. The Wizards of Voz is a band showcasing brothers Robin and Keith Vosbury. They will be joined by Cole Vosbury — well-known for making the semifinals of "The Voice" in 2013 — and Tyler Vosbury.

"I said, 'Robin, what do you think about having a family reunion at the fair on the last day?'" Giordano said. "He said, 'Let's do it!' So, we're going to have all of them here. That's one of the families from our community that has amazing talent."

Nov. 5-7 inside Hirsch Coliseum, you can watch some of the best cowboys and cowgirls compete in the Louisiana Rodeo Cowboys Association (LRCA) Finals. One hundred eight ropers and riders will try to win some of the $250,000 in cash and prizes.

"We are the Louisiana Rodeo Cowboys Association," said former Finals champion Cassie Emerson from Benton. "To be able to showcase our best talent, athletes and animals at the State Fair of Louisiana is something we couldn't replicate or duplicate anywhere else."

"The amount of energy and excitement that comes with the State Fair is something that is hard to describe and explain," Emerson added, "but it definitely comes out in the competitors."

The LRCA Finals were part of the State Fair from 1973-2001. After the fair went in a different direction, the LRCA Finals returned in 2016.

"The energy that the crowd brings in Hirsch Coliseum and the history that is in Hirsch Coliseum, is something that is hard to describe." Emerson said. "We have the best rodeo athletes and the best animal athletes there. I think both of them feed off the crowd and know what it takes to be elite."

When it comes to your safety, Giordano wants you to know the fair will have police officers throughout the fairgrounds. He says $150,000 will be spent on hiring police. Some of those men and women you will see, and some you will see but won't know it."

"We have an extensive schedule of officers," Giordano said. "We even have some who are in plain clothes. We have mounted patrol that comes in on the weekends … We also have sheriff's deputies that work our livestock barns 24/7. There are police that work the fair 24/7 — even when it's closed."

And Giordano has a message for anyone who plans on going to the fair for any reason other than having fun.

"Don't even come here to cause trouble. This event is for families."

To learn more about the State Fair of Louisiana — including hours, ticket prices and a schedule of events — you may visit www.statefairoflouisiana.com.

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