Pigs run for rewards. The biggest pumpkins just might fit in the bed of a full-sized pickup truck and getting the chance to milk a cow is a surprisingly popular attraction at the State Fair of Virginia.
According to Pam Wiley, fair spokeswoman, the event attracts crowds and crowds of people who come to eat fair food, see livestock, play games on the midway, shop and see competitions that include the pig races as well as a demolition derby and a garden tractor pull.
“We have the biggest pumpkins, most carefully raised livestock, the most amazing handwork and much more,” Wiley said.
The state fair returns to Meadow Event Park in Caroline County from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6.
The giant pumpkin and watermelon weigh-off always draws a crowd, and will begin at noon Saturday. People wait patiently through the process of seeing the giant gourds weighed. Last year’s winning pumpkin weighed in at 1,217 pounds.
“There’s a forklift involved. They’re great big pumpkins and watermelons, and it takes a while to get everybody weighed,” Wiley said.
The Famous Rosaire’s Racing Pigs are a daily attraction that many find amusing, and the pigs run fast because there’s something in it for the winner, Wiley said. “The pigs run because the winner gets a cookie at the end of the race. It’s that simple.”
The pigs will race daily at 11:30 a.m., and at 1:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Wiley said the demolition derby, scheduled for Oct. 6 at 4 p.m., is “a huge favorite every year.”
Milking cows is something that people don’t get to do much anymore, and Wiley said a lot of people take the opportunity to do just that at the fair.
“Almost nobody milks cows anymore outside of dairy farms, so it’s something a lot of people want to try. A lot of people want their kids to try,” Wiley said.
Fairgoers might even get to see a calf born.
“This is planned,” Wiley said. “The animals were bred with the intent of timing the births to take place during the fair. Sometimes it works out for us, but nature will always decide when something is going to happen.”
In addition to the regular fair competition and judging of goats, chicken, cattle, rabbits, pigeons, horses and mules, the fair will offer demonstrations on how to separate cream and make butter as well as violin building, canning and preparation work, quilting and glass blowing.
Another popular attraction is Ben Risney, a chainsaw artist who makes sculptures in wood.
Wiley said people line up ahead of his daily demonstrations at 11 a.m. 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to get a good seat to see him work.
“He draws a crowd before he starts up his saw,” Wiley said. “He does three sculptures a day. It’s really amazing. Our friends on social media always want to know if he’s coming back. He’s really, really quite talented.”
Toward the end of the fair, Risney’s work is auctioned to benefit the state fair scholarship program.
The main stage at the State Fair of Virginia will host a variety of performers most nights at 7 p.m.
Hip-hop legends The Sugarhill Gang will perform Friday, followed by Blue Highway on Saturday. Country singer-songwriter Hardy will take the stage Oct. 4, classic rockers Foghat on Oct. 5 and modern-country duo LOCASH on Oct. 6.
Wiley said the acts are all top-notch performers.
“The bands tend to be national acts, and they’re booked well in advance,” she said.
Wayne Taylor, Blue Highway’s bass player and one of three vocalists for the bluegrass band, said playing at the fair will be a treat.
While he and the band are veterans of other state and county fairs and countless festivals, they’ve never played the State Fair of Virginia even though a few of the band members are from Virginia.
“We play all over the world, but this is the first time we’ve played the Virginia state fair,” said Taylor, who has been with the band for 25 years. “Being from Virginia and never having played the state fair, it’s kind of special for us.”
Taylor said he hopes to introduce people to his band’s brand of bluegrass that hovers between the progressive and the traditional.
“The biggest thing for us is maybe someone who isn’t familiar with bluegrass, or familiar with Blue Highway, will come away thinking, ‘That stuff’s pretty good. That’s not bad music at all.’ We’d love for them to hang around and listen for a while.”
Jim Lloyd, who plays traditional Appalachian music and tells stories, will play in the fair’s Heritage Village at noon Sunday and at 3 p.m. Monday.
Lloyd said he’s looking forward to the fair and the crowds.
“It’s a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of people, meet new friends and see old friends,” said Lloyd, who is based in Rural Retreat and has played all over North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky with side trips to England and France and Hawaii.
Lloyd said he hopes people enjoy themselves at his show.
“I hope they have a good time and forget about their troubles for a little while,” Lloyd said.
FUN FOR KIDS
Oct. 1 is PBS Kids Family Day, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with special appearances by Buddy from “Dinosaur Train” and Daniel from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
Professor Newton and the Kidz Science Safari, will offer up a STEAM-based program for kids with hands-on projects daily at 12:30, 3 and 5 p.m.
“Professor Newton is a longtime children’s educator and entertainer, and he’s doing interactive science experiments for the audience,” Wiley said. “After each show, he has a tent with hands-on science experiments kids can try out.”
Over at Heritage Village, fairgoers will have the chance to explore how technology has changed lifestyles by seeing the tractors, tools, steam engines and children’s toys from the early 1900s. Daily demonstrations at the Heritage Village include a blacksmith, glass blower, a wool spinner as well as a fiddle and banjo maker.
Then there’s the fair food. In addition to the regular fare of hot dogs, corn dogs, pretzels, turkey legs, popcorn, cotton candy and sausages, the State Fair of Virginia will introduce some new dishes this year.
The Firecracker Corn on the Cob is a roasted ear of corn, with Monterey Jack cheese rolled in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
The Chesapeake Grilled Cheese—a new take on the grilled cheese sandwich—is stuffed with Chesapeake Bay crab dip, tomatoes and bacon.
Wiley said some folks come to the fair just for the food.
“Some people have a list of favorites that they must get when they come in. Other folks come in to find out what’s new and they want that,” Wiley said. “It’s fun to see people really, really enjoying their food.”
Sarah Hallett, who is with the state fair marketing department, said people should have fun at the fair, which has a lot to offer.
“It’s a celebration that brings the best of Virginia to one place. We have a great commonwealth and we want to celebrate it, keep aspects of our past history, our present and our future and there’s a lot of things to do out here. We strive to get that every year,” Hallett said.