The NC State Fair is back!

The 2021 North Carolina State Fair logo

The wait is nearly over. After being cancelled last year because of the COVID pandemic, the North Carolina State Fair is officially back from October 14-24, featuring all the down-home, feel-good, home-grown goodness our state has to offer.

While patrons were offered a few opportunities last year to get their fried-something-on-a-stick fix with truncated “fair food” drive-thru events at the fairgrounds, most avid fair-goers agree that it just wasn’t the same. This year, however, promises to make up for lost time and empty bellies, and most of us will be savoring favorite midway attractions, food vendors and livestock competitions, while looking forward to snagging that free fudge sample or giant Mt. Olive Pickle.

Some things to know before you go:

Tickets are on sale online at the state fair’s website, Online purchases will continue through Oct. 14. After that time, you may purchase tickets at the gate. Tickets can also be obtained at any Circle K through Oct. 14.

The theme for the 2021 North Carolina State Fair is “Worth the Wait.”

You do not need to show proof of vaccination or be vaccinated against COVID-19 for entry into the fair.
One new safety measure this year will be use of clear or transparent bags for personal items. Exceptions to that measure include diaper bags, wristlet purses or any type of medical-related bags. Bags that are not transparent will be subject to inspection by security before entry.

Parking can be a challenging task, but as in previous years, patrons of the fair can utilize Park-and-Ride lots in various locations in the Triangle. Free parking can be found on State Fair, Carter-Finley Football Stadium and PNC Arena properties. Fairgoers should check the official fair website for updates to parking and free shuttle availability.

The popular N.C. Public House, which serves craft beers, sodas and wines, has moved this year to the South Dorton Arena Lobby across from the SkyGazer ferris wheel. Patrons must be 21 to enter and tickets are required. The cost per ticket for beer and wine is $10 and $5 for sodas at the gate, or tickets can be purchased in advance online.

Nightly fireworks over the pond located near the grist mill and Pitzer Heritage Circle will take place at 9:45 p.m.

Livestock and horse competitions will take place throughout the duration of the fair, and schedules can be found on the state fair website.

There will be some new competition events, such as the Decorated Christmas Tree contest, which is replacing the Decorated Tables contest. In the Handicrafts and Hobbies area, a contest called Painted Rocks and Decorated Footwear has been added.

Special-event dates this year include:

The Homegrown Music Fest (Oct. 14-24)

A variety of bands, singers and musical acts will perform each day. Check the website for performer and venue information.

Friday Frenzy (Oct. 15)

$8 dollar tickets can be obtained by students either by showing their school ID card or recent report card when purchasing a ticket at the gate.

accessABILITY Day (Oct. 17)

This day is carved out to allow for a toned-down visit to the fair. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, all rides and games will run with no lights, sounds or music.

Century Farm Reunion (Oct. 18)

Farms that are part of the Century and Bicentennial Farms program are featured this day. Qualifying farms must have been continuously owned by a family for at least 100 years.

Senior Citizen Day (Oct. 19)

Entry to the fair this day is free of charge for all senior citizens.

Military Appreciation Day (Oct. 20)

Events will feature music provided by the 440th Army Band. There will be a tractor parade at 10 a.m. and a military salute at 10:45 a.m.

Smithfield Foods Hunger Relief Day (Oct. 21)

Fairgoers who bring six cans of food will get into the fair for free.

Additional special-event days, including special pricing and packages, can be found on the official fair website.

And last, but not least, some new food offerings include:

  • Carolina Cowboy Roll by Fatboys BBQ: Inspired by traditional eggrolls, this one is filled with mac and cheese and smoked beef brisket then topped with a bit of a sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce.
  • Shrimp and grits on a stick by Ezzell’s Something Good: This takes a Southern favorite typically served in bowl and serves it on a stick. Eats like a hushpuppy, according to testers.
  • Twisted Chicken on Tots by Hot Chix Hotcakes & Chicken: This is a savory layered cup with tater tots at the bottom, then cheddar mac and cheese, fried chicken tenders and sauces like barbecue, buffalo and garlic Parmesan.
  • Shrimp Alfredo stuffed turkey leg by Hickory Tree Turkey BBQ: Shrimp Alfredo and a smoked turkey leg and dirty rice.
  • Cornbread and chili funnel cake by The Gobblin’ Gourmet: A savory take on a fair staple, this is topped with chili and shredded cheese in a nacho-inspired twist. Blasphemy? You be the judge.

We pledge to try as many of these as possible and report back with our favorites!