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Your guide to the NC State Fair, from new rides to how to get there

Critters from across the state await you at the State Fair

The N.C. State Fair schedule is loaded with livestock competitions. Farmers from across NC prepared their animals on the fair's opening day for a stay at the fairgrounds and a chance at a blue ribbon.
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The N.C. State Fair schedule is loaded with livestock competitions. Farmers from across NC prepared their animals on the fair's opening day for a stay at the fairgrounds and a chance at a blue ribbon.

Barring a weather calamity that may or may not happen, the NC State Fair kicks off Thursday. And while nobody is pulling for Hurricane Michael to come this way, a little drizzle might not be such a bad thing.

“There are many, many things to do at the NC State Fair even if it does rain,” said fair manager Kent Yelverton. “So bring your umbrella. The good part about rain is it’s a lot less crowded when it happens.”

Last year, attendance was more than 1 million: 1,014,478, with people coming all over for rides, food, bunny barns, agriculture exhibits and concerts.

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Here is what you should know to help plan your fair outing, regardless of the weather.

1. The basics

The fair is Oct. 11 to 21 at the State Fairgrounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh. Here are the hours:

Thursday, Oct. 11: 3 to 11 p.m. — Canceled

Fridays and Saturdays: 8 a.m. to midnight

Sundays, weekdays: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

2. Ticket packages and discounts

Gate prices for admission are $5-$10 (65 and older free), with discounts available if you buy in advance online. The following packages are available online until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11:

Fair Flyer: $26. Two gate admissions and two tickets for the State Fair Flyer, the 40-foot high chair lift ride that soars above the fairgrounds. It was installed in 2016.

Dizzy Pass: $31. Gate admission plus unlimited ride wristband.

Kegs and Corks: $15. Gate admission plus pass to the State Fair Public House for beer or wine samples.

Casey’s Family 4-pack: $50. Four gate admissions, two ride-ticket sheets (18 tickets per sheet, rides take multiple $1 tickets) and plush doll.

Tickets are $6 for the military: active duty, reservists, retirees, National Guardsmen and their dependents.

News & Observer drone footage of the NC State Fair as the sun sets Thursday evening, October 19, 2017.

3. Getting there

Park-and-ride shuttles cost $5 round-trip and drop off at the Gate 1 transit lot. One-way fare is $4. Fares are $2.50 for 65 and older and for people with disabilities. Children 12 and younger ride free. Shuttle passes can be bought at the Regional Transit Information Center or on the bus.

Bus service is available hourly from the following locations. For maps and schedules, go to gotriangle.org/fair.

Hillsborough Street: 1 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday from downtown to the NC State Fairgrounds.

North Raleigh: Triangle Town Center Dillard’s parking lot. 8:30 a.m. to midnight.

Cary: Cary Towne Center, near Triangle Aquatic Center. 8:30 a.m. to midnight.

Garner: White Oak Crossing near Regal Cinemas. 8:30 a.m. to midnight.

RTP: Saturday and Sunday service runs from the GoTriangle Transit Center at the 105 bus stop.

Durham: Departing hourly from Durham Station, 515 W. Pettigrew St.; 3 to 11 p.m. Oct. 11, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Chapel Hill: Saturday and Sunday service to the fair from the UNC campus at the intersection of South Road at Country Club Road; the N.C. 54 park-and-ride lot near the Friday Center.

Uber and Lyft designated dropoff and pickup spot is the Gate 1 transit lot, which is also recommended for dropping off and picking up kids.

For bike-riders, permanent bike racks are located near Gate 1 at the end of the Education Building.

AMTRAK’s Carolinian 80 train also has a special stop right by Gate 1 from Oct. 12-21. When booking, the station code is NSF. For the return trip, the Piedmont 77 departs the fairgrounds at 3:07 p.m. with stops in Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury, Kannapolis and Charlotte.

4. Parking

If you drive to the fair, parking is free at the Carter-Finley Stadium and PNC Arena lots, except for during the following events at PNC Arena:

David Jeremiah (7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11).

WWE Live (7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13).

Carolina Hurricames game versus Colorado Avalanche (Saturday, Oct. 20).

There is also free parking at 4501 Reedy Creek Road, at the corner of Edwards Mill Road, with more than 4,000 parking spaces. Hours are 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. on opening day, Oct. 11; and 8 a.m. to one hour after the gates close every other day.

Shuttle service from this lot is also free, to the Trinity Road Pedestrian Tunnel right outside Gate 8. Handicap-accessible lots are on Blue Ridge Road and at Carter-Finley Stadium.

No overnight parking for recreational vehicles is allowed in the State Fair lots.

Fairgrounds staff prepare for NC's 150th fair to open this Thursday.

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Owen Houston, 4, of Pink Hill, N.C. shows his hog at the N.C. State Fair Friday, October 14, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Houston placed fifth in the Jr. Market Barrow competition. Jill Knight jhknight@newsobserver.com

5. Rides and entertainment

“We have six new rides and a new rollercoaster this year, the Super Cyclone,” said Marc Janas, general manager for ride operator Powers Great American Midways. “There’s also the Kraken, Flying Elephant, Downdraft, Dumbo Elephants and Mini Paratrooper. Something for everyone.”

Along with new rides, there are new attractions around the grounds, including a stunt dog show, alligator wrestling and “giant lady bugs” around the flower and garden show.

And of course, there are historical displays, barns full of animals, halls filled with prize-winning pumpkins and gourds and plenty of games with stuffed animal prizes.

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Passengers ride the State Fair Flyer above the fair's midway in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, October 15, 2016. Liz Condo newsobserver.com

The 150th NC State Fair will come to a close on Sunday October 22nd. The awe-inspiring rides, culinary creations, challenging fair games and much more have drawn large crowds to the fairgrounds since it opened.

6. The music

Back for a fourth year is the all-North Carolina Homegrown Music Fest, with more than 60 acts on three stages. All the shows are free with paid admission.

Here are the Dorton Arena shows, which begin at 7:30 p.m. Highlights include American Aquarium Oct. 11 and rising soul band The War & Treaty Oct. 18.

Oct. 11American Aquarium (Raleigh, Americana). Note, the concert was canceled along with the opening day. The band announced on Twitter it would still play Thursday night, but a free show at The Pour House in downtown Raleigh. Doors open at 6 p.m. The show begins at 7 p.m. The Pour House is at 919-821-1120.

“Our show tomorrow night at the @NCStateFair has been cancelled due to Hurricane Michael... so we will be playing a FREE show at @ThePourHouse tomorrow night to make up for it. Doors at 6pm. We play at 7pm. It’s early. It’s free. No excuses. See you tomorrow night Raleigh!!!” the group tweeted.

Oct. 12Rhett and Link Live! (Buies Creek, comedy)

Oct. 13 — An Evening of Worship with Faith Baptist Church (Youngsville, Christian)

Oct. 14Mr. Potato Head (Raleigh, covers)

Oct. 15RaeLynn (Fayetteville, country), Bucky Covington (Rockingham, country)

Oct. 16Noche Latina (Raleigh, Latin)

Oct. 17Summer Brooke & the Mountain Faith Band (Sylva, Christian bluegrass), Britton Buchanan (Sanford, pop)

Oct. 18The War & Treaty (New Bern, roots/soul/gospel), New Reveille (Raleigh, Americana)

Oct. 19Between the Buried and Me (Raleigh, metal)

Oct. 20The Catalinas (Charlotte, beach)

Oct. 21Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience (Raleigh, pop/R&B)

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FAIR-1014-JFK-3
Gray Shelton, 1, of Mount Ulla, N.C. reaches to touch a stuffed animal prize atop of his father Ryan Shelton's shoulders at the N.C. State Fair Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Jill Knight jhknight@newsobserver.com

7. The food and the drinks

Raleigh chef Cheetie Kumar of Garland, a downtown Raleigh restaurant, joined reporters from The News & Observer on Monday as they sampled this year's list of delectable fair foods inside Dorton Arena.

In addition to your tried and true funnel cakes and fried turkey legs, look for unicorn bacon, a crack-n-cheese waffle cone, Texas Pete-glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut and arepa burgers, among the new offerings.

The favorite at media day was the Jerk Pork Wrap with mango sauce by Cool Runnings Jamaican. Look for them by the waterfall.

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STATEFAIRFOOD4-FE-100818-JEL.jpg
La Farm Bakery’s Candied Bacon S’more at the 2018 State Fair Food on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

The Our State Public House will be back for another year for beer and wine sales.

But it won’t be a free-for-all. You can pick two of the following: an 8-ounce pour of beer, an 8-ounce pour of cider or a 3-ounce pour of wine.

Fair-goers can pick which combination they would like from the offerings, which will change daily.

Also like last year, you’ll be able to buy beer — though just a pint — at Dorton Arena concerts. Last year, beer was sold at just a few shows, but it will be sold at all 11 shows.

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David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

For 25 years Paul Blankinship has collected artifacts, maps and photographs to present to fair goers a collective memory of 165 years of NC State Fair history. This year, after what happens to be the 150th fair, Blankinship will pack up the small

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