Welcome to the Washington State Fair Annual extravaganza of rides, games, attractions, entertainment, food and fun begins Friday, Aug. 31 and runs through Sept. 23

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We are but a week away from the opening day of the Washington State Fair. In addition to all the rides, food vendors, animals and sales halls, there are a number of special exhibits to enjoy. The Farm at Sillyville, for example, features a dairy barn, a grain silo, a produce barn, a chick coop and a backyard garden. It is designed to connect kids and families to our state’s agricultural industries and those who grow our food. At each station, there are hands-on activities that allow visitors can learn about the farming process. The exhibit is free with fair admission.

The Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit, meanwhile, costs $7 in addition to fair admission. The exhibit features life-like anatomical moving dinosaurs including favorites like Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, Triceratops and others. There are also hands-on features to this exhibit.

The Cirque Ma’ceo Equestrian Stunt Show features stunts and horseback acrobatics choreographed with live singing and music. The bond between humankind and horses is, for my money, a marvel second only to the bond between humans and dogs.

This year, the Western Washington Fair is unveiling Outpost 47, a sort of nightclub (with a family friendly area) located on the fairground. At Outpost 47, fairgoers can settle in for great food, beer, wine and spirits. This venue will broadcast big games live on big screen TVs and is also to be the scene for a lavish variety of free musical concerts. On Labor Day weekend, for example, Outpost 47 will host a variety of bands that play tribute to Prince, Michael Jackson, Fleetwood mac, Elton John and Billy Joel. There is also a lavish lineup of performers scheduled for the rest of the fair weekends at Outpost 47.

Another new show is The Pioneer Experience, an 1880’s Variety Show, which features skits with titles like “Penelope the Milking Cow,” “Ted the Roping Steer,” “Butter Churn” and “Barrel/Spittoon Shoot.” The Pioneer Experience is meant to give a glimpse into what it was like to live in the old west.

Animals are everywhere at the Washington State Fair, from 4-H and livestock shows to farm animals and the beautiful “Piglet Palace,” a place to view newborn piglets. Visitors can view animals of the world, a beef cattle show, a Boer goat show, the dairy cattle show, a dairy goat show, draft horses and driving demonstrations, a horse breeds showcase, the Jr. poultry exhibit, an open class pigeon show, the open class poultry exhibit, a sheep and fiber show, police dog demonstrations, pygmy goats, rabbits and cavies and the annual rodeo and cattle drive.

Among the rides at the fair are the Classic Coaster, the Extreme Scream, the antique carousel and the Rainier Rush, the fair’s newest roller coaster (added to the fair in 2013). The Rainier Rush reaches speeds up to 50 mph on a 60-foot plunge. It also does an inclined loop on its twisting tracks. I have yet to work up the courage (or to find it in my budget) to ride the giant Sling Shot, located in the “Adventure Zone.”

Food offerings at the fair include perennial favorites like Fisher Scones, BBQ Pete’s grilled meat, Earthquake Burgers, Juicy’s Outlaw Grill, and Krusty Pup corndogs. There are elephant ears, funnel cakes and other sweet dishes for dessert. Fairgoers can find vegan and gluten free options like BBQ Pete’s smoothies and corn, Big Stu’s watermelon, the Crepe Chalet, Duris baked potatoes. Many of the vendors have vegan and gluten free options on their menus.

The Washington State Fair has a bewildering array of art and cultural exhibits to take in. I never miss the Juried Fine Art Show, the International Photo Salon or the Junior and Senior High School Art Show. Additionally, there is the Oldfield Western Heritage Center, Sheep to Shawl fiber demonstrations, the grange displays, home arts exhibits, a giant pumpkin carving, the artists in action building and the Fair Museum.

Saturday, Sept. 15 is Asia Pacific Cultural Center Day, during which groups from around the South Sound area will pay homage to their heritage through traditional dress, dance and music. The cultures of Korea, Taiwan, Tokelau, China, Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii, Cambodia, Samoa and Guam will be featured.

On Sunday, Sept. 16 the Fiestas Patrias will celebrate Mexican culture and arts with bands, performers, folk dances and authentic food.

For the shoppers amongst us, the fair features more than 900 vendor spaces stocked with all manner of goods and merchandise. The Expo Hall, the Mattress Firm Showplex and the Outdoor Living building all are packed to the gills with merchants selling their goods and services.

For a listing of the big-name music and comedy performers that will be taking the stage at the Grand Stand, see the schedule presented on page 25. (?)

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS…

The fair started in 1900 when a group of local businessmen, farmers and residents joined to discuss the idea of a Puyallup Valley fair, which became the “Valley Fair,” a three-day event. By 1905, the fair had become a six-day event and trains were making special trips to bring in visitors from Tacoma and Seattle. In 1913, the Valley Fair became the Western Washington Fair.

During WWII, the fair was closed and the grounds were converted into a detention camp, the Puyallup Assembly Center, from whence Japanese-Americans were shipped off to internment camps for the duration of the war. This dark episode is commemorated by a George Tsutakawa sculpture that stands on the fairgrounds.

In the post-war era, the Puyallup Fair grew by leaps and bounds. In 1976, the fair was called “The Puyallup Fair.” Marketing in the 1970s and 80s, with the “Do the Puyallup!” catch phrase was very successful.

In 2013, however, the bigwigs and the marketing whiz kids of the fair association decided to make a name change and “The Puyallup” became rebranded at the Washington State Fair. The Pacific Northwest had been discovered by the rest of the world and “Doing the Puyallup,” was something new arrivals, apparently, could not comprehend. A bigger, if more generic, name was necessary. Gone were the days of things like reginal beers with inventive commercials and regional fairs with funny names known only to insiders. (The old Rainier Beer commercials had a similar vibe to the quirky commercial advertisements for the Puyallup Fair.)

Every year I enjoy making my annual pilgrimage to the fairgrounds in Puyallup to spend a day amid the sensory stimulus that is the fair, a great smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells. I enjoy encountering people from all walks of life, observing the ways they dress themselves, their mannerisms and their bearing. Children run gleefully about, clutching big plumes of cotton candy and clutching all manner of carnival-style toys. Among the carnival games you can watch young men trying to prove their prowess and show their devotion by winning giant, stuffed animals for their sweethearts. The proud young women carry the huge, colorful prizes with them as testament to the favor that they have found in the eyes of their beaus.

I love to browse the fine art, the photography, the displays of knitting and needlework, the quilts, the leather work. I am fascinated by the collections of objects that average people put up for display in the hobby hall.

I admire the fine specimens of houseplants in the horticulture building and the examples of pastries, pickles and preserves that people concoct in their humble kitchens.

In the barns, I examine the gentle eyes and the velvety fur of the prize cattle, the curiosity of the goats, the softness of the sheep and the nobility of the horses. I am fascinated by the variety and beauty of the poultry: the plumage of a bantam rooster or the iridescence of an India Runner duck.

Sunset brings the Midway to life in all its glory. In the neon and the lights of the swirling rides, the fairground becomes transformed into a magical festival of luminosity.

People screaming on the roller coasters and the sling shot ride and the Extreme Scream can be heard throughout the fairground, along with snippets of music the clanging of cowbells and thousands of other sounds. You don’t have to pay the extra expense of the big grandstand shows to enjoy a visitation from the muse. There are plenty of free musical performances available, like the folksy band, The Shoppe, who will put on multiple performances at the Coca-Cola stage.

The Washington State Fair seems to contain the universe within the bounds of a few acres of land. It is a shining gem in the Puyallup River valley that calls us back year after year.

Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays; 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays. The fair is closed on Tuesdays and also will be closed on Wednesday, Sept. 5. General admission is $14 (ages 13-610); children are $11 (ages 6-12); seniors are $11 (ages 62+). Children age 5 and under are free. Parking is $10 weekdays and $15 on weekends.

For more on the fair, visit www.thefair.com.

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