Alaska State Fair kicks off its 80th birthday in Palmer

It’s that time of year again. Giant pumpkins, pig racing and the ever-popular upside down bungee ride make their annual appearance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. The venerable fair, which turns 80 this year, manages to attract all ages with an eclectic mix of homespun crafts, toothsome food and lots of rock n’ roll.

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Jim Meier and his Sunflower entry for Large Garden crop competition at Palmer on Wednesday night. Fair officials took entries until 9 pm. The Alaska State Fair starts today in Palmer. (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage)
Jim Meier and his Sunflower entry for Large Garden crop competition at Palmer on Wednesday night. Fair officials took entries until 9 pm. The Alaska State Fair starts today in Palmer. (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The Alaska State Fair in Palmer is celebrating it’s 80th year. It started in 1936, as a harvest celebration for the farm families which colonized the Matanuska Valley

“We call it a birthday rather than an anniversary because an anniversary is a memory, but a birthday is more about fun,” Dean Phipps said. Phipps is the fair’s media director. “And if there’s anything the fair is about, it’s about having fun.

Phipps said the fair has spanned the decades to the digital age.
He said this year, the fair’s schedule will be online on it’s updated website

“It’s not only the fair schedule by day, but you can click on a choice by venue,” Phipps said.

And a new contest aimed at the selfie crowd will encourage fair – sharing on social media. There ‘s a smart phone app as well.

The fair is run by a non profit, independent of any state funding. Over the decades, the fair has managed to keep it’s basic agricultural theme, while straddling changing trends by providing a mix of national and local musical acts ranging from church choirs to rap.

One headliner is Bay Area rapper G-Eazy, who’s studio album When It’s Dark Out charted in the top 10 on Billboard charts earlier this year. His performance is scheduled for Thursday, September 1. Another headliner this year — country music sensations, The Band Perry, who will perform Saturday, August 27. A song by the sibling trio, “We’re Gonna Live Forever” is the theme chosen by Team USA at the Rio Olympics. Veteran comedians Cheech and Chong will take the stage Monday, August 29 on their first tour in over 25 years. Other performers in the 2016 Alaska State Fair concert series can be viewed on their site.

It’s those threads that link the fair to what is happening now on the cultural scene. But traditionalists need not worry. There’s plenty of nostalgia at the fair, too, with it’s 4H kids showing off their animals and all the midway rides and home-made jelly.

“To Alaskans, it’s a celebration of the end of summer,” Phipps said. “You know, you see the fire weed blooming. You look up and you see a little snow on top of Lazy Mountain and the geese begin to migrate through. It’s a coming together; people come together here.”

The fair’s Gathering Place, highlighting Alaska Native culture, has been expanded this year to include a new permanent stage.

This year’s fair poster features a quilt design created by Ruth Hulbert, the fair’s poster designer. Each square on the quilt represents one decade, and there’s one square yet to be filled in representing the decade to come.

The Alaska State Fair in Palmer starts on Thursday, August 25 and runs through Labor Day. Daily schedules can be found at alaskastatefair.org