For nearly five decades, N.C. State fans have filled Carter-Finley Stadium weekends to cheer for the Wolfpack in football. Yet NCSU fans’ weekend tailgates can’t compete with the smorgasboard the arrives across the street each October. Carter-Finley sits just opposite the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, and for 10 days each fall the grounds host the North Carolina State Fair. Nearly one million visitors make the pilgrimage each year to the fair, which has been held annually since 1853.
The event originally was conceived as a way for farmers across the state to congregate and share best farming practices. It quickly became a sensation, so much so that in 1860, then-UNC President David L. Swain wrote a letter prohibiting students from attending without parental permission. He found it too distracting and filled with alcohol. Of course, shortly thereafter the Civil War broke out, and the fair was halted for several years as the fairgrounds became a training ground for volunteer Confederate troops. After Reconstruction, the State Fair restarted in 1869 and moved to the N.C. State campus in 1873.
What began as a farming conference became a full-fledged tourist attraction in the early 1900s, as games, food, rides and more arrived on the midway. Agriculture remained a focal point -- first fair theme in 1955 was, simply, “Cotton” -- but the fair began to incorporate more of North Carolina’s other cultural touchstones, as well.
The State Fair rivals a Wolfpack game for competitive fervor, as well. Among other events, you’ll find decorated cake showdowns, pumpkin and watermelon weigh-offs and beer competitions. That’s right: the best of North Carolina’s microbrewers face off, while NC’s micro-microbrewers (also known as home brewers) take part in a sudsy battle of great grog.
There are also plenty of animal competitions, including your standard horse shows, cow shows and … pygmy goat shows. Somehow, 78 different people entered their pygmy goats this year, which is both shocking and adorable.
If you can hear over the sound of dozens of braying animals, the fair also features loads of live music. This year, the main stage at Dorton Arena hosted Joan Jett, Trace Adkins, and Vanilla Ice, which is about as eclectic a group as you can get.
If you do plan on attending, make sure to enter your pumpkin or goat early for a chance at the more than $600,000 in prize money awarded every year. As they say in North Carolina, nothing could be finer.