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Alaska State Fair: Record Concert Sales and Strong Attendance
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There was much good news at the Alaska State Fair this year. The lively event, located in Palmer, Alaska, featured a theme appropriate to the region, Beyond the Mountains.

This year brought increased attendance over 2022, and while official attendance numbers are not yet in, figures from the first five days revealed over 30% more visitors attended this year than last. Concert ticket sales and crop entries both set records, and there was also a new all-time high made in the amount raised for a 4-H livestock auction.

Music hit a high note, with the 2023 AT&T Concert Series at the ConocoPhillips Borealis Theatre offering thirteen different performers, two of which were sold out: Noah Kahan and Yung Gravy. Among the many other popular musical performers were Little River Band, Noah Cyrus, Turnpike Troubadours, Blues Traveler, Flogging Molly, and Megadeth. Concert ticket pricing varied between $39 and $69.

Two returning fair favorites were also sold out, the Demolition Derby and All-Star Monster Truck shows, priced at $13 and $15 respectively for adults, $9 and $10 for kids.

As to Ag and animals, both were plentiful and successful at this year's fair. The 4H Junior Market Auction raised $510,000 to benefit 4H participants, a large increase over last year's $419,957. In all, 107 animals were sold.

Entries for contest events themselves swelled this year, bringing in some 2,011 exhibitors offering a range of 7,506 entries including art, quilts, livestock, poultry, and floral arts. State records were set for crops such as hot pepper, rhubarb, horseradish, and leek, while a mammoth 2,023.5-pound pumpkin rolled into first place in the 17th Alaska's Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Cabbage came in large too - a 113-pound cabbage earned first place at the 27th Annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off. When the fair concluded, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center fed these and other veggie treats to the bears.

Other contests to be entered and celebrated included the Alaskan Grown Cheesecake Contest, Cabbage Limerick Contest, Beyond the Mountains Cake Contest, As American as Apple Pie Contest, and the Just 4 Kids Cookie Contest, among others. New this year was an appetizer contest. A special contest featured recycled yard art.

Fair admission was $12 for adults, $8 for kids and seniors, if purchased in advance online; regular admission was $14 for adults, $9 for kids and seniors. Adult season passes saved 67% on regular admission and were priced at $75, for seniors the passes were $55, and for youth, $45.

Seniors received a $3 special admission price on AARP day at the fair between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

This year all attendees received a nice free perk: parking. According to fair staff, free parking will also be the case next year to mitigate the effects of road construction in the area.

The carnival was operated by Golden Wheel Amusements, which is headquartered in Alaska. The fair is the carnival's largest event annually, and as such, brought out all the big rides. Among the most popular: the Century Wheel, Zipper, AfterShock Roller Coaster, Z Force, and the Whirlwind.

Unlimited wristband days were held on Monday August 28th and Thursday August 31st. On those days, unlimited carnival rides were available except for the Aftershock, which required a separate ticket. Presale wristbands were $80; $100 at the box office.

On other days single tickets were $1.50; a mix of carnival and midway attractions were available with the purchase of 22 ride tickets and 10 midway coupons for $40. On Monday August 21, Buddy Day allowed carnival goers to buy one, get one for a buddy for any number of tickets. The event also applied to fair admission itself, with a Coca Cola Buddy Day coupon that was available at Alaska Holiday Station Stores.

There were plenty of uniquely Alaskan elements to the fair, such as The Gathering Place, which served as the center for performances, vendors, and demonstrations focusing on Alaskan native culture. There were traditional dance performances, Native Youth Olympics, interactive storytelling, and even traditional seal skinning and tasting. The Fish On! Camp Grill at The Gathering Place served up open-pit prepared Alaskan salmon along with native-cuisine-inspired side dishes and desserts.

Also highlighting Alaskan natives was the fair's poster, a collaborative work created in part by indigenous artist Courtney Tatellgaq Rose Griechen. The artwork and fair logo highlighted Yupik and Alaska native heritage as well as Sugpiaq style Giinaruaq (mask).

The fair ran a successful food drive this year, collecting 4,334 pounds of food items for the Mat-Su Food Bank. The Alaska State Fair Recycles initiative collected 36.2 tons of aluminum, plastic, paper, steel, and cardboard. Both are ongoing missions of the state fair.

More uniquely Alaskan fun could be found among the food offerings. The Alaska Crab Shack served up scallops, shrimp, crab cakes, and tasty crab bisque; the Alaskan Elephant Ears spun that classic fair treat more locally with the addition of choices of honey, berries, or cream cheese. Bushes Bunches served up fresh Alaska-grown veggies as well as a beefy “rib-sticking stew.” Big Dipper Concessions served crispy corn fritters with honey butter. Casa Pepe used all Alaskan ingredients for its new paella.

Of course, there was plenty of traditional fair favorites from gourmet funnel cakes to fried Oreos, Dole Whip, kettle corn, BBQ, burgers, fried pickles, corn dogs, and ice cream.

Entertainment was everywhere, from Iñupiaq rap and performance art by AKU-MATU to a fiddle contest, and an Alaska Seafood Throwdown, pitting chefs in competition for the creation of Alaskan seafood dishes.

Alaska State Fair CEO Jeff Curtis was proud to note that vendors were plentiful at the fair for dining, shopping, and experiential events – over 500 in all this year. “Most fairs can't even come close to that,” he said. He noted that fairgoers were rewarded by the diversity of the vendors “They get to experience, see, shop, and taste. They can do it in one location.”

Curtis added his appreciation for everyone attending the fair. “People of all ages were drawn here for the great entertainment, carnival rides, animals, events, and activities.”
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