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New Mexico State Fair Serves Up New Attractions and Rides, Breaks Livestock Record

Reithoffer Shows provided the Midway

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The New Mexico State Fair, founded in 1938, is still going strong. Held this year from September 7 to 17th at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque, attendance is not yet finalized. Last year's fair attendance reached 475,318. Despite one rainy day, the fair, themed this year “Fair Famous,” is likely to be on track with a similar number this year. 

There were many new experiences for 2023 fairgoers according to Ty Stevers, the fair's media and marketing manager. Among them were sharks and stingrays, the Fair Famous exhibition detailing the TV and film history of New Mexico, comedy acts at the Main Street Beer Garden, and even auditions for American Idol, with the top three singers moving on for an audition via Zoom with American Idol producers. 

From those pet-able stingrays to the fair's entertainment industry theme, fairgoers had many unique treats. According to Stevers, the Fair Famous exhibit included props, a casting agency, and even some screenings, with “a mini theater set up... [to] watch clips of movies that have been filmed in New Mexico.” Among the props on display: “an ambulance that was used in Oppenheimer.” 

Fairgoer comfort also took priority this year, with more extensive and comfortable seating in the shady Pavilion Venue, which hosted live local music.

Along with new attractions, there were some new fair foods to savor, Stevers added, describing items including “raspados with mango syrup, and chicharron chips, nopalito strips, deep fried Kool-Aid pickles, pickle pizza” as unique items. 

On Friday, September 8th, the fair held a people's choice competition, the Beef Jerky Showdown, a competition that was open to ten New Mexico jerky producers and involved two types of jerkies, green chile and salt and pepper. The annual state fair competition to name the best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico also took place at the fair this year, with Oso Grill of Capitan, N.M. capturing both blind judging and the People's Choice award.

Thirsty fair attendees could enjoy the official fair brew, a crisp pilsner called Dusty Spur, from Corales, N.M. brewer Ex Novo. Dan Mourning, the fair's general manager was proud of the signature fair beer, noting that “Our partnership for a fair branded beer reflects our appreciation for a strong craft beer industry in New Mexico. We're one of the only fairs in the country that can produce and brand a craft beer product like this…”

Musical and rodeo entertainment were also big contenders for fun at the fair. There were two stand alone rodeo events, one a closing day matinee, as well as a bevy of rodeo events accompanied by concerts. Two PRCA bull nights were preceded by very different musical acts: on the first fair weekend, Mammoth WVH performed on the 8th, Justin Moore the next night; and Chancey Williams performed following the Ranch Rodeo that weekend. Starting off the last fair weekend, Shenandoah appeared on the 14th following the PRCA Rodeo; Mariachi Sol de Mexico was paired with the rodeo the next evening, and 311 followed the PRCA on the 16th. Both concert and rodeo tickets provided free admission to the fair. Ticket prices for concerts plus rodeo entertainment ranged from $25 to $75; standalone rodeo tickets ranged from $15 to $40.

Beyond the stadium events, there were additional entertainment acts in abundance, including The Strolling Piano, Stilt Circus, the Great American Duck Races, a salsa steel drum band, and the one-man circus act, Jason D'Vaude who juggled, clowned, and played with fire. 

Also on tap were the Sea Lion Splash, and southern Chef Landry, whipping up a mix of food and comedy. A Petting Farm offered up close and personal animal encounters, while the unique Lorikeet Encounter Show included a mini cup of nectar for the lorikeets, for $5. Equally exotic animal antics were on hand from Amazon Wonders, where for $a 3 fee fairgoers could interact with a family of Capuchin monkeys. For the same small additional fee, attendees could also take part in the Giant Snake Educational Experience, including a 23-foot python.Mango Cakes, Burque Jazz Bandits, Nosotros and other local musical acts were also on hand for free performances. Mourning said that “What's really great about the fair is that we showcase all the good local New Mexican talent.”

The fair also presented car shows on the Expo's Main Street, including Custom Cars and Classic Mustangs, Hot Rods, and a Truck and Corvair show. And for the fair's final weekend, Hispanic Heritage Celebration kicked off on Friday the 15th, with the Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles appearing along with the rodeo; music and dancing from George Rivas and Darron Cordova y Calor took place at the fair's Villa Hispana on Saturday. Native Americans also had a celebration at the fair, with the State Fair Powow at the Indian Village beginning on the final Saturday as well, including drums and dancing.

Besides all the new experiences and attractions, the fair also saw a record-breaking junior livestock sale this year of $710,090, a 16.3% increase in sales from 2022. Mourning calls the results “a testament to [the kids]…hard work,” one that “illustrates the community's dedication to programs such as FFA and 4-H.”

And of course, there was the carnival, a mega midway from Reithoffer Shows. Among the most popular rides were the Giant Wheel, New York New York, Ice Jet, Wild Mouse, Super Himalyaya, Stinger, and the Grand Carousel. A full collection of games included the popular water racer game Rising Waters.

 Reithoffer food booths offered everything from sweet corn to pickles and turkey legs. The carnival's general manager, Richard Reithoffer, related that the company has been providing rides for the New Mexico Fair since 2015, and the company itself has been operating for 136 years. “The company started in 1896 when my great-great grandfather bought a steam-driven carousel that you had to shovel coal into.” The steam carousel is a ride of the past, but Reithoffer brought a special thrill ride to the fair this year, the new Slingshot, which sent riders flying 240-feet high in the sky on bungee cords. Fair GM Mourning described the ride as a thrilling experience “if you're an adrenaline junkie.” Slingshot was separately ticketed from the carnival at $35 and was located in the fair's Adventure Alley section. Also operated separately from the main carnival by Reithoffer, the fair's sky ride provided a cool form of transportation above the fairgrounds, available for $7 one way and $10 round trip.

While the Slingshot's thrill could be viewed as a bit of a splurge for fairgoers, there were plenty of discounts to be had at the fair and carnival this year. Wednesday, September 13 was the fair's Dollar Day, with admission priced at just $1, and the Reithoffer midway offering $1 rides with a minimum ten-ride purchase. Teacher Appreciation Day admitted all teachers with ID or pay stubs for free; Firefighter & First Responder Day likewise offered free admission with a valid ID, with Military and Veterans Day providing free admission for all active and retired military and veterans. State Employee Appreciation Day offered discounted admission for identified state agency staff at $8. The fair also held a Monday Four Dollar Day with $4 admission all day and $30 ride wristbands.

“The New Mexico State Fair takes pride in our ability to offer these incredible discounts so that all New Mexico families can experience our extraordinary event,” Mourning stated.

And the fair again offered a bundled Mega pass including both fair admission and carnival wrist bands for just $30 total when purchased prior to September 6th. Along with bargain pricing, the Mega Pass also allowed holders to bypass gate ticketing lines. “Ensuring our wonderful state fair experience is convenient and affordable for New Mexicans is our top priority,” Mourning added. 

Regular fair admission was priced at $15 for adults and $8 for kids and seniors, with kids 5 and under admitted free. Regular carnival wristband pricing was $30 on weekdays and $40 Friday through Sunday.
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