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Pageantry and Poignance at the Fair

77 Counties



It’s an odd sign to see more than 100 miles from the nearest border. WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA. The neon, red and green, shimmers above the Gate 5 entrance off May Avenue, leading into State Fair Park. What awaits beyond is the Oklahoma State Fair, an 11-day Rorschach test that has been around longer than Oklahoma itself.

Whatever you think Oklahoma is, you can find it here. The fair’s 900,000 annual visitors pay as much as $9 each to walk in the gate. They ponder beribboned jars of jams and jellies. Rows of antique tractors. Old-souled 4-H kids wash and brush the animals they have raised since birth one last time before the moment of judging.

“These competitions mean a lot. You get it in your blood. It’s like smoking dope,” Kenneth Roberson said with a smile outside the 4-H livestock judging in the long barns. His extended family, including children and grandchildren, has competed at the fair throughout his 66-year farming career. “Everybody wants to win. These kids work 364 days a year for today.”

Beyond the real-life farmers, the fair features the Oklahoma Frontier Experience, a sanitized Old West featuring trick-ropers, slapstick lawmen, placid buffalo, hammering blacksmiths, energetic cloggers, dancing Indians and a serene longhorn named Pee Wee Lee brought up from Choctaw County.

The pioneer outpost sits cheek-to-jowl with a fairground steeped in a mid-century modern groove, awaiting its 21st century makeover. The forward-looking “Arrows to Atoms” theme was embraced during the state’s 50th anniversary in 1957, when Oklahoma was determined to leave its Dust Bowl legacy behind and celebrate the technology of the future.

Time has not been kind to the fair’s tributes to progress. The iconic space tower no longer spirals the 330 feet to the height of its atom-and-arrow topped summit. The star-spangled monorail is no more. The B-52 Plaza and its bombers are gone.

At the 2012 fair, the advancements touted come from people selling things: exhibit buildings housing aisles of non-stick pans, reinforced storm shelters, nitrogen-infused ice cream, dehydrated salsa, mini-speakers for smart phones. Rows of roiling, steaming hot tubs churn near walls of red blinking B-movie sci-fi computer banks, which will spit out printouts of handwriting analysis with horoscope and lucky numbers for $3.

And yet, tucked among the usual can be the breathtakingly moving. In a corner of the Cox Pavilion, a traveling exhibit honors Oklahomans killed in war zones since September 11, 2001. Dozens of young men and women are shown in uniform, focused and determined, and in family snapshots. No words are wasted: only the soldiers’ name, age, rank and branch of service. Their Oklahoma hometown. The date and place of death, and how it happened: helicopter crash, combat, IED. Friends, families and admirers post notes to the fallen. Spontaneous hand-written, heart-felt testaments to those who died for a cause, from those who love them: heartbroken yet proud parents, still-grieving spouses, fatherless children.

The tributes, however temporary, resonate long after leaving the building and trivialize the solemn memorial statues of men in suits dotting the grounds, casting retro Eastern Bloc silhouettes against the lurid canopies of food stalls selling roasted corn and iced lemonade and cotton candy in a bag instead of on a stick because, as a vendor whispered, a couple of years ago someone tripped while eating cotton candy and the stick lodged in his throat and putting it in a bag is safer.

If the fair no longer offers a glimpse of the dangerous, the exotic or the next big thing, it remains a karaoke-singing, turkey-leg eating, sideshow-peering, beer-chugging, pig-racing tradition that appears every fall like a hallucinogenic rumspringa.

That tradition has become its appeal, along with the possibility that those 11 days can be an annual stage for something else. Is it the dignified anticipation and solemn march of a dark-eyed Mexican toddler princess as she ascends the steps to the next Disney on Ice performance? The quiet joy of a shy 81-year-old woman battling dementia who lights up and softly sings along when the caped Elvis impersonator belts out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? The contentment of a teenage girl drifting dreamily hand-in-hand with her boyfriend as he proudly carries a new hard-won teddy bear prize? The kindness of the well-meaning Shriner clowns manning the photo booth who seem to have missed the memo that no one – really, no one – likes clowns?

Is it the hardened father in the denim vest asking the vendor how much the small Spider-Man inflatable is, as his tow-headed son looks up at the impossibly awesome parade of contorted plastic Spideys, backlit and aglow against the dark sky? Is it the matter-of-fact tone from the seller as he delivers the shameless quote of $8? Is it the dad’s reach for his trucker’s wallet, as he opens it and peels off a ten in exchange for the toy that’s worth, maybe, a quarter?

Or is it the unadulterated joy of the boy who can’t believe he has just received the best gift? Ever?

The answer is yes. Yes it is.

Welcome to Oklahoma.

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a continuing series as author and photographer M.J. Alexander chronicles her travels across the state of Oklahoma.

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Calendar

April 2019

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Celebrate Easter with a trip to Andy Alligator’s Fun Park! On Saturday and Sunday, get $5 off an All-Day Pass with our Eggcellent Easter Special. All-Day Passes include Go-Karts,...

Cost: $23.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
View map »

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Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The OSU Symphony Orchestra will conclude the 2018-19 season with Schubert's monumental and majestic Symphony No. 9 in C ("The Great"). The concert opens with The European Anthem,...

Cost: General Admission: $10; Students & Seniors: $7

Where:
Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
Stillwater, OK  74078
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
Telephone: 405.744.6133
Contact Name: Dr. Thomas Dickey
Website »

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Potbelly Sandwich Shop is giving back to the local neighborhood with Feed Your Smile, a fundraiser supporting Concordia Life Care Community.  Show this flyer on your smartphone or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
8500 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK  73132
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Sponsor: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Telephone: 405-792-5112
Contact Name: Katy Fabrie
Website »

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The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

"Deliberately silencing the internal chatter and not overthinking. Conscious, but not over-trying. With this approach, things just seem to happen—it’s where all the substance is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Individual Artists of Oklahoma
706 W. Sheridan Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Individual Artists of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.412.2541
Contact Name: David Smith

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Shop over 200 vendors at this indoor event with everything from vintage furniture, retro and mid-century decor to handmade goods, antiques, industrial finds and architectural salvage!

Cost: $5 at the door, 13 and under free

Where:
Heritage Place
2829 S. MacArthur
Oklahoma City, OK  73128
View map »


Sponsor: Junk Hippy
Contact Name: Kristen Grandi
Website »

More information

A Sporting Chance will host the 25th annual Track and Field Meet at Branson Junior High in Branson, Missouri. A Sporting Chance provides year-round sports and recreation programs designed for those...

Where:
Branson Junior High
263 Buccaneer Boulevard
Branson, MO  65616
View map »


Sponsor: A Sporting Chance
Telephone: 404-314-2188
Contact Name: Hannah Schachinger

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

This one-day festival is rooted in the printing of large-scale woodblocks carved by local Oklahoma artists. We bring in a 5-ton steamroller and print pre-carved blocks throughout the day on Tyvek...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Evan
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Andy Alligator's is celebrating teachers! On Saturday and Sunday, teachers with a valid ID will receive a FREE All-Day Pass and $5 off for each family member! An All-Day Pass includes...

Cost: Teachers receive a FREE All-Day Pass; family members get $5 off

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
View map »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

Get a sample of the nightlife of Spain at Tulsa Botanic Garden's "Viva La Vida." The Garden is bringing star chef Jamie Bissonnette (Toro restaurants in Boston, NYC, Bangkok and...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr
Tulsa, OK  74127
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson
Website »

More information

2nd annual gathering of "The Big Lebowksi" fans at The Dude Abides OKC All Oklahoma City Urban Achievers, Abiders and Coen Brothers fans are invited to join us at Fassler Hall OKC and...

Cost: Free, contests have entry fee

Where:
Fassler Hall
421 NW 10th
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Revolve Productions
Telephone: 405.810.6977
Contact Name: Tobi Coleman
Website »

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