Fairly amazing

From farm life to extreme screams, experience the Washington State Fair

By Christian Carvajal on August 29, 2019

It's once again time to "do the Puyallup." Put another way, it's time to plan a family trip to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup -- a town regional newcomers should learn is pronounced "Pyoo-AHL-up" in defiance of all phonetic logic. Once that tongue trick's been mastered, a world of entertainment awaits.

"We've grown so big," gushes Stacy Van Horne, public relations manager for the Fair. "We're the state fair now, but agriculture is still very integral to what we do. The food's great and the concerts are great, but that was one of the reasons we opened The Farm at SillyVille (exhibit)." She cites a 2018 Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy survey that found seven percent of American adults think chocolate milk comes from brown cows as proof we need reminders of the agrarian origins of food in our supermarkets. Puyallup boasts a midway full of permanent rides, sure, but it's still, at its core, a celebration of farm life. "Some people think we're an amusement park and that's it," Van Horne added, "but we're not Disney." Instead, watch for a season of five rodeo performances plus American bullfighters, a cattle drive and barns full of critters from show animals to zebras. For a walk on the fantastic wild side, visit the Lost World of Dragons exhibit, which highlights cryptids from the Chinese Long, to Midgard serpents of Norway.

Now back to the theme park, which is awesome. The Extreme Scream tower ride, the tallest structure in Puyallup, tosses visitors 20 stories into the air at almost three times the acceleration of Earth's gravity. Of course, it's the return trip that gets truly scary. There's a classic "woody" roller coaster, a steel coaster called Rainier Rush, a climbing wall and the death-defying Sling Shot. These rides seem perfectly calibrated to incite hunger for, and then the inability to retain fair food. Fisher Scones, already a raspberry-stuffed, statewide favorite, upped its ante by adding house-made ice cream. Just try to resist the aroma of Brank's BBQ or BBQ Pete's, but save room for brats, burgers, cookies, crepes, curry, fish and chips, gyros, hot dogs, Kahlua pork, lumpia, pizza and "shish ke-berries." After all, those pints in the Outpost 47 Beer Garden aren't gonna drink themselves. Outpost 47 is also the home of an entire roster of concerts by tribute bands celebrating ABBA, the Eagles, Journey, Bruno Mars and Queen. Each of those is free with fair admission.

Then again, now that you're freshly stuffed and socially lubricated, why not spring for the real thing? The Columbia Bank Concert Series kicks off with the rebel yell of Billy Idol, followed by Keith Urban, Weezer, the Beach Boys, Aaron Watson, the Eli Young Band, The Cadillac Three, John Crist, Boys II Men with 98 Degrees, Ciara with Seattleite Sir Mix-A-Lot, Hall & Oates, Chris Tomlin, Foreigner, Old Dominion, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, Charlie Wilson and Country Music Association "Entertainer of the Year" Brad Paisley.

Visit the Fair's revamped website (TheFair.com) and download its handy phone app. "We're actually using online voting this year," said Van Horne, "for our first, hopefully annual, burger competition amongst our vendors ... on Saturday, Aug. 31. We'll have participating vendors who'll make creative burgers. ... Then people can vote digitally." The winner takes home $1,000.

WASHINGTON STATE FAIR, roughly 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday-Monday, Aug. 30-Sept. 22, 110 Ninth Ave. SW, Puyallup, $14 admission plus event tickets, parking $10-$15, 253.845.1771, TheFair.com