North Texas Fair and Rodeo celebrates food, festivities and family

North Texas Fair and Rodeo celebrates food, festivities and family

North Texas Fair and Rodeo celebrates food, festivities and family
August 23
15:19 2017

As the hot August sun sank below the horizon, the glow from thousands of colored and flashing lights cast a dreamy haze over the patch of land occupying the northwest corner of Sherman and Carroll Streets in Denton.

The booming sounds of live music, carnival barkers and hundreds of attendees echoed from every direction. The warm summer breeze swirled together the sweet scents of funnel cakes and corn dogs and the earthy aromas of pigs and horses into a distinctive bouquet of fragrances you’d only find at the fair.

Kids of all ages ran full speed through the crowd from ride to ride as their parents drank cold beer, shopped at the exhibits and enjoyed the live music. Young couples rode the Ferris wheel, and cowboy wannabes rode the mechanical bull. The rodeo arena was packed with spectators and with each thrown rider or lassoed bull the crowd let out a deafening roar of cheers and whistles. There was even a swimming pig.

It was a familiar start to the 89th annual North Texas State Fair and Rodeo.

“I’ve talked to people from as far away as Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and even a few people from Europe,” Farm Bureau representative Lewis Trietsch said. “I’ve been coming to the fair off and on for about 45 years, and every year we have more and more people who have come from out of state just to come to the fair.”

The NTSFR, like many other state fairs, is an annual event that provides traditional entertainment such as live shows and music, games, food, petting zoos and rides. It’s the second largest of its kind in Texas. Since its beginnings in 1928, the fair has not only become a deeply ingrained tradition within the local community, but also becoming popular well outside the boundaries of North Texas.

The fair is organized and operated by a close knit group of community volunteers made up of Denton County locals who say that they are working to preserve and expand the fair for future generations.

“It’s a family affair, and we hope to pass it down through the generations,” committee member Carlos Stratton said. “I think you’ll find that most committee members have their families involved. I brought my family up here, and I’ve got all my kids working up here with me. My brother and I built all these booths.”

With as long as the NTSFR has been going on, families like Stratton’s have been attending the fair and rodeo since its inception.

Since the fair and rodeo holds events and activities for people of all ages, attendees and workers usually can’t walk around the fair without stopping periodically to catch up with friends and fair natives.

In the midst of the crowd, a guest of the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo takes a bite of his funnel cake. As there is usually limited table space, many fairs sell food items made to be eaten with one’s hands. Katie Jenkins

“A lot of people come year after year,” Stratton said. “Some people take their vacation in order to come work this fair. It’s like seeing your cousins after not seeing them all year. It’s like a family reunion. Everyone loves the fair, what it stands for and what it does for the community.”

Executive board member Mickey Blagg, who has attended the fair for 38 years, said she thinks it’s the strong community involvement that has kept the fair running strong through the years.

“Kids who grow up here end up coming back year after year,” Blagg said. “It’s that sense of community that brings them back, and we try to get as many younger people involved [as we can] so we can pass it down when people like me get too old to do it.”

While the fair has grown over the years, the people who have been attending the longest still feel like they did when they attended the fair as kids.

Exhibits director Mickey McNary first attended the NTSFR 65 years ago, but said that other than growing in size and scope, he still feels the same sense of nostalgia as when he would walk onto the fair grounds decades ago.

“I would say the fair has become more professional and it represents our community better than it did before,” McNary said. “There’s been a lot that’s changed in what people want to see and how many people show up, but the fair still has the small town atmosphere and sense of community.”

Volunteer and longtime attendee Tim Kutas is also able to experience the positive changes the fair and rodeo has adapted throughout the years.

“Things have changed drastically in a good way as far as opening it up to make room for more entertainment,” Kutas said. “The quality of entertainment has increased, and they’ve got a lot more stuff for the kids of all the different age groups, and we’re still looking for things to add to it.”

Since the fair is open until Aug. 26, many people try to bring their kids to the fair as many times as they can while the fairgrounds are open so they can experience every aspect.

While not everyone involved in the fair is a volunteer, works a booth or participates in the rodeo, many attendees look forward to experiencing the fair from the outside.

Maria Gomez, who is a longtime Denton resident and fair attendee, and her three kids always remember when it’s time for the fair to start.

“We drive by, and they’ll see them putting up the rides and bringing in the trailers,” Gomez said, “I don’t even need to ask them if they want to go, they’re already ready. It really is a lot of fun for them.”

Even though the fair is open until Aug. 26, many people try to bring their kids to the fair as many times as they can while the fairgrounds are open so they can experience every aspect.

While the adults have fun reliving their childhood, Gomez loves seeing how her kids react to the changes and aspects of the NTSFR from year to year.

“They love the rodeo and all of the games,” Gomez said. “They’re still a little young for some of the rides, but I’m sure we will keep coming back until they are old enough.”

For Blagg and all the others involved in the fair and rodeo, the sense of family and unity the NTSFR presents every year in North Texas represents something bigger than a continuous event.

It provides an opportunity for nostalgia, a sense of community and a way to make memories for decades to come.

“I started coming here when I was 12,” Blagg said. “We always knew that when we’d drive down University Drive and see that the Ferris wheel was going up, we’d beg our mom to take us. We’d know it was fair time.”

Featured Image: During the steer wrestling event on opening day, contestant Grady Payne shifts from his horse onto the steer’s back. Payne completed his run in about 7.75 seconds. Katie Jenkins

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David Urbanik

David Urbanik

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