From pig racing and cow birthing to Jeopardy! and Raven Symone, the Maryland State Fair is ringing in its 125th anniversary with a blend of quirky and traditional events.
Running tomorrow through Sept. 4, the fair will include rides, concerts, food, animals, home arts, tours and so many exhibits, competitions, shows and activities that there's never a dull moment in the fair's 11 days. Tonight offers a sneak-peek opportunity to enjoy the fair's rides, games and food before tomorrow's official opening.
The State Fair's president and general manager, Howard "Max" Mosner, who will work his 44th fair this year, said he never ceases to be amazed by the event's variety.
"If there's one thing all these years has taught me, it's that there's still things I haven't seen," Mosner said. "Every fair takes on a different personality."
The Maryland State Fair began in 1878, and with the exception of a three-year gap during World War II, has continued ever since, growing in size and scope. A book of the fair's history was published this year and will be available for purchase.
Although fairgoers are offered new experiences each year, the fair's traditional spirit remains, Mosner said. "The remarkable thing is how the fair changes with the times but stays the same," he said.
Performing for the first time at this year's fair will be singer/actress Raven Symone, childhood star of The Cosby Show and current Disney Channel star, and country music acts Chris Cagle and Sawyer Brown.
"We're expecting 10,000 people or more," said Bob Brickley, vice president of Triangle Talents and concert producer for the fair.
"We've gotten Make-A-Wish Foundation requests to come see Raven," Mosner added. "That's going to be something really unique."
Another unique experience is the third Swifty Swine Racing and Swimming Pig Show. The race features four pigs, with such names as Lindsay Loham, Brad Pig and Hammy Sosa, racing around a track to an Oreo cookie prize.
"I look through 2,500 to 3,000 pigs to find four pigs that can race, and then I turn them into thoroughbreds," said Zach Johnson, owner of Swifty Swine Productions. Among attributes necessary for race contenders, Johnson finds "a nice beefy rear end for racing out of the gate" especially important. Vets are always on call, because "the worst thing is if a pig pulls a hamstring," he joked.
The event's halftime show features a performance by Swifty the Swimming Pig.
For brainy fairgoers, the Jeopardy! Brain Bus will be on hand to run mock games and give a behind-the-scenes look at the game show's audition process by screening potential contestants. Members of the show's Clue Crew, who appear on Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek, will run a "Just for Fun" version of the show and meet fans.
"The `Just for Fun' game is a kinder, gentler version of the game show. It's tailored to be more fun," said Clue Crew member Kelly Miyahara, who will appear at the fair.
For an unforgettable experience, check out the Birthing Center, where the public can witness the miracle of life as about 14 pigs and 15 dairy cows are scheduled to give birth during the fair.
"Probably three-quarters of the animals will give birth during fair hours," said Tom Hartsock, who runs the center.
"Births have always fascinated people," Hartsock said. "This provides the best educational opportunity I've ever had to teach agriculture to lay people."
More traditional fair events will continue this year, including thoroughbred racing. "Racing has gone back to ... the fair's beginning. There used to be five Maryland fairs with racetracks, and we're the only one left," Mosner said.
The two-day Miss Maryland Agriculture contest, which has been a fair tradition for 60 years, continues strong this year with a grand-prize worth $9,000 in scholarship and cash awards.
With cooking contests and demonstrations, arts and crafts lessons, animal competitions, three new rides, 125th anniversary displays, live radio broadcasts and much, much more, the 125th Maryland State Fair is jam-packed, so be sure to check out marylandstatefair.com for a full listing of everything it has to offer.
The Maryland State Fair will run tomorrow through Sept. 4, with a ride preview tonight from 5 to 11. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with ride hours varying. The fair is at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road in Timonium. For more information, call 410-252-0200 or visit marylandstatefair. com.