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Headed to the Got to Be NC Festival? Some tips before you go

The major festival, a mini-version of the State Fair, starts Friday at the fairgrounds. Find out which kiddie rides are free for parents and more!

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Got to be NC Festival to the NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
The Got to Be NC Festival will draw tens of thousands to the State Fairgrounds this Friday through Sunday.

This mini-version of the State Fair offers lots of family-friendly fun with rides, games, a petting zoo, pig races, pony rides, live music and more. And, unlike the fair, it's free - free admission, free parking and lots of free events across the fairgrounds. (There is a charge for some activities - like the rides).

If you're taking a little one with you, there are a couple of rides that parents can ride for free with their tot. The merry-go-round and slides will feature free rides for an accompanying adult with a paid child ticket for children under 40 inches in height. Tickets for rides will be available for purchase in the midway. A single ticket costs $1. Buy 14 for $12 or 30 for $20. Children's rides will typically take two or three tickets. Bigger rides will take three to five tickets.

So here is a day-by-day list of family-friendly suggestions and tips if you go, thanks to Natalie Alford, a public information officer with the fairgrounds, who has been sharing great tips on the fair and the festival with me for several years now. (Thank you Natalie!)

  • On Friday, the gates open at 9 a.m., buildings open at 10 a.m. and rides start at noon. Alford tells me that 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday would be a great time to arrive. The weather should be great and the crowds will probably be low. You can walk through the new Agri-Plaza between the Graham and Expo buildings featuring a Kids Corral play area and animals on display and see the free Rocky the Trick Mule show at 10 a.m. near the Holshouser Building. You'll still have time to find a spot for the Antique Tractor parade at 11 a.m. These activities will be happening on Saturday and Sunday too.
  • Kids (and parents) will enjoy the free Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show in the Grandstand. There are multiple shows each day.
  • A Children’s Stick Horse Race will take place in the Grandstand on Friday. Registration is free and starts at 4 p.m. The race will take place at 5 p.m., just before the free Draft Horse Pull event.
  • The Raleigh Flea Market will open up a day early on Friday, and the free Raleigh Summer Boat Show will also take place throughout the weekend in the Scott Building.
  • On Saturday, the gates open at 9 a.m., buildings and rides open at 10 a.m. The Smurfs will be roaming the grounds on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • The Festival features two free music stages: The Longbranch Triangle Stage near the Waterfall, which will be the site of the Bluegrass Band Competition on Saturday; and the Community Stage inside the Graham Building, which will feature clogging and martial arts demonstrations on Saturday. A variety of bands will also play on the Longbranch Triangle Stage throughout the weekend.
  • The Carolina Roller Girls will have a day-long “Got to Be NC” derby expo for only $5 on Saturday in Dorton Arena. Kids age 5 and under are free. The event starts at noon and there are multiple bouts throughout the day, so visitors can come and go as they please.
  • The Carolina FiberFest has expanded this year and will take over most of the Graham Building. Here you can find spinning, crocheting and other “sheep to shawl” demonstrations, vendors and sales. Many other vendors and organizations will be located in the Graham Building as well.
  • On Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. until it’s all gone, visitors can get a plate full of prize-winning BBQ during the Masonic Carolina Pig Jig. The event features 30 teams from Masonic lodges across the state competing for the grand prize and the People’s Choice Award. Tickets are $10 for adults, and free for children six and under. Each ticket includes an all-you-can-sample plate of barbecue, sides, a drink and a ballot for the People’s Choice contest. All proceeds from the cook-off will be donated to the Masonic Home for Children and Central Children’s Home, both located in Oxford.


  • On Sunday, the gates open at 9 a.m., buildings and rides open at 10 a.m. A new, free event on Sunday is Border Collie Sheepherding in the Grandstand. There will be three shows, beginning at 10 a.m.
  • The Food & Wine Expo in the Expo Building will be $2 for adults, free for kids age 11 and younger. In exchange for that $2, you will get a sheet of coupons that are good towards many of the delicious products on display at the Expo.
  • In Dorton Arena, teams of North Carolina high schools students will compete in a FIRST robotics competition. The event is free and will begin at noon.
There is a lot more information on the event's website. And be sure to check out the Festival map before you go. 

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