WRAL.com at the State Fair

Got to Be... getting it right the second time

Posted June 1, 2009 12:55 a.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2009 1:04 a.m. EDT

Last year the inaugural Got to Be NC agricultural festival was a big disappointment. There wasn't much there, it was unbelievably hot, and I came away from it
feeling underwhelmed and sunburned.

This year the weather was perfect (just a tad warm), I was there all day and I still didn't do everything I wanted to do, and I came away from it feeling encouraged,
surprised, and, well, sunburned.

Got to Be NC was GREAT. There were so many little tweaks and changes that added up to a terrific festival that provided a lot of entertainment and fun even with free admission.

If you went last year you might remember how the antique tractor exhibit took up the whole new midway area, while the carnival was in the Kerr Scott Building parking lot. This year, exhibit and carnival (not huge, but plenty of rides for all ages) was all on the new midway, so it's a lot easier to browse. It doesn't even feel like the midway, because there was plenty of grass showing (instead of pavement) and it wasn't as full of people. (There were some games to play but there weren't ten of each one. Some games were missing completely.) I walked down the midway twice, feeling that something wasn't quite right, until I realized that I wasn't tripping, stepping over, or otherwise avoiding millions of electrical cables. It was much easier to move around.

The exhibits of tractors (and old trucks and similar) started halfway down the midway area toward the Holshouser Building (the round building that houses the Village of Yesteryear.) The Sandhills Antique Farm Equipment Club was giving a demonstration of antique farm equipment behind the building (demos included a corn husker and hay baling that looked like hard work even with the equipment.) With those demonstrations it seemed like a natural fit to stop and watch for a while, and then keep going behind the building down to Heritage Circle.

During the Fair, you expect Heritage Circle to have blacksmith demonstrations, fresh apple cider, and music. I didn't know what I was anticipating for Got to Be NC, but I'm sure it wasn't a group of alpaca and three longhorn cattle, including a calf that was born early Saturday morning. The longhorn were next to one of the garden center entrances, so when I went over to admire the calf I saw that some brilliant person had put the bluegrass band competition into the grassy, table-filled, shady, wonderful area behind the Garden Center.

Because the stage took up so much of the Garden Center's display space, I'm sure a similar arrangement for music can't be done during the Fair. This is a shame, because the "Fair's backyard" turned out the be a primo place to sit back, enjoy an apple dumpling from Smitty's, and listen to some great bluegrass. Even in the middle of the day it was comfortable and breezy, with plenty of shade. The only problem was if you sat too far to the back, toward the pond/lake/whatever. Kids were going back there with popcorn and feeding the ducks, which meant that sometimes your ears got about half of a bluegrass song and half of a duck fight.

Last year the Holshouser Building was memorable as a place of respite from the blazing sun. This year there was still some antique farm equipment and some examples of antique household materials (spinning wheels and such) but there were also booths for programs from the NC Department of Agriculture, as well as some information on alpaca and other animal fibers. This building still felt a little underutilized, but there was more there than last year.

And it was STILL cool and shady, giving you a nice break before you headed back up the hill to the Got to Be NC Expo. Actually there was the Got to Be NC Expo in the Exposition Building, and there was the Raleigh Health and Wellness Expo, which was a little further up in the Jim Graham Building. Outside the Expo Building there was the Pig Jig, a 'Cue contest that took place Saturday afternoon.

The Flea Market went on as scheduled, blending in nicely with the festival. You could walk up past the Grandstand (Tractor pulls! Lawn mower racing!) and find yourself going past food booths, then a petting zoo, then suddenly you're in the flea market. And if you were up near the Kerr Scott building early Saturday afternoon, you got to see the Got the Be NC Giant Shopping cart lead a huge parade of motorcycles into the fairgrounds. The booths and cool, shady buildings of the flea market were a nice break after the sun and noise of the midway.

Not that it was THAT noisy. The carnival barkers were in evidence but not overwhelmingly loud, and though I saw plenty of long lines for rides, you could walk down the midway without getting tangled up in them or otherwise feeling like a bumper car. Though there were disadvantages to having just one booth for a food item (like if you wanted to get a turkey leg to eat while watching the tractor pull, you were going to be schlepping that leg quite a ways from the midway up to the Grandstand) the overall midway was a lot friendlier, a lot less crowded, and a lot more comfortable.

Better than the Fair? My husband asked me that. My immediate response was, "Of course not, the two events are not in the same category, you don't compare a 150+ year old state tradition with a weekend agricultural festival that's in its second year." But then I thought about it.

If you and your spouse brought your kids to Got to Be NC, you could get in free, not spending a dime to see the racing pigs, or the bluegrass and other music entertainment, or the antique tractors and tools, or the petting zoo, or all the other things that were going on. There was enough to do that you probably wouldn't get bored, but on the other hand it was concentrated enough that you wouldn't have to walk a tremendous amount or figure out exactly which gate you came in and how you were going to find your car.

Better or not (I'm still thinking about it) Got to Be NC was miles better than the inaugural event of 2008, with cooler weather, more events, and some great ideas about layout and use of the fairgrounds. I can't wait to see what's on tap for 2010.