NC State Fair opens Thursday with new mascot, pavilion

Wanda Lovelace makes cotton candy as she readies for opening day of the State Fair at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, October 14, 2015.
Wanda Lovelace makes cotton candy as she readies for opening day of the State Fair at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, October 14, 2015. cliddy@newsobserver.com

CORRECTION: Prior versions of this article had the wrong date for the mock tobacco auction. The correct date is Oct. 23.

RALEIGH -- The state commissioner of agriculture is the person most closely associated with the N.C. State Fair, but now Steve Troxler has some competition from a big, exuberant bird.

Casey Cardinal is the new mascot for the State Fair. He stands confidently, arms crossed, on the fair’s logo and will be a fixture at the fairgrounds – a silent, perpetually smiling symbol of the 11-day fair that opens Thursday afternoon at 3.

Casey is an old mascot reborn. He dates back to 1968 when the fair held a contest to create a mascot and Casey Cardinal, a play on the state bird, was chosen from about 2,000 entries.

The fair used Casey in its promotional materials for a few years, but then “he just kind of went away,” says fair spokesman Brian Long. It was fair manager Wesley Wyatt’s idea to bring him back, Long said.

“Over time, we’d like people, when they think of the State Fair, to think of Casey Cardinal, and when they think of Casey Cardinal to think of the State Fair,” Long said.

The big cardinal isn’t all that’s new at the State Fair this year. Here’s what else you can expect:

New pavilion

Workers put the finishing touches this week on a large shelter erected on a filled-in part of the lake near the Heritage Circle and the Flower and Garden Show. The Tobacco Pavilion will be used for the fair’s opening ceremony and the tobacco tying contest on Friday and the mock tobacco auction on Oct. 23. Troxler says people can gather around the building’s big stone fireplace on cool evenings.

Folk Festival moves

For years, the singers, dancers and musicians of the State Fair Folk Festival have competed in a tent behind the Kerr Scott Building. This year, the 67th for the festival, they’ll move into Dorton Arena, for competitions daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Their old space is the new, larger home of the Circle “C” Racing Pigs.

No live birds

There won’t be any live chickens, ducks, geese or baby chicks at this year’s fair. State agriculture officials have banned public bird shows and sales until Jan. 15 in an attempt to prevent the spread of avian flu, which has decimated poultry flocks in other parts of the nation. Instead, the poultry tent will be used for an educational exhibit, next door to the “dock diving dogs” of the K-9’s in Flight show.

Super Cyclone

There will be a dozen new rides among the 95 on the midway this year, including the Super Cyclone roller coaster. All the rides were inspected by the state Department of Labor this week, but Labor Secretary Cherie Berry says most ride “incidents” are the result of patron error. She urges people to make sure their kids are tall enough for a particular ride and to tie up their long hair and secure loose clothing before getting on. She also suggests taking pictures of your kids as you arrive at the fair, so if they get lost you can show people not only what they look like but also exactly what they’re wearing.

Deputies on patrol

There will be anywhere from 130 to 180 sheriff’s deputies patrolling the fairgrounds at any given time in the coming week, in addition to the 70 or so State Highway Patrol troopers directing traffic outside, says Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. He asks anyone who sees something that doesn’t look right to go the closest officer or dial 911.

Getting there

As always, there’s free parking at the State Fair, PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium lots, but getting to a spot can take patience on busy days. GoRaleigh, GoDurham and GoTriangle offer bus service, and Amtrak makes a special stop during the fair. For more information on getting to the fair, go to www.ncstatefair.org/2015/Visitor/GetToFair.htm.

Hunger Relief

Saturdays draw the biggest crowds at the fair, but the next busiest day is the second Thursday, which is Food Lion Hunger Relief Day. Admission is free with five cans of Food Lion brand food, and all donations go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

Homegrown music

Goodbye, Joan Jett. Hello, Band of Oz. The State Fair has replaced its ticketed evening concerts featuring national acts of varying stature with free shows by artists from North Carolina. All concerts begin at 7:30, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets for reserved floor seats are available at the Dorton Arena box office starting at 9 a.m. the day of the show, six-ticket limit. Here’s a schedule:

Thursday: FireHouse with The Fifth

Friday: The Great I Am

Saturday: Jason Michael Carroll, with Luke Combs and Stephanie Quayle

Sunday: Orquesta GarDel

Monday: Nuv Yug presents Bollywood Night

Tuesday: Black Sheep with Shadina

Wednesday: Band of Oz and The Embers

Oct. 22: A Night of Praise

Oct. 23: The Love Language with Spider Bags

Oct. 24: Charlie Daniels Band with Kasey Tyndall

Oct. 25: Nantucket with Sidewinder

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

Times and tickets

Thursday: The fair opens at 3 p.m. Wristbands good for unlimited rides until midnight cost $28. Exhibit halls close at 9:45 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for military with ID and $3 for children 6-12. Children under 6 and adults 65 and older are free.

Friday-Oct. 25: Gates are open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., except Fridays, Saturdays and Oct. 22, when the fair closes at midnight. Exhibit halls open at 9 a.m. and close at 9:45 p.m., when the fireworks begin. The midway is open 10 a.m. to when the fair closes. Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for military with ID and $4 for children 6-12. Children under 6 and adults 65 and older are free. On Friday, Oct. 16, students with school ID card or report card are $5.