The Tulsa Oklahoma State Fair is upon us once again, bringing with it — or perhaps, dragging out of hiding — a sea of vendors, rides, and activities I’ve come to expect from visiting in years past. The vendors vary greatly, but few bring an element of entertainment to the whole thing. Some stalls mean to sell you life insurance; others expect you to purchase home appliances like washing machines or full-sized fridges. Still others sell products, such as wigs or overpriced cowboy hats, that appeal to such a niche audience it’s a wonder they have any sort of business at all. The vendors here don’t share a common theme or skill set like they might in a cultural festival, and a number of the salespeople seem to lack a serious passion for their wares.
Besides these stalls, there were a number of displays and exhibits inside the fairgrounds’ buildings. Among these was a competition for the most artfully crafted cake. Many of the entries served as homages to beloved works of fiction, such as a particularly impressive Alice in Wonderland cake, while others acted as memorandums, one such being a tribute to soldiers lost in combat. Almost all demonstrated a high attention to detail and seemingly impossible level of skill, piquing my interest in a culinary field I’d never given much thought.
Less refined was the food actually served at the fair. I’ll concede that this is perhaps already the most notorious quality of any public fair, especially that of the Midwestern state variety. But let me reaffirm that this infamy is well-earned. Deep-fried Mac & cheese, deep-fried oreos, deep-fried watermelon, deep-fried “you name it and we probably have it.” It’s a miracle the food stores have lines, but I guess some people’s morbid curiosity goes a bit farther than spectating. They have to taste the insect-topped pizza to fully appreciate it. For whatever reason, there seems to be a novelty food items quota for state fairs, and Tulsa exceeds expectations.
Of course there are rides at the fair, most of them fitting the archetype of spinning and inducing nausea. Kids weave in and out of sloppily themed fun-houses, the murals on the side, depicting cowboys and drunkards, usually coming off as oddly grotesque rather than appealing. These attractions don’t come free with the fair’s general admission. Instead there are booths where you can purchase ‘coupons’ for $1.25 apiece, many of the rides requiring two or three coupons to ride. There’s a good chance I don’t need to tell you how expensive this event can become.
Among the long lineup of bands and performers at the concert was American Authors, who played Saturday night on the Oklahoma Stage. The band gathered a sizable crowd, though the layout of chairs and other barriers prevented much of the crowd from becoming too engaged in the music. Authors performed a few songs from their new album, ‘What We Live For,” though I honestly flinched anytime the singer urged the audience to buy it as soon as possible. Still, the crowd took well to the concert, and any enthusiasm I might’ve lacked I chalked up to my not being a fan of their work anyway.
For better and for worse, Tulsa’s Oklahoma state fair is a state fair. It has petting zoos, merry-go-rounds, and cheese on a stick. Whether or not these things actually appeal to you might mean little in the grander scheme of the state fair, which like a natural event we can expect annually to move through Tulsa for a few days at a time. Even if it sounds like I had a bad time — and I might’ve if I hadn’t gone with friends — I’d still recommend visiting the fair, especially for non-Tulsans. The fair can be a confirmation of your worst nightmares about the Midwest, or it might even be the embodiment of your Oklahoman dreams. Either way it’s worth checking out.