Once primarily a showplace for regional agriculture, many of the nation's state fairs also have become entertainment extravaganzas with big-name attractions. Each of the largest of these festivals, held in late summer and early fall, draws more than 3 million visitors annually.
Despite the glitter, however, most still feature educational programs and traditional competitions in homemaking -- the pie-baking contest -- and in livestock raising. Those huge blue-ribbon sows in the hog barn never fail to impress. "We're kind of the last frontier of this kind of Americana," says Lewis Miller of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
For a look at homespun America, consider a visit to one of these big events, each attracting more than a million fair-goers annually:
State Fair of Texas, Dallas. Lots of cattle and horses on display, as you might expect in cattle country. Also, singer Robert Goulet stars in a revival of "South Pacific," the Broadway musical; the University of Texas meets the University of Oklahoma in college football; and auto fans are treated to a comprehensive new car show. Oct. 9 to 25.
Ohio State Fair, Columbus. You will have to hurry to get to this one, which ends today, but think about it for next year. It's always one of the largest fairs in the country. Annual attractions are the lumberjack show, a barnyard petting zoo for youngsters and the big pumpkin contest. Aug. 7 to 23.
New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque. The rodeo with top-class competitors is the big attraction here. The American Southwest is highlighted in the Indian and Hispanic villages, each offering traditional dances, crafts and foods. Sept. 11 to 27.
Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul: Not surprisingly, the dairy industry puts on a big display in the exhibit area. Nightly festivities include an overhead high-wire act and a parade of marching bands. Willie Nelson is the show headliner one night. Aug. 27 to Sept. 7.
Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis: Take your choice in the grandstand -- the country-music tunes of Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys, "Hulkamania" wrestling or the big demolition derby. On the serious side, farmers who have scored a success tell their story in the Ag-Innovators Display. Aug. 19 to 30