Whatever its name, this fair is a Classic
When the Dixie Classic Fair opens Friday, Oct. 4, at 421 27th St. NW in Winston-Salem, it will be 137 years old.
In 2020, it will be called something else, although the name hasn’t been decided yet. The event will continue annually in its present form and place, but its nine-day run this year will be the last time it’s known by the name it’s had since 1956.
The largest fair in the Piedmont (and second-largest in the state) began in 1882 as a grain exposition in the former town of Salem. Originally called the Wheat Fair, it was the first official such celebration in Forsyth County. In its opening year, it featured 28 wheat exhibitors, agricultural displays, speakers and a band. In 1883, it was renamed the Wheat and Cattle Fair, and in 1898, the Wheat and Cattle Fair was combined with the Piedmont Tobacco Fair to become the Winston-Salem Tobacco Fair. In 1901, it became the Forsyth County Fair. In 1951, it was held for the first time at its current site, and in 1956, it became Dixie Classic Fair for Northwest North Carolina. In 2007, for the 125th anniversary, the fair set an attendance record of 371,219 making it the 50th largest fair in North America.
This year’s fair includes such classic rides and attractions as the Claw, the Cliffhanger, Cuckoo House, the Fireball 2000, the Giant Wheel, the Haunted Mansion, the Thunderbolt, the Zipper and Zyklon, as well as new five new ones: The Space Shuttle, Sky Fighter, Helicopter, Dizzy Dragon and Circus Train.
Free grandstand entertainment includes rodeos, demolition derbies, Figure 8 racing and performers Midnight Star, Joe Diffie, Jordan Feliz with I Am They and Hannah Kerr. Other attractions include Racing Pigs, Marvelous Mutts, Stock Dogs, a barnyard petting zoo and a butterfly encounter.
Raleigh’s Mariachi Los Galleros make their Dixie Classic debut this year, performing throughout the fair. On Monday, Oct. 11 Winston-Salem’s J.O.T. (aka Grande Gato), CEO of Soul-Full Productions, will perform his hip-hop/rap/R&B renditions. Oct. 11 is also Hispanic Heritage night, hosted by Los Acoustic Guys.
“We like to think our Fair is ever-evolving and incorporating all aspects of our community, this year we really tried to look at new subtle ways to improve those items, everything from security to entertainment,” wrote Winston-Salem Fairground’s Public Assembly Facilities and Venue Manager Robert Mulhearn in an email about what is new this year. “The biggest change this year will be at the entrance gates. You can expect to see enhanced security with bag checks and walk through metal detectors. This was an initiative the City and WSPD have been working on for years, and it has finally come to fruition to enact.”
He wrote that his organization is also excited by the addition of a VIP parking lot.
“We have partnered with the app FanPark to sell $16 VIP reserved parking all 10 days of the Fair. These guaranteed spaces, a rock’s throw away from the main entrance, would be particularly handy on Saturday the 12th when Wake Forest is playing Louisville. Instead of circling the block, you can buy a space in advance and GPS straight to the lot. Easy and convenient.”
He wrote he was also proud to announce some new attractions.
“The Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks perform log rolling, wood chopping, ax throwing and put on a really great show. They even have a little dog that log rolls! And we have also added a mariachi band this year, with Mariachi Los Galleros roaming the Fairgrounds all throughout the day, playing free music for our guests.”
He said his favorite thing about the fair is the competitive entries.
“The majority are housed in the Education Building, and there are thousands! I think it’s not as known as it should be that anyone, anywhere can enter artwork, photography, collections, antiques, cakes or whatever; there are hundreds of categories, and most of them are completely free to enter. At the end of the day, all items are judged with cash prizes, and even three overall winners are chosen to go to the State Fair in Raleigh.”
A fair wouldn’t be a fair without a variety of fried foods. Mulhearn wrote in an email that his favorite fair goodies are fried Oreos, “a good ole freshly-dipped foot-long corndog, and you can’t go wrong with Peachey’s Donuts, which are like Krispy Kreme on steroids!”
“The Fried Butter is back, and of course the Krispy Kreme burger is a staple,” he continued. “The Munchie Wagon always rolls out something new; we just haven’t found out what yet.”
Mulhearn wrote in an email that everyone could have a good time at the fair because there is a little something for everyone and because the $8 price point makes it more accessible.
“You can come for as low as $8 and literally not spend anything else if you chose and still be entertained for a day. I don’t think people truly realize that once you enter the grounds, you can listen to music, visit attractions, watch entertainment, share entries and more, all without spending another dollar. A good way to save is by purchasing your tickets and ride wristbands in advance. A wristband, in particular, is $40 during the Fair, but $25 in advance!”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.