The North Georgia State Fair premiered in 1921 when many attendees arrived on horseback and most of Cobb County lacked electricity and indoor plumbing.
It’s been a tradition for Cobb families ever since.
One such family is Tod Miller’s. In his youth, Tod worked as a parking attendant for the fair, where his father, Jim, was fair manager. Today, Tod serves as the current fair manager, and the fairgrounds bear his father’s name: Jim R. Miller Park.
“I love seeing people continuing traditions. It’s hard to beat that feeling,” Miller said. “We’re proud that we’re the largest event in Cobb. We’re proud to be many people’s family tradition.”
Dark Days and Bright Horizons
Sidelining a stalwart like the fair is no small feat. World War II made the fair “go dark” for a few years, but, in Miller’s 31 years as manager, he has only seen the fair close once – last year when the COVID 19 pandemic hit, and the county used the grounds as both a COVID testing and vaccination site.
Miller said the fair worked to bring joy – even in the pandemic – by providing socially distanced food trucks on site. And while no one wants a repeat of 2021, Fair Assistant Manager Bill Watson said the fair has adopted some pandemic closure practices that will continue this year. Examples include the presence of copious amounts of hand sanitizer, and the addition of Northside Hospital – a first-time sponsor – as the official first aid provider of the fair.
Though the fair officially began in 1895, due to the changing of ownership, venue, wars and other historic aberrations, some years of the fair were lost to time. The goal is to bring back the modern fair bigger and better than ever for its 89th annual return to Cobb after its pandemic-forced hiatus last year.
Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Miller and Watson believe this year’s fair, which runs 11 days, Sept. 23 – Oct. 3, 2021, will shatter attendance records, which already clock at an impressive 300,000 attendees each year.
“The last five or six fairs have set attendance records,” Miller said.
“More people attend fairs than all spring events combined, and what we’re seeing this year is that people are coming out and shattering attendance records,” Watson added.
To bring in those record crowds, Miller and Watson have procured some new acts that, they say, are guaranteed to wow both newcomers and seasoned fair veterans.
And Watson should know. Like Miller, he has more than his “fair” share of fair bonafides.
Watson “developed a love for the fair” while working there as a parking attendant like Miller in his youth. In 1995 he accepted a management role, and now gets ideas for new acts at the International Association of Fairs Expo, as well as from traveling to attend other fairs.
Those travels helped snag this year’s new line-up, which includes:
- The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show: Old-fashioned, family entertainment in the form of quality lumberjack competitors known throughout the world.
- Jurassic Kingdom: Patrons experience life-like dinosaurs in action, and can touch and interact with them throughout the show. Guests can meet Terry the Pterodactyl, Jack the baby Brontosaurus and more.
- The Kachunga & the Alligator Show: Guests can step foot into the watery domain of the alligator with Kachunga, a real American Bushman. From a safe distance, attendees will watch as Kachunga apprehends an alligator with his bare hands.
- ARCY, Live Event Murals: Known for his paint-splashed style of street art, ARCY has been honing his skills for over a decade, spray painting 8’x12’ live event walls in many of the country’s largest cities. ARCY has created hundreds of live murals and permanent large scale works throughout North America, Australia and Europe. His clients include The Smithsonian Institute, Major League Baseball, America’s National Parks Service and he is currently developing a collaborative body of work for The Walt Disney Company as a Disney Fine Artist.
- Magic Man TJ Hill: Combining comedy and magic, Magic Man TJ Hill puts on a show with music, audience participation, comedy and incredible magic. The Magic Man will be performing Sept. 24-30.
- Robo-Cars: This “real life” Transformer will cruise, dance and transform daily.
- TreeMan and Cowboy Woody: At over 12’ tall, the Walking TreeMan can be seen from 150 yards away. And keep your eyes peeled for Woody from “Toy Story”. He’s 10 feet tall and will be performing lasso tricks.
- Robinson’s Racing Pigs & Paddling Porkers: Audiences can cheer on their favorite porcine celebrities like Britney Spareribs and Lindsay Slowham as they race for the coveted Oreo prize.
Watson recommends fair attendees check out all of the free “ground acts,” and encourages eagle-eyed patrons to look for Mickey Mouse in ARCY’s paintings.
“This guy’s work is phenomenal,” Watson said. “He does a lot of work for Disney, so he always hides a little Mickey Mouse in there. And he can do anything. If you can dream it up, he can paint it.”
We know, we know. You’re raring to go, and we’ve barely even mentioned the 40 amusement rides and games courtesy of the Great James H. Drew Exposition.
Favorites like the Ferris Wheel, the Georgia Mountain Lift and the Wildcat Coaster will be returning, of course. But before you fasten your safety harness, Miller and Watson want to remind you that the North Georgia Fair fare is second to none.
Familiar Favorites: Welcoming Back an Old Friend
From its roots as an agricultural fair, the North Georgia State Fair, like the county around it, has grown. Today’s fair still includes agriculture staples like the petting zoo and flower show, but also boasts rides, entertainment acts and concerts with internationally renowned acts.
“The fair reflects the diverse interests of the county,” Miller said. “We’ve won the Best Festival and Best of Cobb Awards in recent years, and now we’re back and bigger than ever.”
“Bigger than ever” is an exciting claim for the fair, which, over the years has drawn superstars like Charlie Daniels (13 times), Loretta Lynn, Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton. Miller said this year’s lineup will likely see the 7,500 seat arena filled to capacity on performance nights.
This year’s concert lineup:
- Friday, September 24: We Are Messengers
- Saturday, September 25: Chris Lane
- Wednesday, September 29: Gabby Barrett
- Thursday, September 30: Jon Langston
- Friday, October 1: Chase Rice
- Saturday, October 2: Mark Wills
“Gabby (Barrett) is gonna be huge,” Miller said. “And Mark Wills? We started booking Mark Wills when he was a local guy. Now he’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
And when fair goers aren’t singing and clapping along to the evening’s musical talent, they can enjoy returning favorites including:
- The Eudora Farms Exotic Petting Zoo: an interactive, hands-on exotic animal petting zoo including 20 to 25 rare and exotic animals from around the world. See a wallaby, a zebra, a lemur and have a chance to ride a camel.
- The Master of the Chainsaw: Brian Ruth will be back to transform raw logs into true works of art.
- The North Georgia Animals Petting Barn: a fun, educational experience where children and adults can befriend chickens, goats, cows, rabbits and llamas. There are pony rides too! The Human Cannonball: turn your eyes to the skies to see David “The Bullet” Smith, who will be shot out of a cannon multiple times each day, soaring 300 ft. above the midway.
- Sandscapes: marvel as the Sandscapes sculptors transform 50 tons of sand into a special-themed works of art throughout the run of the fair.
Watson said the return of old favorites – and the addition of new ones, is a key to the fair’s decades of success in Cobb.
“We’re staying true to old heritage with petting zoo, and other traditions like the local photography and art exhibits,” Watson said. “There are so many layers to it. You’ve got the rides, you’ve got the vocal entertainment, you’ve got the ground shows. You can spend 10-11 days here easy and not see everything. And we’re expecting record turnout this year.”
In keeping with tradition, all concerts and shows are free with admission to the fair.
Come for the Shows, Stay for the Food
Approximately 50 percent of fair attendees don’t ride rides, “but almost 100% come to eat,” according to Miller.
And whether it’s staples like cotton candy and funnel cakes or something a bit more… “exotic,” for fair foodies, this year’s offerings will not disappoint.
To keep menus daring and fresh, Miller offers $500 cash prizes for vendors with the Best Taste and Most Creative menus. The result, Watson said, is food “on a whole ‘nother level!”
“We’ve even had deep friend Kool Aid on a stick,” Watson said. “This is the South. If you can fry it, you’re gonna do it!”
Miller recommends everyone try at least one of the “on a stick” culinary offerings, but Watson recommends the old favorites like strawberry shortcake and elephant ears. Still, if you offer Watson a jalapeno corndog on a stick, he won’t say “no.”
“They’re hand-dipped jalapeno corn dogs,” Watson said. “They’re delicious!”
Special Days and Discounts
As in years past, the fair will host its special days, including Student Days, College Nights, the MUST Ministries canned goods drive and Senior Citizen’s Day/Hero’s Day, where selected groups receive free admission. This year, in recognition of the fight against COVID-19, healthcare workers have been added to the list of military, police, firefighters and first responders to be honored on Hero’s Day, Sept. 24.
Miller said specialty days, which run throughout the fair, ensures the fair remains a cost-friendly activity for all Cobb families.
“We give everybody the opportunity to come to the fair, no matter what your socioeconomic situation is,” Miller said. “We want to be a good community partner, and we want everyone to have the opportunity to come to the fair and enjoy themselves.”
Watson said he wants the fair to be accessible to all Cobb families, so that they, too, might make the North Georgia State Fair a family tradition, as it is in the Miller and Watson households.
“Our kids are growing up with the fair,” Watson said. “It’s come full circle.”
Plan Your Day
The North Georgia State Fair runs Sept. 23 – Oct. 3, 2021, at Jim R. Miller Park, 2245 Callaway Road, Marietta, GA 30008.
General admission is $10; children aged 10 and under are free.
Ride tickets are $1.25 a piece, with discounts offered for bulk ticket purchases.
Parking is $5.
Discount tickets can be purchased online, in advance, or at any Metro Atlanta O’Reilly Auto Parts store.
For more information, visit NorthGeorgiaStateFair.com