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State Fair of Virginia returns starting this Friday with racing pigs, a magic show, trapeze artists, a rodeo and C+C Music Factory
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State Fair of Virginia returns starting this Friday with racing pigs, a magic show, trapeze artists, a rodeo and C+C Music Factory

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Marlene Jolliffe, executive director of the State Fair of Virginia, speaks about preparing for opening day at The Meadow Event Park on Friday, September 24. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

Last year, Pam Rosaire, owner of the racing pigs who compete at the State Fair of Virginia, watched her business grind to a halt as the pandemic raged and caused fairs and festivals to shut down across the country.

“We worked in February for 10 days in 2020. Then we didn’t work again until the same fair the following year. It was an entire year of zero work and zero income,” Rosaire said. Her racing pigs show is called Rosaire’s Royal Racers. “My family has been in the entertaining business for nine generations. This is all I’ve ever done.”

Like many entertainers, Rosaire and her family struggled financially during the pandemic. She typically works 10 months out of the year with the racing pigs, but during the pandemic she took up odd jobs and her husband returned to truck driving just to make ends meet.

“It was really difficult. We didn’t know when we would be able to entertain again,” Rosaire, who lives in Florida, said.

But this year, Rosaire and her fleet of 15 racing pigs will be returning to the State Fair of Virginia, along with the food vendors, farmers, growers, crafters and entertainers who had to take a year off for the pandemic.

“Visiting the State Fair is a long-standing tradition for so many families,” said Marlene Jolliffe, the fair’s executive director, in a statement. “We’re excited to return after last year’s hiatus, and offer the classic State Fair experience that Virginians know and love.”

Masks are not required at the fair, which is primarily outdoors. Roughly 250,000 visitors typically turn out for the 10-day fair, although organizers expect a lower turnout this year due to COVID-19.

“It’s been great getting out on the road again,” Rosaire said. She’s been on the road steadily since the spring with her troop of racing pigs. “People are coming out in droves and ready to have a good time.” As for her racing pigs, she said, “They’re ready to go hog wild.”

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The State Fair of Virginia was canceled last year for the first time since World War II. Before that, it was canceled in 1918 due to the Spanish flu.

Last year, a Fair Food Weekend was held at The Meadow Event Park, where about 15,000 people came out to get a taste of the fair. But that was it.

This year, the full fair experience will be back with the Ferris wheel, midway rides, funnel cakes, giant watermelons, racing pigs and rodeo, just to name a few. All the food vendors will be back in action with elephant ears, turkey legs, barbecue, soft pretzels, tater tots, mac ‘n’ cheese and all the deep-fried goodies you can put on a stick.

Music aims to be a major attraction this year.

C+C Music Factory, hit-makers from the ’90s known for its songs “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and “Things That Make You Go Hmmm,” kick off the fair on Friday.

A Statler Brothers tribute band, American Pride, will take the stage on Saturday with country and gospel music, followed by Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys performing bluegrass and country on Sunday.

On Monday, Elvis fans can take in a Tribute to The King, featuring Taylor Rodrigues. And next Saturday, the Baha Men will perform their early 2000s classic “Who Let the Dogs Out.” All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. and are included with fair admission.

“We’re excited to have an outstanding lineup of musicians and entertainers,” Jolliffe said. “The main stage will be located to take advantage of the large grassy hillside, providing ample seating and a spread-out footprint.”

Master chainsaw carver Ben Risney will return to this year’s fair, as well as The Revenge Roughstock Rodeo on Monday and Tuesday with professional bull riding, bronc riding and barrel racing at 7 p.m.

New attractions at the fair include Scott’s Crazy Comedy Magic Show, with magician Dale Scott performing a mix of magic, illusions and comedy. The Flying Cortes Trapeze Show will entertain with gravity-defying aerial stunts.

And what would the fair be without giant pumpkins and watermelons? On Saturday, the giant pumpkin and watermelon weigh-ins will take place at noon in the Blue Ribbon Tent.

Young MacDonald’s Farm will also be back, of course, with sliding ducks, hatching chicks, pigs, roosters, and a newer, bigger goat mountain. There will also be a dairy calf birth in the SouthLand Dairy Farmer Center.

The creative arts competition is also seeing some impressive entries this year.

“I think people had some extra time on their hands during the pandemic and put them to good use,” said Pam Wiley, a spokesperson for the fair.

More than 120 quilts have been submitted and will be hanging from the exhibition hall ceiling.

“The quilts are just phenomenal,” said Cheryl English, superintendent of the creative arts competitions. Most of the quilts are made by one person with a longarm sewing machine.

English said that she’s also seen beautiful crochet and knit pieces, a jacket made out of quilt, a chair made by a blacksmith, kids’ Lego sculptures and much more.

“People love to look at the arts and crafts, especially to see the things made in America and Virginia. It’s very uplifting,” English said. “It feels so great to be back at the fair.”

ccurran@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6151

Twitter: @collcurran

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Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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