It’s a tossup what folks missed more about not having the Pima County Fair these past two years:
The heart-pounding, death-defying amusement rides that take you to impossibly high points and drop you fast and hard; or the funky foods of everything fried, tongue-sizzling spicy or tooth-and-tummy-achingly sweet?
Or did you miss the music, the concerts from rap and country to Tejano and pop, that are free with paid fair admission?
Whatever it is that drove you to make the trip out to the southeast side of Tucson each April for as long as you can remember, the Pima County Fair is back.
For the first time since 2019, the Pima County Fair returns this weekend for an 11-day run from Thursday, April 21, through Sunday, May 1.
“We are overjoyed. We are thrilled. I can’t even tell you,” Pima County Fair Marketing and Special Events Director Launa Rabago said. “When I talk about (the fair returning), I get emotional. We weren’t really sure we would be back. There was so much uncertainty the last two years.”
People are also reading…
Since it’s been a minute since the last county fair, we decided to bring you up to speed on what to expect, from the funky new eats to the thrill rides, animal shows, exhibits and concerts.
Since last we met in the sprawling fair food court, Flaming Hot Cheetos have graduated from guest appearance in the corn dog batter and the deep-fried turkey legs to starring roles on your sweets, your sours and your savories at many of the 37 food stalls set up at the fair.
How about a flaming hot pickle made with extra thick cut, ice cold pickle chips topped with creamy cheese sauce and crunchy Flaming Hot Cheetos? Sour, cold, creamy and tongue-lashing spicy all in a single bite.
Or maybe the Hot Cheeto Float floats your boat: Fresh lemon lime soda infused with Flaming Hot Cheetos, topped with whipped cream and more spicy Cheetos. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy and if the fair organizers’ description is to be believed, refreshing.
“That’s the funny thing about the fair. It’s once a year. It’s time to let go and indulge in what we’ve been missing,” said Rabago, whose list of things she’s planning to try includes that Hot Cheeto Float.
Some other interesting bites, many of them newcomers to the fair, that you’ll find among the stands:
Strawberry cheesecake donuts and strawberry cheesecake funnel cakes, all made fresh to order.
Cotton candy taco — sticky cotton candy is fashioned into a taco shell that’s stuffed with ice cream and topped with gummy candies and Fruity Pebbles cereal.
Watermelon taco — a thick slice of watermelon cut down the middle to create the taco shell that’s filled with ice cream and topped with Tajin seasoning.
Speaking of fruit, Frozen Pogo is serving passion fruit, orange or guava in a fresh cut pineapple. You also can get tropical Mango Lemonada with Chamoy on top.
Fry me a river: We can’t even count the number of vendors selling fried foods, from the classic french fries and foot-long corn dogs to fried butter. Yes, fried butter. Then there’s Jakes Donuts, which is tossing all things sweet into the deep-fry for a flight of desserts that includes Twinkie, cupcake, Snickers bar and Oreos.
If you’re a fan of the raw cookie dough craze, how about deep-fried cookie dough? So we admit we’re a bit confused. If you fry the cookie dough, doesn’t it become a deep-fried cookie? We are on a mission to answer that question; stay tuned.
Other options include noodle and rice bowls, barbecue, steaks, burgers, tacos, hot dogs and popcorn.
Rabago said that with the addition of several new taco stands to the food lineup, there are plans for a “Taco Tuesday” promotion. There’s also $3 happy hour deals until 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, April 25-27, that includes fry bread, mini donuts, tacos, rice bowls, nachos, mango on a stick, fried Oreos, ice cream cones and churros, mini pizza slices and mini Fruity Pebble Dole whips.
Most of the food stands are operated by Ray Cammack Shows, based out of the West Valley town of Levine. RCS operates the carnivals at nine major events including the Arizona State Fair, Coachella and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Here’s how you can tell if the ride is scary: The less tickets you pay to ride, the quieter it is.
The four- to eight-ticket rides — tickets are $1.25 apiece — are pretty much for the kiddos, from Toon Town, Balloons Up Up and the Clown Funhouse to Jumbo Flying Elephants, Monster Mash, Euroslide, Little Dipper, carousel, Silver Streak and Kite Flyer. There’s some thrill to the rides, especially if you’re a little kid, but nothing so frightening that your little one will be traumatized.
RCS saves that for the spendier nine- to 12-ticket rides: Zero Gravity where you stand strapped inside a cage and get spun around until your feet are off the ground; G-Force that whips you into the air and back again; the Crazy Coaster that sails around crazy curves and twists, dips and drops; the Endeavor, that takes you round and round and then up and sideways to a 180-degree angle; and the Ice Jet that spins you faster and faster to the soundtrack of driving EDM music, flashing black lights and glittering disco balls.
The three most expensive rides are the 16-ticket Insanity, which see-saws you back and forth several hundred feet in the air then flips in a full circle so that you are, for an instant, upside down; the 20-ticket Mach 1 that stands 120 feet and flips end over end with riders strapped into cages; or the 30-ticket — that’s $37.50 if you’re doing the math — Titan, which takes you 170 feet in the air flipping you over and over as you sit, legs dangling from the cage.
Word of advice: Hold off on Jakes Donuts deep fried sampler plate until afterwards.
General admission is free with paid fair admission. If you want a reserved seat, that’s extra.
Singer-songwriter Tai Verdes is bringing his ukulele along to open the series on Thursday, April 21. Canadian singer-songwriter Renforshort opens the show at 7:30 p.m.
Hard-rocking Anthrax plays at 8 p.m. Friday, April 22
Country singer Scotty McCreery plays an 8 p.m. show on Saturday, April 23
The Fiesta Fuego with Mexican-American rappers Baby Bash, McMagic and Frankie J starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24
1970s disco/pop legends Village People will remind us how to do the “YMCA” dance when they take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 25
A.B. Quintanilla III Kumbia AllStarz bring Latin rock and cumbia to the fair at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 26
Contemporary Christian singer Crowder performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 27
Rapper T.I., whose career goes back to the late 1990s, has an 8 p.m. show April 28
Eddie van Halen’s son Wolfgang is bringing his Mammoth WVH band here for a 7:30 p.m. show April 29
Country singer Easton Corbin takes the stage at 8 p.m. April 30
Los Tucanes de Tijuana closes out the series at 7:30 p.m. May. 1
Exhibits, animals and other attractions
Tucson area FFA students will show off their prize livestock throughout the fair in the livestock barns near the Brekke Gate
Student artwork, robotics projects and fine art will be on display in the exhibition halls
There’s a pair of car shows starting with the Stylistics Tucson, AZ Car Club Lowrider Car Show and Shine from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 24; and the Door Slammers Car Club Show and Shine from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 30.
There are daily shows for the whole family including Professor Smart’s Science show, the Kiddie Korral, Bengal tiger and sea lions shows, and Brad’s World of Reptiles shows. For a complete schedule, visit pimacountyfair.com/everyday-events
Barrio Brewing is hosting a GCPRA rodeo under the big ramada at 2 p.m. April 30.
Some helpful hints
Enter the fairgrounds off Houghton Road and Interstate 10 and follow the signs to navigate around ongoing road work.
Bring cash for parking; they don’t take plastic for the $5 fee.
Visit pimacountyfair.com for discount days including Pepsi wristband day on Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected] On Twitter @Starburch