TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Fast rides, bright lights and all the funnel cakes and brisket mac and cheese one can eat are on the calendar for the Texarkana region starting this week.
The Four States Fair & Rodeo midway opens Friday, March 31, and guests will be treated to a few new things for the 78th annual event that closes Sunday, April 9.
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A major change is digital ticketing.
"With the new carnival, there is a cashless midway," said Lisa Garner, executive director of the fairgrounds.
About 20 ATM-like stations will be set up throughout the midway for guests to purchase Magic Money wristbands. The bands can be loaded with credits to pay for rides and games using RFID technology.
Garner said the system should shorten wait times on the midway.
Fairgoers also will find there are new foods to please the palate.
"There are lots of new vendors joining us this year," Garner said Monday to the Gazette.
Among them: a philly cheesesteak trailer; brisket mac and cheese ("Super popular wherever it goes," Garner said); and shaved ice in a beach bucket with a shovel.
Once their plates are loaded, fairgoers also will have spruced-up places to eat.
"We have rebuilt sit-down concessions on the fairgrounds. We also tore down The Oasis and built a pavilion," Garner said.
No fair would be complete without rides, and Garner expects more of them this year than ever.
Wagner's Carnival has been the main carnival provider since about 2018. The company has teamed with a few other longtime carnival companies to form Amusement Midway Providers, which is bringing the rides to Texarkana, Garner said.
The merger translates into more fun for the Four States Fair, to the tune of at least 35 to 40 rides.
Garner said AMP has not told her much about the rides that are coming, but she is optimistic.
"I've never been disappointed," the 20-year executive director said.
The theme for this year's fair is "Mad About the Fair." The logo features a top hat reminiscent of the Hatter who had a tea party with a frantic hare in "Alice in Wonderland."
A marketer for the fair came up with the theme as a tip of the hat to the Easter bunny, since the fair is open on Easter Day.
The Four States Fair & Rodeo was held in the fall for years. And then came the COVID-19, which derailed the fair in fall 2020.
As 2021 approached, Garner and her staff tossed around the idea of holding the fair in the spring. First, they had to submit a request to the Arkansas Department of Health to hold the event because of pandemic restrictions.
Fair staff then had to coordinate with their providers.
"We reached out to the carnival owner and rodeo producer and asked them to give me everything they had for March and April," Garner said.
To her surprise, the providers were available at the same time -- the first weekend in April.
"We had three weeks to put the fair together in 2021. It was the most successful event ever," Garner said of the 76th event.
Garner said the fair staff decided to hold the 77th show in 2022 during the first part of April to see if they could replicate their success.
And they did.
"Attendance and revenue have increased each year," Garner said.
Exact figures were unavailable Monday.
Garner cited a key reason why holding the fair in the spring has been fruitful.
"We are able to get vendors that are unavailable in fall because of bigger events, like the Texas State Fair," she said.
Additionally, a spring fair and rodeo make the arena available for the student livestock show in the fall, when it can be too hot for animal showers and their livestock to be outside, Garner said.
General admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Armbands will be sold for unlimited rides.
For the Monster Mash (March 31), Demolition Derby (April 1) and rodeo (April 6-8), box seats are $25, adult general admission is $20 and child general admission is $15. Children 3 and younger will be admitted to arena events for free.
Admission to either the Monster Mash, derby or rodeo also grants admission to the midway.
"We don't charge for parking for the fair, but we do have some restrictions as far as people coming in," Garner said.
A major restriction involves age.
"If you're under 15, you have to be with parents or responsible adult," Garner said.
The fair is instituting the measure because they had a "problem with children being dropped off and left," sometimes as late as 1 a.m., the executive director said.
Fairgoers also will be scanned by a metal detector at the front gate for prohibited items like pocket knives, batons, pepper spray and anything else that could be considered a weapon.
"We're trying to keep a family environment and protect our patrons," Garner said.
The 78th Four States Fair & Rodeo will open at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
"We really don't have a set closing time. Normally, we close with the crowd," Garner said.
Tickets can be purchased online at FourStatesFair.com. They also are available at the Four States Fairgrounds box office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
78th FOUR STATES FAIR & RODEO DEAL DAYS
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays -- $35 armband
Monday -- Dollar Day, with each ride only $1
Tuesday -- Two for Tuesday. Buy one armband and get one for free.
Wednesday -- Wacky Wednesday, $25 armband
Thursday --Back the Badge. Free admission and a $25 armband for law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and military personnel who show their badge or appropriate identification.