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Florida State Fair packs in plenty of food, thrills and music

Twelve days of wild rides, livestock exhibits, entertainment and fried foods on a stick are heading our way. The Florida State Fair opens its gates Thursday. This year's event, dubbed "Discover the Fun," runs through Feb. 18. On opening day — Heroes Day — active, reserved and retired military, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders get in free with ID. Opening day is sponsored by The Tampa Tribune. This year, the 109th State Fair will feature new nausea-inducing rides, over-the-top culinary concoctions, and will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Ponce De Leon's arrival in Florida.
For the first time, organizers are offering a concert series with nationally known performers, including LeAnn Rimes; Starship featuring Mickey Thomas; the Bellamy Brothers; Jim Ed Brown; Helen Cornelius; and the Gatlin Brothers taking the stage in Entertainment Hall. All of the shows are separate ticketed events and do not include fair admission. "We're never going to be the (Florida) Strawberry Festival, but we do want to bring in entertainment for folks that enjoy that kind of stuff," said Chuck Pesano, Florida State Fair Authority's executive director. "If we get good responses from this we will continue to do it." That's not all that's fresh at the fair. There's also a traveling exhibit celebrating "Florida Agriculture, 500 Years in the Making," hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and "Discovery Center," an exhibit curated by Tampa Bay History Center. The Florida Cattleman's Association will house its traveling exhibit "Five Centuries of Tradition" at the fair. Along with the Elvis Presley impersonator, strolling entertainers and the Spanish Lyric Theater, fairgoers should also be on the lookout for the new Broadway-style musical "Zoom'N," which brings Florida's history to life with music and dance. Thrill-seekers will find more than 70 rides on the midway, along with four new thrillers: Air Race is an airplane ride that flies riders around a center control tower; Big Bamboo Fun House, a two story fun house with a suspension bridge, rolling barrels, moving walkways and more; the Fun Factory, a whirling ride that flings and rotates you every which way; and the Sky Flyer, a chair ride that raises riders up and swings them around providing amazing views. If you're more of a foodie, expect wacky artery-clogging treats that are battered, fried and often impaled on a stick such as deep-fried butter. Some new calorie-laden offerings will vie for fairgoers' taste buds, including grilled meatloaf sundaes, red velvet funnel cakes and the "Red Neck Burger," a beef patty topped with cheese, bacon, fried bologna, baked beans and potato sticks. Surely, your mouth is watering. And let's not forget the livestock. Along with racing pigs, miniature donkeys and a petting zoo, more than 7,000 animals — goats, pigs, cows, steers, rabbits, chickens and more — will ham it up daily to win top prize in almost every livestock class imaginable. If you're lucky, you may even see a live birth in the "Mooternity Ward."

The Florida State Fair

When: 10 a.m. daily Thursday through Feb. 18

Where: Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N., Tampa

Tickets: $5 to $12, children 5 and younger admitted free; tickets can be purchased at floridastatefair.com, Walgreens stores and the fairgrounds box office

More info: For a full list of fair events go to floridastatefair.com

ccabrera@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7656

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