86th Annual Ozark Empire Fair

Dated: July 26 2022

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86th Annual Ozark Empire Fair

Photo provided courtesy of Springfield CVB

If you’ve been doing something for 86 years, you must be doing it right. Just like clockwork, towers of neon, pulsating lights spout from the scorching July asphalt on Springfield’s north side. The summer sky gets brighter. The laughter gets louder. People who typically avoid crowds long to get lost in one when the Ozark Empire Fair rolls around. 

The long-running, annual ritual has a way of bringing people together from all walks of life, who live to wander the midway in search of nausea-inducing thrill rides and stretch their culinary horizons with funky food on a stick. The Fair looks vastly different now than when it started in the early 1900s as a traveling craft show. What was originally known as the Ozark Empire District Free Fair found a permanent home adjacent to the Dickerson Park Zoo in 1937 and has grown ever since. Modest displays of crafts and handiwork originally set up near Pickwick and Grand Streets eventually gave way to row upon row of vaudeville acts, games, livestock shows, and thrill rides that draw thousands to the fairgrounds on the hottest summer days.

It's not free anymore, but it is possible to achieve maximum enjoyment for a minimal price if you look closely at the schedule. Here are some tips for getting the biggest bang for your buck.

Be a Fair ‘Insider’

Not a fan of the heat? No problem. Head inside the Expo Center and prepare to be entertained for hours on end. Enjoy the photography exhibit, learn about antiques, or watch wood turners craft a masterpiece. Visitors can learn about gardening, floral design, flower cutting and arrangement, and food preservation. And speaking of food, old-school family recipes meet modern convenience with Mason Jar recipes, a wing contest, and even a Hammons Black Walnuts cooking contest. From cookies to cupcakes, pies to casseroles, come for the judging and leave with new inspiration. There’s even a gift basket class and contest this year… and it’s all indoors! How COOL is that?

Animal Instincts

Photo provided courtesy of Ozark Empire Fair

Livestock exhibits are always a highlight at the Ozark Empire Fair, and 2022 is on track to bring plenty of fun and excitement. In junior competition, shows are open to anyone ages 8-21. Categories include beef cattle, dairy goats, and mini-donkeys, and contestants will vie for prize money and scholarship opportunities. Other shows include draft horses, various poultry, rabbits, sheep, swine, and stock dogs. Exhibits happen all week, and the schedule can be found HERE.

Thrills and Chills

Photo provided courtesy of Ozark Empire Fair

Even the most skittish fairgoer contemplates the view from several stories up.  A leisurely turn of the ferris wheel is a great way to enjoy the summer breeze and get a birds-eye view of the sights and sounds below. Family rides typically include the Super Slide, the Wacky Worm kiddie coaster, the ever-popular Tilt-a-Whirl, a Merry Go Round, and Lolly Pop Swings. The more daring can opt for Zero Gravity, the Centrifuge, the Sizzler, and Cliffhanger, all of which will challenge even the most experienced rider’s equilibrium. Kiddie Land features the Choo Choo Charlie train, the Mini-Dino, the Samba Balloon, and other kid-friendly rides. The technicolor towers mentioned earlier? Those fall into the category of Spectacular Rides and include the Megadrop multi-story freefall, and the side-swaying Rainbow that eventually cycles riders over the top, far above the screaming crowd.  No, wait… that’s you doing the screaming.

Food for Thought

No visit to the Ozark Empire Fair is complete without a taste of summer, and you can most certainly find it here. Back in the day, the Fair was about the only place one could find 417-land favorite Pineapple Whip. You’ll still find Lulu shaking her grass skirt along the midway, but you might consider indulging in a few savory selections before dessert. From tender BBQ to foot-long corn dogs, Maui Waui Smoothies to hand-dipped scoops of Highland Dairy Ice Cream, if you leave hungry it’s your own darn fault. Grab a Funnel Cake, or grab a friend and a cold beer or cocktail in select locations… it’s the time of year to indulge and enjoy the dwindling days of summer. And don’t forget, many of the food offerings also offer a climate-controlled respite from the heat. These include BootDaddy Saloon, the Hancock Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters, Fazoli’s, Motorway Cafe, Hiland Dairy, and Stockyard Smokehouse. It all sounds delish to us!   

The KY3 Grandstand

Local NBC affiliate KY3 sponsors the Ozark Empire Fair Grandstand every year, and the entertainment just keeps getting better. On July 28th visitors can enjoy Lou Gramm, the original voice of Foreigner. Vanilla Ice and the Ying Yang Twins will entertain on the 29th, TobyMac will take the stage on the 31st, and Read Southall Band with Noah Guthrie will rock the Grandstand on August 2nd. Besides musical acts, fairgoers can experience a truck and tractor pull, freestyle bullfighting, auto racing, and a monster truck show.  For times and tickets, click HERE.

Free at Last!

Photo provided courtesy of Ozark Empire Fair

Just walking the midway will leave you entertained, trust us. There’s a free—yes, FREE—parade daily that winds its way through the grounds. On any given evening, you might catch a local marching band along with other roving acts that are sure to delight. Other free entertainment includes one-man-band Bandaloni, Scott’s World of Magic Show, Prehistoric Dinosaur Adventures complete with a daily Dino Dig Pit and plenty of photo ops, Hedrick’s Exotic Petting Zoo (don’t miss the camel rides!), Pig Races, and even a medieval Knights of Valor show that features weaponry, birds of prey, and a watermelon launch. Keep a close eye on the schedule for more money savers, like $3 day on Monday, August 1st where admission, parking, rides, and some food items are only $3 each. Tuesday, August 2nd is Service Day and all first responders get in free. Military ID holders will walk through the gate free of charge on Wednesday, August 3rd, and college students win the day on August 4th. Find the complete list of Days to Save HERE.

Ticket Prices, Admission, and Parking Info

So check the schedule, grab your friends and family, stay hydrated, and go be a kid again! One pro tip, save the bulk of your fair food indulgences for after the thrill rides. You can thank us later. 😉

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