The smiles were difficult to count Friday during the first day of the 2019 Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair.
Set to run through Sept. 28 at Kay Rodgers Park, 4400 Midland Blvd., the all-ages fair kicked into high gear just after 4 p.m., when a break from the day's rain arrived and coincided with a widening stream of people entering the park. With their motors humming and colored lights shining, the fair's carnival rides turned and twisted in the air, leaving those riding grinning, throwing their arms out and shouting with pleasure.
"Oh my! I want to go again! Can we please go again?" Fort Smith resident Trevor Allen asked his friends after they wobbled away from the Tilt-A-Whirl. "I don't think I'm going to be sick. Come on! Let's do it again!"
In addition to the carnival rides, the fair will attract people from across the region via the Xtreme Bulls event, the ZuZu African Acrobats, the livestock show, horticulture exhibits, free Midway performances and several concerts, said Kelly Clark, chairman for the fair.
"The concerts are fun and it's nice that we have them as open-air events, for free with paid gate admission, in Hugh Harden Arena," he said. "We wanted to break down that barrier of having paid concerts in the past. This way, once a person or family are in the park, they can come and go at the concert. It's easier for everyone, really."
Tonight's concert will be the Roots & Boots Tour with Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye and Aaron Tippin, which will begin at 8 p.m., while the Xtreme Bulls event is set to begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Shaman's Harvest will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday and the annual Youth Talent Show will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 28.
"I think the variety is what makes the state fair so special for us," said Cindy Blackman of Sallisaw. "I'm really surprised by how affordable the fair is for families. We make it a priority to be here every single year."
Gate admission for the fair is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children ages 4-11 and free for children 3 and younger. A full schedule can be seen at ArkansasOklahomaFair.com, and information also is posted on the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair Facebook page.
"If you asked me what my favorite part of the fair is, I'd tell you it's the food and it's seeing kids' faces at the fair," Clark said. "Seeing kids happy at the fair is always a personal highlight for me."
For Paul Wells, an employee of the Fort Smith-based company, Annidale Sound, the concerts deserve top billing. He was one of several crew members preparing the concert stage Friday inside Hugh Hardin Arena.
"Yeah, it's going to be a good, I think," Wells said before testing the sound levels of the concert stage's 5-piece drum set. "It's going to be a pretty cool night."
Near the food area Friday, one young woman talked about she was able to leg press more than 300 pounds, while three men stood nearby and discussed some of their opinions about music and food. Decked out in a gray T-shirt, dark pants and bright-pink rain boots, an elementary school-aged girl trotted in large circles close to the Ferris Wheel while her father watched.
"I estimate that we'll have 8,000 to 10,000 people here at the fair for opening night," Clark said. "So we could be looking at 70,000 or even 80,000 people who will attend total.
"We've had rain recently, but the weather is cooler now than it has been, so that's good," he added. "Sure, we'll have to dodge a few showers here and there, but I think the weather, for the most part, is going to work in our favor. That will be good for the fair and for all of the people."