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Where's the Two-Headed Calf? 

The Missouri State Fair offers surreal glimpses of Americana plus lots of tasty things on sticks

Regardless of what you might think about it, the state fair is a cornerstone of American summer entertainment. Apple pie, country music, blue jeans, fried-Twinkies-on-a-stick, tractor pulls -- it's all thoroughly American, and you know exactly what you're getting into if you decide to go. It's dirty, the animals stink and the heat is oppressive, but the spectacle of it is purely entertaining and if you just go with the flow, you can have a lot of fun. It's practically a rite of passage, one of those things you must do in the neverending quest to say: "Seen it all," or "Been there, done that."

As always, the Missouri State Fair will be held at the Missouri State Fair Grounds in Sedalia, Missouri (about three hours west of St. Louis at 2503 West 16th Street). And, as usual, the eleven-day-long endeavor offers too many events to mention. Competitions and contests are mainstays of state fairs, and this year arm wrestling, hula hooping, barrel racing, Oreo-stacking, chainsaw sculpting, deadlift/bench-pressing, pie-eating and horseshoe pitching are just a few of the options. Gawk all you want, that's what the Fair's there for.

Another paragon of state fairs is animal-based entertainment. In addition to standard livestock competitions (e.g., pig races and blue-ribbon-winning heifers), you can see leopards, tigers and panthers at the "Wildside Encounters" show; check out amazing feats at the "Extreme Canines Stunt Dog Show"; or bring the kids to the Exotic Animals Petting Zoo.

Arguably, state fairs do offer exotic cuisine, but food snobs will not be stoked, as pad thai or tandoori chicken will be nowhere in sight. Instead, expect fried ____ on a stick. (Insert anything into that blank.) In addition, there will undoubtedly be plenty of burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, beer, soda, pretzels, funnel cake, popcorn and barbecue. Also, no matter how tempting it may be, please don't feed your cotton candy to the yaks at the petting zoo; that's just not cool.

Carnival-type rides are ever-present at state fairs, so feel free to toss your cookies on the carousel or any other ride that uses centrifugal force for a cheap thrill -- you can always fill back up with more fried foods. If that's not your style, try winning useless stuffed animals for your sweetheart by throwing projectiles/shooting at stuff. To add to the general carnival excitement/bedlam, Buttons the Clown, Rock-It-The-Robot, and illusionist/eco-entertainer Steve Trash will be roaming the fairgrounds terrorizing children and drunks.

As for music, there will be plenty of free shows featuring up-and-coming artists on the Budweiser Stage, but Grandstand shows will cost extra. Scheduled to appear on the Grandstand: Crosby, Stills and Nash (Young's Canadian, so he doesn't understand state fairs); Hank Williams, Jr.; Clay Walker; Martina McBride; the Goo Goo Dolls; and Sugar Ray -- and these are just the big names. In keeping with typical state-fair strangeness, Lisa Marie Presley will be opening the Goo Goo Dolls show, but why they didn't go whole hog and get Michael Jackson to open for her is unclear.

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