Best Days Ever

Whether attendance, food, livestock, competitions, concerts or entertainment, the 2023 Iowa State Fair lived up to the theme, BEST DAYS EVER, during its 11-day celebration of everything Iowan.

The second-largest Fair in its 169-year-old history, attendance totaled 1,133,958, which was up more than 15,000 Fairgoers from 2022. Sunday, August 13, was a first Sunday record with 114,937 Fairgoers in attendance; the old record was 112,396 set in 2017.

Some highlights of the 2023 Fair included:

A strong Grandstand lineup entertained 112,258 Fairgoers, including the largest contemporary Christian concert in Fair history (9,294 attendees watched FOR KING + COUNTRY on August 10). Other Grandstand highlights included crowds of more than 17,000 for Eric Church (August 13) and The Chicks (August 19); comedian Jeff Dunham enjoyed some Fair food and craft beer during his show; and the bass guitar player for Maren Morris won the yodeling contest at Pioneer Hall. More than 13,000 concertgoers danced and sang through a show flip with Ludacris and Sean Kingston, not to mention having sold a whopping 1,159 tickets on the day of the show.

Fairgoers were hungry and concessionaires delivered. More than 200 food booths kept lines moving, provided Iowa Nice service, used more than 500 tons of ice and served up their signature dishes day and night. The Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese won the People’s Choice Best New Food award. A total of 8,254 people voted in the Best New Food Competition while thousands more enjoyed trying the more than 60 new foods offered at the Fair this year.

Agriculture is the foundation of the Iowa State Fair and was highlighted by eight new records in the 4-H and FFA Sale of Champions, including the all-time record for all species. The Grand Champion FFA Market Hog exhibited by Delaney Runner from Gilman sold for $150,000. Proceeds from the Sale of Champions benefit the Iowa Foundation for Agricultural Advancement scholarship fund. Other livestock highlights include 14,058 hogs entered in the 4-H swine show, 16 Supreme Six-Horse-Hitch competitors and 24 sponsored steers in the Iowa Governor’s Charity Steer Show. Plus, a 10-year-old showed the Reserve Grand Champion Biggest Boar, 16 buddies and Special Olympians participated in the Bacon Buddies Swine Show and a 71-year-old showman returned to the ring after a 56-year hiatus.

The last weekend of the Fair saw climbing temperatures and a record surge in bottled water sales by the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Throughout the 11-day Fair, a record 20,850 cases of bottled water were sold. Those bottled water sales booths, as well as the Blue Ribbon Foundation merchandise locations, were staffed by a record 668 volunteers. The Woodcarver’s Auction on the last day auctioned off the work of the chainsaw artists during the Fair. Proceeds from the auction benefited the Blue Ribbon Foundation Endowment and raised $66,609 for improvements to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

In a quest to earn a coveted Iowa State Fair blue ribbon, exhibitors entered 614 quilts in the Fabrics and Threads Department, 46 Lego creations in the Creative Arts and Crafts Department and a record 59 doll house and miniature room entries. More than 700 Fairgoers also participated in the Fair’s zany contests including mom calling, whistling, timber sports, youth spelling bee, and many others. Elle Clark from Humboldt was named champion of the 63rd Annual Bill Riley Talent Search.

The dust hasn’t settled yet, so the numbers from the 2023 Iowa State Fair are still coming in. Stay tuned for the new theme to roll out soon as the Fair prepares to welcome everyone back August 8-18, 2024.