Fall is fair and festival season in Georgia

Whether you’re going for food, rides, entertainment or just old-fashioned family fun, fall in metro Atlanta is the time for fairs and festivals. Churches, schools, and civic groups host events that celebrate the end of summer while large fairs, such as the North Georgia State Fair and The Georgia Mountain Fair bring in big-name entertainment, animal exhibits, vendors, food, exciting rides and games.

Food is one of the main draws.

“Food has really taken off the last few years,” says Tod Miller, manager of the North Georgia State Fair, which attracts 360,000 visitors over 11 days. “People will say they want a healthy snack, but it just doesn’t work in a fair. Polish sausage, funnel cake, fried turkey legs, homemade ice cream — the whole experience.”

Credit: Missy Miller

Credit: Missy Miller

Tracy Helms, Cumming Fairgrounds director, agrees that it’s about the food. “You get lots of stuff that you don’t get anywhere else.” His pick is pickle pizza — dough, mozzarella sauce, ranch dressing and pickles. “It’s amazing but you’ve got to like pickles.”

Started in 1995, the Cumming County Fair & Festival, which attracts more than 225,00 people over its 11-day run, also educates attendees to the good ole’ days. They have a Heritage Village with an operating cotton gin mill and sorghum syrup press, as well as displays of a 1900′s doctor’s office, general store and barber shop. A Native Indian Village offers traditional performances and demonstrations.

It isn’t all about the food, though.

Credit: AMYJOPHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: AMYJOPHOTOGRAPHY

The Sweet Auburn Music Fest, which started in 2010, has a higher purpose than just fun, says Joseph Johnson, marketing manager. “What makes this event so special is that it represents a variety of demographics and it brings people together. So many things separate us but two things unite us — great food and great music. This is a party with a purpose and you’ll come out and have a nice time but you’ll learn some things about cancer awareness, education.”

Credit: Missy Miller

Credit: Missy Miller

People believe in going to the fair, says Miller, who became the North Georgia State Fair’s general manager in 1990. “I grew up with the fair since my father was a volunteer manager before it got big. I say all the time that even if we didn’t spend any money on advertising, people know that the third week in September, it’s fair time. It’s a family tradition.”

Miller said the fair used to be more agricultural in focus; now it’s more entertainment. “Half the people don’t go on any of the 40 rides,” he said. “The last couple of years people come for the food and to see what’s new and unusual.”

But there are still opportunities to learn at area fairs. “Kids are growing up not know knowing where milk and bacon come from. We’ve had to go beyond Gwinnett to find kids in 4H and livestock programs,” says Dale Thurman, manager of the Gwinnett County Fair.

Credit: Missy Miller

Credit: Missy Miller

Each fair offers something different, whether it be entertainment, food or special acts. At the North Georgia Fair, for instance, country music star Josh Turner headlines a concert series, and attendees can enjoy a bull riding show, a beautiful baby contest, pig races and David Smith “The Human Cannonball”. Lorrie Morgan anchors the Georgia Mountain Fair entertainment and other events include the Banana Derby where monkeys race on dogs. Cummings offers a Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show plus a pack of performing wolves.

“The best part is putting it all together, having perfect weather with people enjoying themselves and having a good time,” says Miller.

Georgia Mountain Fall Festival. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 7-15. $12. 1311 Music Hall Road, Hiawassee. 706-896-4191, georgiamountainfairgrounds.com.

Wire & Wood Alpharetta Songwriters Festival. 5-11 p.m. Oct. 7-9. Free. 178 S. Main St., Suite 200, Alpharetta. 678-297-2822, wireandwoodalpharetta.com.

Sweet Auburn Music Fest. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Sept. 24-25. Free. 320 Irwin St., Atlanta. 678-861-7263, sweetauburnmusicfest.com.

Atlanta Fair. Sept. 30-Nov. 6. 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 1-11 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $2-$8; ride tickets $1.25 or $25 for 25 tickets. 688 Central Ave. SW, Atlanta. atlantafair.net.

Porches and Pies Festival. Noon-5 p.m. Sept. 24. Free. Adair Park, 742 Catherine St. SW, Atlanta. 203-376-4791, porchesandpies.com.

Georgia Apple Festival. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Oct. 8, Oct. 15; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 9, Oct.16. $5 adults, under 12 free. 1729 S. Main St., Ellijay. 706-636-4500, georgiaapplefestival.org.

North Georgia State Fair. 4-11 p.m. Sept. 22, 26, 27, 28, 29; 4 p.m.-midnight Sept. 23 and 30; 10 a.m.-midnight Sept. 24 and Oct. 1; 12:30-10 p.m. Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. $10; under age 10 free. Jim R. Miller Park, 2245 Callaway Road SW, Marietta. 770-528-8989, northgeorgiastatefair.com.

Gwinnett County Fair. Sept. 15-25. 5-10 p.m., weekdays, exhibit hall; 5-11 p.m., weekdays, carnival; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., exhibit hall, Saturdays; 11 a.m.-midnight, carnival, Saturdays; 1-9 p.m., exhibit hall, Sundays; 1-10 p.m., carnival, Sundays. $10; $5 senior citizens and ages 6-11. 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville. 770-963-6522, gwinnettcountryfair.com.

Cumming Country Fair & Festival. Oct. 6-16. 4-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 12:30-9 p.m. Sunday. $10; age 10 and younger free. Cumming Fairgrounds, 235 Castleberry Road, Cumming. 770-781-3491, cummingfair.squarespace.com.

Blue Ridge Blues & BBQ Festival. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 17. $10; age 11 and younger free. 400 W. Main St., Blue Ridge. blueridgebluesandbbq.com.