By Payton Carns

The Kentucky State Fair returned to Louisville two weekends ago, wrapping up its festivities this past Sunday. Running from August 17th to the 27th, the fair opened just as a boiling heat wave made its way across the Central United States — the hottest in recent years.

High temperatures, however, did not stop the bustling crowds from enjoying both new and returning attractions the fair has to offer. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, attendees of all ages flocked to the various indoor and outdoor areas on the fairgrounds.

From bizarre foods and live music to carnival rides and farm animals, here is a recap of an action-packed afternoon at the fair. 

The Outdoors — rides, food, and entertainment

Those brave enough to endure the heat had many options for activities. Before I dove into the center of it, though, I had to take a trip to the Fairgrounds Information Booth for a more detailed explanation of what to do and where things were.

Fortunately, recently retired educator Carolyn Jessie was happy to help attendees find their way. Provided with a Kentucky State Fair pin and an official map of the fairgrounds, attendees are equipped with the resources to have a successful fair experience.

This is Jessie’s first time working at the state fair since she retired. She wanted to experience something different to take up some of her new free time.

“I have very much enjoyed [the job],” Jessie said. “Everyone is usually in a really good mood when they come up to ask if I can give them some information about something they don’t know, and I get to make them even happier.”

A lollipop-shaped carnival ride that takes riders up and around its axis. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

Map in hand, I easily tracked down many locations on the grounds, gazing at the carnival contraptions along the way. I did not ride them myself — motion sickness and exclusively spinny rides do not mix. However, there were plenty of daring young children and nervous parents to form sizable lines for each attraction, including iconic fair staples like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Gravitron, and Ferris wheel.

Klayton Grimes’ young family, for example, absorbed everything they could on the fairgrounds. As a Louisville native, Grimes grew up going to the fair and wanted to pass that tradition on to his own children.

“I have seen the fair evolve over the years,” Grimes said. “I see things differently now since I was a little kid, and have appreciated watching them master the science behind it.”


18-foot Freddy Farm Bureau makes his annual appearance at the fair, exclaiming “get my good side” as the camera snapped. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

As for food, it did not disappoint. Around every corner, multiple food vendors sold iconic fair food — in other words, anything fried or doughy. Even so, some vendors provided healthier options, such as Newton’s Farm to Table Grille or Kentucky Proud corn on the cob.

I, for one, appreciated the ice cream options and grabbed a chocolate cone just in time for a performance in the Bluegrass, Bourbon, and Brews tent. Local band Whiskey Bent Valley Boys took the stage to cover classic songs such as “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes, a perfect end to a full afternoon at the fair.

Local Band Whiskey Bent Valley Boys performs “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

The Indoors — livestock, border collies, and arts & crafts

My first stop inside was the livestock room — I smelled it before I saw it. The unmistakable stench of cow and horse manure alerted me to where I was about to go, but I still wasn’t prepared for the size of the animals or the quantity of them.

Kentuckians from all over the state are encouraged to enter their livestock for various competitions that take place throughout the 10 days the fair is open, including open categories like “Boers and Goats,” “Dairy Cattle”, and “Mules and Jacks”. 

There was an apparent familial aspect to these competitors; older men were brushing their animals’ manes as 10-year-old girls were seen cleaning their hooves. The dedication was evident; mattresses and foldout chairs were scattered around the room for the late-night caretakers.

After I made my way through multiple rows of cows, horses, goats, and sheep, I was suddenly face-to-face with an excited, big-eyed border collie. He sat inside a fenced-in pen that looked like it could be used for dog shows; my thinking, as it turns out, wasn’t all that far off.

Miller’s Border Collies has been attending the Kentucky State Fair for almost 60 years. The dogs showcase their talent by herding ducks through various obstacles. Harold Miller initially started raising and breeding border collies to help the farmers in the Nelson County area, but from there it blossomed into a family business. Allen Miller, Harold’s son, is the current ringleader of this business. 

On this particular day Janet Miller-Martin, sister of Allen, accompanied three border collies named Ember, Jill, and Tip as they awaited their showtime. 

Tip, a dog representing Miller’s Border Collies, awaits his show time at the fair. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

“[The border collies] instinct is to herd sheep and cattle,” Miller-Martin said. “But it would be hard to work sheep in this tiny ring, so we herd ducks.”

The object of the show is to give a demonstration of how herding works, and why the dogs have that instinct. Allen begins with one dog and ends the show with three, demonstrating how they herd the ducks through different obstacles back to their owners. 

The Millers hope to show people the importance of border collies for farmwork.

“[Allen] didn’t really take an interest in the border collies until he was 30,” Miller-Martin detailed, saying that “he realized he couldn’t do his farmwork without a dog to help.”

After a border collie serotonin boost, I wandered into the many rooms in the Expo Center that displayed arts and crafts that people submitted to the fair competitions. A stately display of preserves lined my left; framed quilts padded my right; and as I walked farther, the rooms displayed art of all different mediums submitted by all ages.

A colorful display of preserves submitted by Kentuckians. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal


Uniquely decorated sunglasses are displayed as a 1st place winner in the “hobbies” competition. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal


A winning quilt framed and displayed in the Expo Center. Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

The quantity of submission opportunities amounted to an extensive range of art, from something as common as painting to as obscure as leathercraft. 

The 2023 Kentucky State Fair provided attendees with a wide array of activities, displays, and food to experience. A few short afternoon hours is not nearly enough time to absorb everything the fair has to offer — but as a Kentucky native, I feel connected to my home state now more than ever.

File Photos // Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal