What adds up to a Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo experience? Two parts carnival rides, one part live music, two parts corn dogs, funnel cakes and soft drink? One part rodeo, two parts livestock exhibits? One part of watching kids on sensory overload? Crowd-watching and ride barkers on a cool Texas night?
However you do the math, the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo hopes a visit adds up to more than the sum of its multiple parts. To encourage families — and perhaps form early experiences that will lead to years of return — the fair is raising the age that kids get in free, from 3 years to 8.
To streamline the ticket-buying process, there’s online ticket buying at hotfair.com and a return of last year’s Magic Money, a wristband with a reloadable RFID chip that pays for carnival rides and midway food and drink, expanded this year to include a card for those averse to wristbands and sales through vending machines.
Last year’s fair drew approximately 193,000 people during its run and a lot of the parts that attracted those crowds are back. The All American ProRodeo Finals will bring nightly competition among 30 top riders and ropers in seven rodeo events at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday through Oct. 13. Special rodeo events include the Stick Horse and Pony Grand Entry for kids at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, a Tough Enough To Wear Pink breast cancer awareness night 7 p.m. Oct. 11 and a Special Ranch Rodeo at 2 p.m. Oct. 13.
Fair organizers expect this year’s livestock exhibits will be strong, following last year’s record numbers of more than 3,000 young participants and nearly 6,000 entries.
Those visiting the Kids Zone will find some new additions. An Extreme Canines Stunt Dog show, as seen on “America’s Got Talent,” will feature dogs hurdling obstacles, racing and catching flying discs in flight. There’s also are Transformers-inspired RoboCars, where mechanical cars unfold to walk around the grounds.
Back are Kids Zone favorites of mutton-busting (kids riding sheep), pig races, a petting zoo and agricultural exhibits.
One fair event returns after a short absence. The “CenTex Has Talent” show will give a platform for local performers from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday on the Wells Fargo Hometown Stage, joining daily local music, dance and more performances on that stage.
Texas country performers continue to draw the biggest audiences, even when they’ve performed in Waco outside of the fair, and this year’s Bud Light Music Zone lineup has plenty of familiar faces. Perennial Waco favorite Kevin Fowler will open the fair on Friday night with popular country-rockers Whiskey Myers closing on Oct. 13.
Koe Wetzel, one of the hottest Texas country bands, plays Saturday night with Mike Ryan and Flatland Cavalry rounding out the Texas lineup on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
Dylan Scott, known for the 2017 hit “My Girl,” is the one non-Texas headliner and brings his first headlining tour to the fair on Oct. 12. To encourage weeknight turnout for Texas country fans, the fair is offering a three-night Music Pass, which includes admission Wednesday through Oct. 12.
Sneak-A-Peek Night, the preview of the fair’s midway rides, gives fans an advance taste of the fair from 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday, for $5 gate admission and $2 per ride or a $35 carnival armband.
Among the opening weekend activities are wiener dog races at 1 p.m. Saturday; free pancake breakfast at 9:30 a.m. Sunday; a Spelling Bee for fourth- through sixth-grade contestants at 2 p.m. Sunday; a one-mile or 5K running with the bulls Fun Run at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, complete with a coliseum floor finish past penned bulls; and the rodeo’s Stick Horse and Pony Grand Entry at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Special emphases with admission discounts or gifts for the few first hundred fairgoers include Military Appreciation Day, Friday; City of Waco Day, Saturday; Faith and Family Day, Sunday; School Coupon Days, Monday and Oct. 11; Ride ’Em Cowboy Day (with free carnival armbands), Tuesday; Senior Citizens Day, Wednesday; and College Night, Oct. 11.