Big Tex has come a long way—if not geographically, then certainly in terms of his cultural significance. He started his career in 1949 as a giant Santa Claus statue, beckoning holiday shoppers to the tiny town of Kerens, about an hour southeast of Dallas. Two years later, he was sold to the State Fair of Texas for a mere $750 (about $8,850 today). The iron-and-papier-mâché statue soon shed the Santa suit and long, white beard for denim jeans, boots, and a nifty Western shirt. In the seven decades since taking up his post as the fair’s master of ceremonies and mascot, the big man has transformed from a solemn, silent, and honestly kind of creepy figure to a treasured state symbol with a welcoming, folksy charm.
While keeping watch over the annual revelries through all those years, Big Tex has seen some big changes. Corny dogs used to cost about fifteen cents! And he’s undergone a few alterations himself. He’s grown six feet taller; his voice has changed at least six times; he’s had “some work” done, as they say; and memorably (unforgettably, if you’ve seen the images), he was resurrected after that devastating electrical fire in 2012. Thankfully, he also survived the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the fair’s cancellation in 2020, and bore witness to the record-breaking attendance of last year’s continued rebound. Big Tex, like the place from which he takes his name, blessedly persists.
So, as he begins his annual 24-day stand (September 29–October 22) overlooking Fair Park, we thought we’d check in to see how this year’s festivities are shaping up.
Texas Monthly: Howdy, Big Tex! How are you doing?
Big Tex: Howdy, partner! I just woke up from a mighty long nap, and I’m drinking some mighty big cups of coffee, practicing my iconic “Howdy, folks” while waiting patiently to welcome fairgoers to the most Texan place on earth for the best 24 days of the year!
TM: We understand you’re sporting some new duds this year. Is that right? How will we recognize you in the crowds?
BT: Well, thank y’all kindly for noticing my new size 96 Lucchese boots. They were carefully designed by an Irving artist named Jessica Bonilla. There were more than three hundred entries from artists around the nation with designs for my new boots, but Jessica’s paintings of beautiful Texas sunsets, flowers, and critters brought a tear to my eye. They depicted all the things I love about living in Texas. Once y’all see these beauties, you’ll get what I mean!
TM: This will be the third year that the fair has taken place since that pandemic cancellation in 2020. How’s it going?
BT: Back in 2019, our li’l ol’ fair had more than 2.51 million guests walk through our gates in 24 days. Do y’all know how many folks paid us a visit last year? More than 2.54 million, making 2022 a record-breaking year. I sure hope we can bring that many folks from all walks of life together again—maybe even more this year.
TM: The fair was first put on in 1886, but every year there seems to be something new happening. Is there anything that attendees should be particularly excited about?
BT: Boy, is there ever! This year we have not one but two circuses showing off their brand-new acts on the Fringe Stage: the Street Circus acrobats and the Soap Bubble Circus. If y’all want even more amazing feats, then don’t miss world-renowned contortionist Sara Twister, whose mind-bending archery trick shots are sure to leave your jaw on the floor. Y’all can also check out the Acrobuffos, with their interactive and epic water balloon fight—it’s the most entertaining way to cool off in the Texas heat! And if you thought I was larger-than-life, then get ready to see my new friend, the Alamosaurus. That dino is taller than me, at 57 feet. You’ll also meet nine other life-size dinosaurs down at the Lagoon in our first-ever fully bilingual exhibit. Don’t forget to say howdy to Dr. Diggie-Bones at her dig site too—she has some T. rex–rrific stories to tell.
TM: The deep-fried fare at the fair is always a spectacle. What are you looking forward to most?
BT: Every year, I get to taste the best dishes Texas has to offer and award my very favorites with the Me Choice Awards. (Get it?) This year’s winners are Deep Fried Pho, Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas, and Biscoff® Delight— and once y’all get to chow down on them, I’m sure you’ll understand why.
TM: Of course, that’s on top of the delicious Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs? Do you get to eat those for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? We’re a little jealous, to be honest. But everyone wants to know: ketchup or mustard?
BT: I sure can’t resist ’em, with one of their booths right under my nose here at Big Tex Circle! As for condiments, I’m a cowboy of the people. First I add my tried-and-true stripe of mustard, followed by a healthy stripe of ketchup. (With just a tad bit of extra mustard, of course.) You’ve never known what love really is until you’ve had a Fletcher’s Original Corny Dog.
TM: Though you are probably constrained a little by the height restrictions, which ride would be your favorite?
BT: Yep, apparently you can be too tall to ride a ride, but I can certainly hear the fun everyone is having on the Midway from all the way over in Big Tex Circle. While I do love my old friends who paint the Dallas skyline—the Texas Star Ferris wheel and the Top o’ Texas Tower—the loudest cheers come from our iconic Love Bug ride—so I guess that means it must be the most fun!
TM: Any other events we should make sure not to miss?
BT: The State Fair of Texas Rodeo is always one of my favorite attractions, especially because this year we’re hosting the Year-End Finale of the United Professional Rodeo Association as part of our free rodeo lineup. Another attraction I love is the Kroger Starlight Parade, the cherry on top of a perfect fair day. I’ve got the best viewpoint as the parade passes by, and I can’t wait to see our new float—my scaly friend Amy Dillo! On October 15, I’ll also be congratulating this year’s winners of our Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards. Juanita was a civil rights icon, and she left a huge impact on our fair and community. Today we recognize folks following in her footsteps and making Dallas a great place for all Texans to live.
TM: Among the many musical guests, whom are you most excited about?
BT: While my favorite part is watching everyone come together for all the musical acts across the grounds, I am excited to see Lonestar, CeeLo Green, Bowling for Soup, Yahritza y Su Esencia, Hairball, and 38 Special. There truly is something for everyone out here at the most Texan place on earth, and I can’t wait to hear everyone sing along.
TM: Here’s a tough one for you: What’s your very favorite thing about the State Fair of Texas?
BT: Believe it or not, my favorite thing to see year after year at the fair is all of y’all. I get to watch millions of folks pose and smile right next to me and see them have the times of their lives all across the grounds. One year I’ll see a kid try their first corny dog, and then before I know it, they’re all grown up and bringing their own kids to eat their first corny dogs! I get to watch passionate fans cheer for their teams, hear the crowds sing their favorite songs, and smell the delicious foods. It never gets old.
TM: After 24 consecutive days of long hours on your feet and all that fried food, we imagine you’ll be looking forward to a well-deserved vacation. Any plans for the offseason?
BT: After a month in the sun, I like to sit back and relax in the shade to enjoy some cooler weather and reflect on all that we have accomplished. Then it’s right back to work, since my work isn’t finished after the fair has closed its gates. As part of a nonprofit organization, I wear many cowboy hats in the offseason, working hard to give back all the money we raise at the fair. We’ve got my scholarship program, which awards more than $1 million each year, and my urban farms, which have donated more than a million servings in fresh produce to our South Dallas neighbors in need since 2018! I also help provide grants for other nonprofit organizations supporting folks in South Dallas. Oh, and I’m awfully lucky that I get to play a role in preserving and restoring all these beautiful art deco buildings I’m surrounded by in Fair Park. I have big boots to fill each year, and I just hope I make my fellow Texans proud. But until then, I’ll see y’all at the State Fair of Texas. Stop by and say howdy!
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