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Garth Brooks Spearheads Comeback Year for California Mid-State Fair
Helm & Sons Amusements makes its debut as midway provider


By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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Increases in attendance, spending and other segments highlighted the 2017 California Mid-State Fair. It seems that new was the boost this event needed - a new CEO and a new carnival company - in addition to a comeback that the entire fair industry can take delight in - Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood - one of the rare fair gigs on his current worldwide tour.

The country superstar duo played two separate shows at the fair - selling out in a record-breaking 30 seconds. "We had a spectacular entertainment line up this year and a number of sell outs," said Michael Bradley, CEO, California Mid-State Fair. 

"Garth Brooks has been away from fairs for many years, but fairs are where he got his start, and it was great to have him back."

The California Mid-State FPhoto By air remains strongly committed to ticketed, headline entertainment and the 2017 lineup only reinforces that commitment. "This fair has a long history of entertainment and we are continuing that trajectory," said Bradley. "We are looking at every artists and different kinds of genres , and we continue to provide our constituency the stars they want to see."

Half-Century Record
For the first time in 49 years, more than 90,000 concert tickets were sold for the 2017 Bud Light Concert Series at the fair. 

Other top-selling shows were Keith Urban with Lauren Alaina, Zac Brown Band, The Chainsmokers and Kid Rock. Bradley pointed out that The Chainsmokers signified a new genre for the event. "EDM music really worked out, and they are one of the biggest groups popular with that age group. We had an incredibly large crowd. It offered an opportunity for the carnival company too, because that age group is more likely to go on the rides."

There's no secret equation to making headline entertainment profitable, and booking acts has not gotten any easier or less expensive. A sellers market still persist when it comes to fair entertainment. Bradley looks "at the entire package, including food & beverage sales and other opportunities. It's all about budget and potential revenue, but every act is looked at differently for potential successes."

Assembling a talent line up has gotten more challenging, entailing closer work with talent and booking agencies and extending the booking window from about 12 to 18 months. "We definitely start earlier than ever before."

Rejuvenating the headline entertainment was just one of the new initiatives Bradly implemented in his first "full' year as CEO. While technically his second fair - he assumed his position last May - the 2017 California Mid-State Fair was the first fair forBradley, who has 28 years experience in the fair and outdoor event industry.

"We want this fair to be the reflection of our community," said Bradley. "We always want to provide great entertainment and great food. We want to emphasize the agricultural roots of our community and our fair, and that is something all fairs should do, which is showcasing their agricultural industry." 

New Pavilion
The most visible re-commitment to the agricultural industry at the 2017 fair was the debut of the new 100,000 square-foot Paso Robles Pavilion, now home to 4H activities, junior Livestock competitors, Cattlemen & Farmers Day, and the Junior Livestock auction. 

Available for year-round use, the vast venue features exhibit space, professional lighting, Big Ass Fans, wash racks, restrooms and shower facilities. 

Livestock Auction revenue from the 2017 livestock auctions totaled $2,483,911 on 851 animals being raised, an increase of more than 25 percent compared to last year. 

The fairground design underwent an upgrade and near-make over. The main gate area was transformed with a new live entertainment stage, seating and food & beverage vendors. At the south gate, Rancho Frontier, a new exhibit, celebrated pioneers and other popular exhibits were an interactive, cow milking exhibit and a new petting zoo. 

In addition, the fair created a new food court design - "we enlarged the seating area with more tables and shaded areas, and we put that in the center of the court, and that was surrounded by food vendors." This new layout made dining easier. The fair also increased the number of food vendors, and featured stands in the gate areas as well the main food court.

 Adhering to its 2017 Bradley directed resolutions, the food & beverage at the fair was bolstered by new emphasis the "Central Coast" best of competitions whose categories now include wine, spirits, olive oil, and vinegar. "We are in one of the falsest growing areas for wine production," said Bradley

The new layout and general fomentation of a foodie atmosphere reaped rewards -- concessions saw a "large jump in 2017, with a food increase of 14 percent and a beverage increase of greater than 19 percent," according to a fair press release.

While traditional fair cuisine was a staple at the 2017 California Mid-State fair, Bradley did point out that very foodie items have emerged perhaps indicating a palette elevation among fairgoers. "We had one new vendor selling lobster products, like lobster rolls and lobster pasta, that was new, and there was another new vendor selling gourmet burgers, so those were two unique foods we haven't seen before, but I'm not sure if it's a trend," he said.

Carnival Make Over

Although not the boom experienced by the food category, spending was also up for the midway rides. In addition to a change at the helm, Bradley also oversaw a change of midway provider - the new carnival company was the regional Helm and Sons Amusements, Inc. of Colton, California.

 "I can't even begin to tell you the number of compliments we received regarding the new carnival this year," said Bradley.

According to the fair press release: "Despite having lower overall ride prices than in past years, the new carnival generated $555,500 in revenue for the Fair, a 1 percent increase from 2016." 

While 1 percent is admittedly not the growth rate a business can boast about, Corey Oakley, Vice President, Helm and Sons Amusements, Inc., said "it may not be much but it's headed in the right direction."

This year was the first in a five year contract between the California Mid-State Fair and Helm and Sons Amusement, and Oakley pointed out that the midway actually has to reestablishitself. "We personally under-estimated the amount of displeasure there was with the product of the previous carnival," he said. "There were plenty of people who told us that their experience with last year's carnival was negative, so now we are in the process of building the carnival again. Attendance-wise the fair was up and our revenue was up, and up is up."

Part of that midway restoration was ensuring that the new midway was "safe and clean, and not having workers who were the stereotypical carnival workers from years ago," he said. "We created a park-like setting where families can feel safe." 
In keeping with the design modifications on the overall fairground layout, Helm and Sons Amusement added more seating and shaded areas, but more significantly was the institution Cub Country, which was a Kiddie Land for tykes 32 to 38 inches tall. 

The midway still featured the main carnival and a Kiddie Land made up of other family rides, according to Oakley, but the new Cub Country concept was to segment an area "essentially for the little ones, an extra-small Kiddie Land. We themed the area, added food and benches, and six pieces just for them."

The Helm and Sons Amusement midway featured 35 rides, with the with the top grossing rides being a Big Wheel, Star Dancer and a Big Splash Water Flume ride. "It was the first time the fair had any sort of flume ride, and it was a big success."

The contract with the Mid-State California fair included provisions that the midway company provide some capital improvement funding, a typical clause for many fair/carnival company contractual arraignments. What was different was that the fair "spent the money prior to us coming out, and we had full power hook ups for our houses and living quarters as well as the midway, and that was tremendous. They also improved the surface of the lot, which was decomposed granite, but had a great crust on it. We got tremendous feedback from the guests about the surface of the lot."

As part of the beautification and enhanced fairgoer amenity program, Oakley also added misters to the midway, the first time this refreshing cooling apparatus was at the California Mid-State Fair. "It did get hot and people loved them."

He added, "there were so many positives about this fair. I think the per-cap spending was up. The fair made a lot of changes and the feedback we were getting was all positive."

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