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Colusa County 2015: Magic in the Fair

7/24/2015

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of

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"There's magic in the fair" was not only the motto of Colusa County's 76th annual extravaganza, but also the cornerstone of its success.  CEO Jonathan Howard explained, "That magical theme was central to everything we designed this year."

Bunnies Galore and More
Howard continued, "We carved about 30 magic hats out of wood and set them up in schools and around the community.  Kids got to decorate them and bring them back to the fair.  We also hid about 500 squishy little bunnies around the fairgrounds, and sent folks on a magic bunny hunt."

Of course, you can't expect maximum magic without some bona fide magicians.  Colusa County was fortunate enough to have two of the best this year:  Rafael and Katia.  According to Photo By their website, this dynamic duo has appeared (and no doubt disappeared) before celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Leonardo DiCaprio and Shaquille O'Neal.

When Cinderella becomes "Cinderfella," that too is magic.  The Mr. Cinderfella Pageant was a real hit at this year's fair.  Howard (who himself participated) explained, "Basically the local high school boys are invited to come and enter and win money for their schools.  They compete just like in a beauty pageant, minus the swimwear.  People love to watch the kids and cheer on the schools."

Howard said that Keith Bear's Native American program was also "extremely popular."  Bear's website explains that he "weaves a magic of story, song, history and personal reflection that enchants audiences of all ages."  His roots are with the Mandan-Hitatsa tribes from the Missouri River region.
Even the heavens were magically cooperating.  Howard stated, "We had really good weather for the fair, which helped a lot."

Elbow Grease    
Nevertheless, magic works best when elbow grease is applied.  A whole lot of hard work went into spreading the word about this year's highlights.  Because the Colusa County Fair traditionally takes place on the week after school ends, families have been pulled in many different directions.  Graduations and sports events also occur around that time of year.

Howard therefore "went to the schools a couple of months before the fair to remind them that it was coming."  His team devised ways to garner interest by coming up with creative projects for students.  One such project entailed making "shoebox floats for the parade."  These floats were then put on display, and a "people's choice" winner was awarded $150.

This type of community outreach resulted in "almost double the entries this year."  In fact, there was a "really good overall turnout, and all the numbers were up."
Howard also pointed out that a successful media campaign doesn't have to break the bank.  He explained, "One way to save money on advertising is by bartering.  You can often get radio ads for free if you give them tickets to give away.  Radio announcers will automatically talk about the fair when talking about the tickets."
"We also concentrated a lot on newspaper advertising because that is the more traditional venue.

Such news often funnels down from grandparents to parents to kids, which gets entire families excited about the fair."

Midway Changes      
Johnston Amusements was the Midway provider.  Howard said, "Ken Johnston is a great person to work with, probably one of the nicest guys ever.  No matter what the issue was, he took care of it.  His staff was also great."

"We moved our Kids World closer to everything else this year so that families could hang out in the same area and not be separated.  We put out a lot more benches this year, many in between vendors.  Vendors really liked that, it brought people over to them a lot more."

"We added a new stage this year, and next year we might add two more.  We also added a whole new area of seating near our stage." 

"People bought food and sat, then bought some more food and sat some more.  I noticed a lot more congregating this year, rather than people just walking around for a while and then going home." 

"I've also noticed that concessionaires are now diversifying their menus quite a bit. Whereas one vendor used to concentrate on one particular food, individual concessionaires are offering quite a varied selection these days."

Howard continued, "You have to be careful.  You don't want to end up with, say, four different vendors each selling corn dogs.  You don't want them to have to compete in that way."  

"In addition to the ever-popular foods such as corn dogs and funnel cakes, we had a guy that sold alligator meat this year.  People really wanted to try that because it was something different and good.  Johnston even had vendors come down to sell cotton candy and popcorn at our parade."

"Johnston also had a giant 30-by-40 tent that he let us use, as well as twenty 10-by-10 tents that we put up throughout the area so that people could sit and watch their kids enjoy the rides."

Record Year   
Results often speak for themselves.  Howard explained, "We had an overall increase of almost 30 percent this year.  Attendance for our four-day fair rose to 11,726.  We had our largest auction ever at 1.5 million.  That's almost a 50 percent increase over what we normally do."

"Thinking outside the box is what often attracts people.  They want something entertaining and new mixed in with the traditional.  Governor Jerry Brown came to our fair this year.  He was one of the judges at our very first culinary contest."

"This was a real team effort.  Our fair is sponsored by the 44th District Agricultural Association, which is overseen by California's Department of Food and Agriculture.  We have a great Board of Directors, appointed by the governor himself.  We're partially funded through para-mutual horse racing, and partially through revenues generated by the Fairgrounds itself."

Howard concluded, "All in all, think like a parent.  While planning, ask yourself, "What would make me want to bring my own kids to the fair?'"


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