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Alameda County Fair: Rockin' the Red White & Blue

8/7/2015

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of James Fike - www.jamesfike.com

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Around the Fourth of July each year, the "Pleasant" in Pleasanton, California becomes brighter than ever.  This year was no different.  

Rockin' & Racin'
According to the 103rd Alameda County Fair's July 7, 2015 press release, these "seventeen  action-packed days and nights" were highlighted by a July 4th "Fireworks Spectacular" that "more than lived up to its name."  Marketing Director Angel Moore explained that this "amazing show" entailed a partnership  with "the Oakland East Bay Symphony, which played live while fireworks were going off in the middle of the racetrack.  The symphony actually played there right on the track, and took our fireworks show to the next level."

According to Cal Racing, Alameda's is aPhoto By James Fike - www.jamesfike.comctually "the oldest racetrack in America."  It was built back in 1858 by the Spanish Dons.  The San Francisco Chronicle has called Pleasanton "the birthplace of horse racing in California."  Moore stated, "We began partnering with the Oak Tree Racing Association in 2014.  They were
able to bring some additional funds and offer larger purses to owners, trainers and jockeys.  This year we continued the partnership, and were able to offer $1.7 million in purse money."

On most dates, fairgoers were also able to experience "exciting horse racing action for the price of Fair admission."  There was even a "Vet vs. The Kid Handicapping Challenge" that benefitted local charities.     

Leading up to the Fireworks Spectacular, music fans were treated to a Red, White & Blues Festival, "watching performers who played all day on different stages throughout the park." The Grandstand lineup included the Willie G. Blues Band, Dwight "Black Cat" Carrier (zydeco), the New Blues Revolution, Shirley Temper ("Rock and Flow"), Caravan of All Stars (West Coast Blues) and 5 Tempting Men (Temptations tribute band). 
  
In order to accommodate the expected 70,000-plus fairgoers on Independence Day, the City  of Pleasanton created a "traffic mitigation plan designed to coordinate a safe and efficient exit."  The city's June 16th press release explained, "The plan is extensive and will involve street and freeway exit closures as well as alternate bus routes."

Expert Leadership
Moore explained, "The Alameda County Fair Association is a non-profit that runs the property on behalf of the county, without any tax funding from the government.  We have a 26-member board, and a year-round maintenance and grounds crew." "The fair budget comes from year-round events.  We have off-track betting and horse racing.  We also have an RV park and sewage facility on the property.  All these funds go back into property upgrades and the fair.  Our fair is our gift back to our community."

"We partner closely with the City of Pleasanton for our large-scale events throughout the year. We work on parking plans, mitigating traffic, and things of that nature.  Many of us sit on community boards such as the Chamber, Rotary Club and the Convention & Visitors Bureau."

Moore continued, "Our volunteers are oftentimes member of the community.  This year we had  a total of 775 fair volunteers and 8700 volunteer hours.  They worked on everything from guest services to helping with the concert lines."  

"Most are involved in Alameda County non-profits.  These non-profits, such as the American Legion and the Scouts, can then earn back a specific amount of money for the volunteer hours that they put in at the fair."

"Our largest marketing portion still goes to traditional media (billboards, print, TV and radio).  We also do digital ads; for example, if you were on Google and typed in ‘fair,' a digital ad for our fair could pop up."

Moore added, "Social media is also a large part of what we do.  We really strive to connect with our fair guests and our fans and our followers.  We make it a goal to answer their comments in order to feel connected on a one-to-one basis.  This year we had 86,702 Facebook fans, 3,419 Twitter followers, and 5,859 Instagram followers."

"We're always planning.  We're continually looking at ways to create flow in our fair, to grow our attendance, to introduce diverse acts and events, and to schedule efficiently."  During a 2014 Pleasanton Weekly interview, CEO Jerome Hoban stated that this strategic planning includes "what are business segments we need to work on, and what does the customer think of us."  

Plenty Happening
Despite the daunting heat, 444,923 patrons turned out for this year's fair.  Fine Art sales were up by 25%, and the Junior Livestock Auction total was up by 11%. 
Moore stated, "We work with Butler Amusements, and one of their most popular rides is the White Water Flume, especially on those hot days.  The Butlers always say, ‘Here's a new ride, and here's the history behind that ride.'"

The 2015 Snackdown food-vendor competition yielded the following creations:  Deep-Fried Wood-Fired Pastrami Pizza (Grand Champion), Deep-Fried PBJ Cheesecake (Best Theme), Deep-Fried Caramelized Bananas Foster (Most Creative), and Cap'n Crunch Shrimp with    Sweet Sriracha (Best Taste).  The top four 2015 fair foods were corn dogs (53,351 sold), lemonade (24,590), funnel cakes (22,636) and BBQ turkey legs (14,470).

There were STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) events for the kids every weekend.  Moore said, "Summer learning is a big push for our fair because students can fall behind during the long summer break.  We added the ‘Art' component to STEM because art is such a great way for kids to make those educational connections."

The Big O Tire Concert Series included such popular acts as The Beach Boys.  With two original members still on board, the band's timeless sound captivates an intergenerational crowd.  Moore explained, "The show was incredibly well attended by people of all ages; everyone from young kids to grandparents were singing all the words to their songs.  What a vast collection of hits!"

With events, competitions (craft-beer a first this year) and exhibits galore, it's no wonder that this fair is one of North America's Top 50.  America loves Alameda County as much as Alameda County loves the Red, White and Blue!    


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