The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee is probably the most international of all of California's county fairs. Having started in 1893, not only is it one of the longest running county fairs the Golden State, but the fairgrounds are the setting of one of Mark Twain's most well-known short stories, the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," first published in 1865.
The Twain story is believed to be based on an actual competition - although the Frog Jumping Jubilee officially began at the 1928 fair - and his ongoing frog jumping competition has gained an international following that includes both fair enthusiasts, literature aficionados, Twain scholars, and fans of all things Americana.
"It's really a world fair, peo
ple do come here from all over the globe to this fair, it really doses have an a big l following from outside the area," said Kevin Tate, President/CEO, California Carnival Company, who provides the midway for the fair.
While the renown of one America's most iconic literary heroes may still attract a few global followers, the real support comes from the surrounding environs. "The local people do really turnout for this fair, more than many of the California County fairs," said Tate.
He added, that Laurie Giannini, CEO/Fair Manager, "really cares about the community, she's very community oriented. The do a good job and on a limited budget."
Attendance at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee was 31,000, which according to Giannini, was down by about 2,000 fairgoers. The main culprit was weather and as she describes it, the fair had all four seasons in one weekend. "We had a hot summer day, a brisk fall day, a cold winter day and one pleasant spring day," said Giannini.
Midway Spending Up
The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee featured 20 food vendors, and while the bad weather negatively impacted attendance, those who came, spent. "The cold days food concessions were up," she said.
While overall attendance was down for the fair dipped, the spending at the midway was "up by about 10 percent," said Tate. "It's a good fair for us and one of the better of the smaller, county fairs."
The California Carnival Company midway featured 26 rides, three more than last year, and while favorites returned, such as 65-foot Century Wheel and the Mach II Mega Slide, which Tate designed using two 100-foot slides with six lanes, new for the fair was a KMG Tango and the Pharaoh's Fury.
"We are only one of four Tangos in the country," said Tate. "We put in a hell of a carnival for a county fair, with a lot of one of a kind rides."
He added, that the 65-foot Century Wheel is "probably our best money maker for a season."
The local economy Tate pointed out, has been doing better, and he mentioned that while a fire last year caused severe destruction, "the insurance money has come in, and the rebuilding has increased employment, so people were spending at the fair."
Giannini agreed that the local economy has improved. "Yes. sponsorship was up and so was our Junior Livestock Auction," she said.
Many fairs in California have cut back on budgets, and the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee did cut back on marketing a few years ago, also eliminating nationally known entertainment acts.
"But they do a good job with what they have in terms of entertainment. What they offer does attract people," said Tate. "They are not booking big name bands, but the country band they did book has a following and the demolition derby attracts people. They do a good job on a very limited budget."
The entertainment at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee included up and coming country band, Little Texas, the Destruction Derby and the 3rd annual California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association (CCPRA).
"The rodeo is popular and has a following and we were glad to have it return," said Giannini. "We also honored our veterans at the Rodeo, so it was a great event."
She added that the CCPRA rodeo was held on a cold weather day and attendance for the event, "was down."
The California Carnival Company plays county fairs, a market the company only reentered again in 2016, as well as festivals and other events. So far, Tate said this year will be one of he company's best ever. "We are up 15, nearly 16 percent."
While the economy may be a little better, he said that the more effective factor have been a customer-service corporate culture he insists on for his midway. "We are a good operation, a world class midway, because of how we insist on customer service at all points. We do a complete background test and drug testing, we are very structured, it's military style. Our workers say please and thank you. We are constantly preaching customer service. Before we open at an event, we walk the entire grounds and make sure we can point out where the restrooms are, first aid, all the different areas of the fair, so we can give that information to the customer when asked."
He added, "I do my job very diligently, timing the ride cycles, speeding them up and slowing them down, because part of the fun is not just riding the ride, but the anticipation of getting on that ride."