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Napa County Fair: A Throwback to a Traditional Country Fair Experience
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Fair & Fiesta at the Napa County Fairgrounds was a buoyant, throwback experience in 2018. Running May 5 and 6, this year’s fair features included a petting zoo and pony ride; the Ag-Ventureland, an agricultural-centered play area for kids; and the Napa Valley Olive Oil competition, among other events. There were competitive entries in arts, photography, gardening and farming, and an array of inflatables and amusement rides.

Entertainment included live music and performers, arts and crafts vendors, the perennially popular chef showcase, and the Flynn Creek Circus, a human circus populated by acrobatic feats. The circus performed three 45-minutes shows that focused on daring human stunts, and was a popular attraction.

Also on tap: exciting AMA racing on the speedway, and the Mexican Jaripo, a bull riding event. The latter event featured Mexican cowboys Aaron Ortiz and Carlos Oregel and bulls from Los Toros Tarascos De Los Rodriquez. Presented by Indian Motorcycle, Calistoga’s half-mile track was the scene for motorcycle riding thrills as Indian and Harley Davidson teams competed for the championship title. While these were two very different events, both drew stellar crowds, and both were packed with adrenaline-fueled fun.

CEO Carlene Moore presided over a rousing fair which took place Cinco de Mayo weekend. Interactive activities were a big hit. Families soared down the zip line, challenged themselves on a mobile rock wall, and raced on giant trikes. Bounce houses, human whack-a-mole, and steer roping – all in one place, led to many Instagram-worthy moments for all ages.

According to Napa County Fair Association publicist Christy Gentry, some of the most popular rides and attractions were the free-roaming baby animals in the Great American Petting Zoo and the learning experience of Ag-Ventureland. Petting zoo attendees were able to “Meet a llama, hand-feed a Fallow Deer, and rub noses with a Sicilian Donkey or an African Pygmy Goat,” Gentry says. Pony rides were also popular “Horse lovers didn’t want to miss their chance at riding a purebred Welsh pony during the Pony Rides,” she notes, “and from there the kids learned all about life on a farm in AG-Ventureland, where they could milk a cow, rope a steer, pedal a tractor, make crafts, get their face painted, and much more.”

Much more, indeed. Agricultural and educational activities included fishing, a pooper scooper station – what kid doesn’t want to learn about poop?, saddle, bridle & grooming station, taking eggs to market, and scarecrow building. The area was focused on creating a spirit of community cooperation and competition that kids really enjoyed.

Gentry reports that “New attractions this year included the Zip Line, Rock Wall, Hoppy Horses, Giant Trikes, Bumper Cars, Spin Challenge, Human Whack-A-Mole, Radical Jr. Obstacle, Vertical Rush Slide, and a bounce house.” The zip line proved a top performer.

Exhibits were awarded a fair blue ribbon in categories such as Youth Entries, Fine Art, Photography, Gardening & Farming, and the Napa Valley Olive Oil Competition.

Open to all California olive oil producers and judged May 2nd, the competition included categories for extra virgin, organic, and micro producers, as well as co-milled or infused flavored oils. Special divisions included separate micro-producers – those who produced less than 100 gallons in total production, and larger producers. Complimentary tastings and educational information about the oils were available to fair attendees throughout the show. 2018 marked the 8th year of the completion, and this year’s winners included Wild Groves, The Olive Press, Napa Vineyard Winery, and the lemon-infused oil of Rancho Azul y Oro, among others.

Moving from tasting to testing skills at giant backyard games, kids and adults had loads of fun with giant-sized backyard games, playing a large chess match, checkers game, and Connect Four made for a fun afternoon. Large-scale scrabble matches and the game of Memory were also offered. One of the most popular of these over-sized games of skill was the bubble wrap Hopscotch which “popped” with fun.

A wide range of music filled the air with acts such as the lively rock of the LC Diamonds, country sounds from Twang Ditty, mellow music from The Lowwatters acoustic trio, singer songrwriter Kristin Van Dyke, and Americana sounds from Miracle Mule.

And in the fair foodie category, the local food truck rally offered favorites from shaved ice to tacos.

Gentry says that attendance was strong this year, falling comfortably within the fair’s annual range of between 4,000 and 10,000 attendees. “Admission to the Fair & Fiesta @ The Napa County Fairgrounds is only $10 per person, and kids 5 and under are free. The AMA Race on Saturday ranges from $25 - $60 per ticket plus Fair Admission. The Jaripeo on Sunday is $45 for ages 18 & over, $20 for ages 13-17, $10 for ages 6-12, and free for ages 5 and under.”

Fair gates opened daily at noon, with activities and amusements running until 6 p.m., and headlining entertainment performed until 10 p.m.

She notes that the fair is marketed through both print and digital ads, as well as by social media, radio, printed posted, and on the fair’s website. She says local outreach to community groups is another important way for the fair to advertise itself.

Along with the May Fair & Festival, Gentry says the association also offered 4th of July events. “The goal is to move most of the ‘fair activities’ such as community exhibits, demonstrations, agriculture education, and the carnival to the spring dates. This year we were lucky enough to obtain a carnival for the 4th of July, but in the future this event would be more focused on a parade, party, and fireworks.”

The fair itself began in 1935, as the Calistoga Fair Association, and was formed to stimulate and promote better horse and livestock breeding in Napa and Sonoma counties, as well as advertising the region to the world at large.

Today – it’s all about the fun of the farm, family activities, and exciting entertainment.