According to Calveras County Fairground CEO Laurie Giannini, attendance hopped up this year over last at the annual Calveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. The event is one of the oldest in California, dating back to 1893. The frog jumping event claimed the fair as it’s lily pad back in 1928, and has remained, as Giannini puts it, “a very popular attraction.”
The fair works hard, Giannini says, to blend a strong mix of regional exhibits, livestock events, arena events - from live music to crashing car action, carnival rides, and the Frog Jump, which is the fair’s signature event.
The hoppy green highlight stems from top-notch Americana roots. Renowned author Mark Twain, then a just-starting-out American humorist, was a frequent visitor to the Calaveras County mining camps. There,he heard a tall tale about a frog jumping contest from the proprietor of the Angels Hotel, wrote about such an event, and a legend was born. Or if not a legend, then a 90-year tradition that is definitely a large draw and a cornerstone of the fair.
The event starts with qualifying rounds, as the top 50 frog entrants for the International Frog Jump Grand Finals are vetted. The finals are held on Sunday afternoon of the Jubilee. The current world’s record was set in 1986 by none other than Rosie the Ribeter, who jumped 21' 53/4". The cash prize for breaking that world's record is $5,000, making competition both fun and intense.
The Frog Jump Competition begins on Thursday, when contestants - or rather, their handlers, can choose to jump for fun on Rosie the Ribeter's Stage, or jump on the main stage to qualify for the finals on Sunday afternoon.
Giannini says professional frog teams travel from throughout California to compete, and dedicated volunteers help run the qualifying events and the main contest. Past champions get to camp at the fairground’s own carefully cared for Frog Pond.
But even though the frog jump is one of the best-known attractions at the fair, the event, which is held every 3rd weekend in May starts with a children’s parade and ends with the Destruction Derby, both of which are also well-attended.
“We try to be a fair, a complete fair. We don’t try to be something we are not,” Giannini attests. “We always offer children’s entertainment, many different exhibits, entertainment for adults, livestock, rodeo -- we do all the traditional fair things.”
Besides the frog-tastic event, Giannini says “The Destruction Derby is always our most popular event, and has been for years. I’ve been here over 27 years and it was happening before me.”
Another entertainment hit this year was a main stage performance by country-rocker Reckless Kelly, she notes.
Gate pricing for the fair in 2018 was $10-$15 depending on the day, and there were no additional charges for entertainment – not even the frog jump or the derby, Giannini states.
There were promotions and special events throughout the fair, too. On opening day, kids 12 and under entered free, and at noon, free cupcakes and a birthday party marked the 90th year of the Frog Jump.
In the evening, the Miss Calaveras Scholarship pageant took place, offering educational opportunities; on Friday, livestock shows and the Calaveras Idol contest were held. The winner of this year’s Idol contest, Johnny Arrow, performed as opening act for Reckless Kelly that evening. Saturday, military service personnel with ID were admitted free, and the CCPRA Pro Rodeo offered roping and riding thrills. Exhibit halls included displays of quilts, textiles, and art.
And as Giannini says, a large part of the appeal of the Calveras County Fair is that there’s something for everyone at the event. And one thing everyone enjoys is fun fair food. “This year food items that really stood out were the deep-fried Brussel sprouts, and in the sweets category, I’d have to say funnel cakes. But honestly, we have really good – everything. It’s all good,” she laughs.
The fair uses California Carnival Company for their rides and games, and while Giannini says there were no new rides offered this year, there was a change that brought a lot of positive feedback. “They had some beautiful new signage with LED lights, that were very colorful and bright,” she notes.
The carnival company, which was founded in 1981, works hard to maintain a family-feel to its events, Giannini also relates. The company won the 2010 Small Business of the Year Award from the California State Assembly in part for its family-friendly and safety-conscious midway and ride operation.
The Calaveras County Fair has a strong rodeo history, and continues to offer top-of-the-line competition events. Despite its history, for a time, the rodeo was not a part of the fair, but as Giannini explains, in 2014, the event made a triumphant return to the fairgrounds. The arena also plays host to the Calaveras County Saddle Queen Competition, Junior Horse Show and Western Horse Events.
To promote the fair and its myriad events and attractions, Giannini relies on a mix of media. “We use a combination of radio, newspaper, and a lot of special appearances and special events. For example, we took our frogs to fifteen different events prior to the fair to promote it. The state capitol was one of them, where we put on an annual Capitol Frog Jump event,” she relates. “We also use a great deal of online marketing in both online publications and on Facebook and Instagram.”
Beyond the advertising, Giannini says the fair has lasting appeal because “People come for the whole package. They want to be at a county fair that gives them that exciting ‘fair feeling’ the moment they step through the gates.”