Running June 30 through July 4th, the Marin County Fair in San Rafael, Calif., offered the perfect place to celebrate Independence Day weekend. With free music concerts, fine art, carnival rides, and yes, farm animals and fireworks, too, the fair opened its 77th year.
The theme this year was “All for One & Fun for All” with the fair focusing on the idea of inclusivity, and the message that everyone is welcome at the annual event. Gabriella Calicchio, the cultural services chief who oversees the annual event, says “The fair celebrates our entire community, from every corner of Marin.”
Gate pricing was $20 for adults, and $15 for children 4-12 and seniors. Children under age 4 were admitted free. Every evening of the 5-day run, a massive fireworks display lit up the sky to the oohs and aahs of attendees whose numbers range from 100,000 to 150,000 annually.
According to Libby Garrison, head of marketing and communications for the fair, free, world-class music is one of the most renowned aspects of the fair.
This year’s “All for One & Fun for All” event was no exception. Michael Franti’s positive, inspirational sounds opened the fair on Saturday the 30th; on Sunday the iconic band The Beach Boys, fronted by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston took the stage with their 50 Years of Good Vibrations tour. Los Lobos mix of rock, blues and Tex-Mex, and the platinum-selling country rock singer LeAnn Rimes also delighted crowds with her latest dance single, “Love Line.”
For fair patrons seeking reserved seating in a special, fan-close setting, the fair offered Gold Circle concert admission for $50 per person.
That was just about the only extra cost even possible for attendees. The fair featured free fireworks over the fairgrounds lagoon nightly at 9:30 p.m., and screened free the 48th Annual International Short Film and Video Festival in the fair’s Showcase theater twice daily at 5 and 7 p.m.
The fireworks rose from three barges over the lagoon, and were choreographed to music in a setting that Garrison describes as offering beautiful reflections in the water. The show was produced by Pyro Spectaculars, which has run the fireworks show for the fair every year since 1989.
Carnival rides, which are usually a separate, paid attractions at many fairs, are free at Marin. With a midway from Butler Amusements, fair attendees could ride the soaring, 10-story high Giant Ferris Wheel or take a spin on the Solar Carousel. Thrill seekers could climb on the wildly swinging Yo-Yo, or take a spin on the Zipper. A solar powered carousel, the first of its kind at a county fair, thrilled kids of all ages. A $3 ticket was necessary for a few rides, such as the Super Shot Drop Tower, Freak Out, and The Wacky Worm Coaster.
There were 28 amusement rides in all this year.
And other fair entertainment was also on tap, including the Something Ridiculous comedy juggling duo, the Marin Galactic Outpost featuring favorite Star Wars characters, and the Stilt Circus. The Rawhide Express Train kept attendees on track around the fair. Live on the Three Twins Solar Stage, entertainment contests were the order of the day with Hip Hop and Break Dance, Dancing Stars, Singing Stars, and even a Star Search performing arts competition.
New for 2018 was the Global Stage in the Exhibit Hall. Here, international performers served up talented musicians and dancers 3 times daily. Performances ranged from Bollywood dance moves to hula; West African drummers and Oaxacan flautists were among the many musical performers. Student poets from ForWords, open mike readings, and a HipHopforChange workshop reveled in the entertainment of the spoken word.
Also new: the fair featured an event celebrating the LGBTQ community, designating Sunday as “Out at the Fair Day,” with a gathering and a group photo.
Extending the diversity theme onto the culinary stage, cuisines from all over the world were represented; even “Diverse Desserts” had a playful category.
Exhibit halls featured categories including Fine Arts and Crafts, Art Chairs, Cartoons, Photography, Bonsai, Home Arts, Baked Goods, Junior Arts, Gardens and Flowers. There were over 12,000 exhibits in all. The 800 artworks on exhibit at the Marin County Fair Fine Art show ranged from traditional paintings to digital art and jewelry. Fair attendees could shop for art at the Greenwood Gallery.
And of course, what exhibition spaces would be complete without some friendly competitions. From Pool Noodle Art to Decorate a Flag and Fun with Frisbees, to a tasty California Cheesecake competition, there were spirited events that drew solid crowds. Cooking competitions were among the highlights. Amateur wine making and beer brewing competitions also drew large crowds. A new culinary competition included “Creative Cauliflower,” an event in which all participants had to use cauliflower in a dish. The “First Press” competition featured cooking with olive oil.
And competition fare aside, best sellers throughout the fair skewed traditional: corn dogs and funnel cakes continued to be top choices for hungry fair attendees.
Livestock competitions were strong draws, including a horse show and dairy cattle. And one of the biggest crowd drawers, a host of Star Wars characters, came down from other galaxies to prove that yes, everyone still wants to pose for a picture with a Jedi Night.
The inclusive theme of the Marin County Fair might just extend to a galaxy far, far away.