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California Mid-Winter Fair Increases Paid Gate Admissions, Helm & Sons Debuts New Black Out Ride

Helm & Sons's KMG 'Black Out' Made its Debut at the Mid-Winter Fair
Photo by Steve Hinz

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Running March 1st-10th this year, the California Mid-Winter fair grew its paid admissions by 13% and fair sponsorship by the same percentage, gaining five new sponsors. With an election year theme of “Red, White and Moo,” the fair thrived despite six extremely windy days that lowered overall admission numbers. Red, white, and blue patriotic décor and themes added to the appeal of the ten-day fair.

Entry was priced at $8 for adult pre-sale, with $10 regular admission; kids 5 and up as well as senior tickets were $6 for pre-sale purchases, $8 thereafter. There was another popular discount ticket, too: Twisted Tuesday, held March 5th, when a single $20 fee allowed fair admission and unlimited carnival rides. All ages over 12 months required a ticket for that day.

The fair also provided free admission days for military and seniors; free admission for seniors was offered on opening day. Helm & Sons Amusements, the fair's carnival purveyor, offered free rides from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Special Citizens Day.

Speaking of rides, Helm & Sons brought 40 in all this year, including their brand-new spectacular ride, Black Out from Dutch manufacturer KMG. The carnival's marketing and entertainment manager, Chris Gonzalez, describes the ride as seating 12 riders in gondolas that spin horizontally. The custom-built ride includes a vivid light package, too. “The arm does a 360 around the whole ride,” he says, “taking everyone upside down.” That arm rises as high as 80-feet in the air. Gonzalez describes the experience as “very fun… the most advanced ride in the country.”

This the second year that Helm & Sons debuted new rides at the California Mid-Winter Fair.

Along with Black Out, the company's Medusa, a 70-foot-tall thriller, appeared in Imperial Valley for the first time this year. The carnival also brought in new kiddie rides and games. Along with Black Out and Medusa, the company offered these new-to-the-fair rides; the Paratrooper and Music Express, along with kiddie rides Mind Winder and Ice Jet for the younger set. The company brought its “A” game, Gonzalez says with “the most modern, exciting and cutting-edge technology” at the fair.

Including those five new rides on the midway, Gonzalez states that this year Helm & Sons brought “the most rides we've ever had here before.” There were also new games, such as Cut 2 Win, where players cut a string to win large-scale plushies and have the chance at scoring a Play Station 5.  According to Gonzalez, some 80% of the midway's bright lights were also new this year. All the new offerings paid off – total carnival sales rose 5%.

Wristbands purchased before March 1st were discounted to $35, with regular pricing at $55.  Twisted Tuesday was a big hit, creating an amusement park-like experience according to the fair.

Of course, there were also plenty of good eats to be had at the Mid-Winter Fair, and concession sales rose by 16% this year. California Mid-Winter Fair manager Alan Phillips describes a mix of everything from nachos and deep-fried burritos to the burgers offered by the Wahlburgers stand, where celebrity brothers chef Paul Wahlberg and actors Donnie and Mark. brought a taste of their meaty burgers, their “first concession stand in the industry,” Phillips says. There are currently over 90 Wahlburgers' dining locations in the U.S. and worldwide.

While interest swirled around the burger stand, top concessions overall were Spiral Fries and Backyard BBQ Village. The fair also highlighted favorites from around the country, such as Chicago Dogs, Philly Cheese Steaks, Texas-sized funnel cakes, and universal fair food offerings from Kettle Corn to Snickers wrapped in bacon.

While music, entertainment, and many race events were free with fair admission, two were an additional $5 ticket: the Imperial Valley 360/410 Sprint Cars and the Southwest Ecotec Midgets event. There were six nights of racing in all.

Main stage musical acts included popular tribute bands such as a Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean tribute; Twist on Taylor, a tribute to Taylor Swift; and Garratt Wilkins & the Parrotheads, a Jimmy Buffet tribute band. Yesterday – the Las Vegas Beatles Show was also a strong draw. There were local jazz performers and dance concerts in the mix, too.

Livestock exhibits and the livestock auction were also popular, with an 8% increase in livestock sales from last year. Highest price paid was $33,400 for a feeder calf. Phillips also noted the exciting presence of “three longhorn steers and a baby calf. Flying V Ranches loaned us their long-horned steers.” The fair CEO asserts that many fairgoers had never seen longhorns before.

Along with actual livestock, fairgoers enjoyed nine themed Art Cows positioned nearby. Created by a bevy of organizations throughout the Imperial Valley, Phillips describes the exhibit as “10 life-size fiberglass cows that were given to organizations to use.” Each sporting separate creative designs, they were displayed in the fair's Casa de Manana building and positioned “surrounding the Americana and farm.”

There were also 11 4 x 8 “mini-mural” paintings created live each day by area artist residents, each based on the fair's patriotic theme. The fair plans to keep these works and exhibit them annually and offer live art creation events every year. Outside the fairgrounds themselves, the Second Annual Window Decorating Contest was held for valley businesses, with a first-place win going to Discount Tire.

Kids flocked to Wild Science, a free hands-on activity; families enjoyed the roving one-man circus act The Wilder Show as well as the Roving Piano; Cook's Racing Pigs drew laughs and applause; there was a Blue Angels meet and greet; and Ballet Folklorico performances.

The California Mid-Winter Fair will run from February 28 to March 16 next year and will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
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