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It's a Date: the 73rd Annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival
Butler Amusements remains a staple on the midway for over 20 years
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February 15th through 24th, the 73rd annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival offered sweet entertainment to Indio, Calif. The first county fair of the year, the fair is also known for its unique  performance events, as well as a strong line-up of headliner entertainment, free with fair admission. 


Headliners performed at the Fantasy Springs Concert Pavilion; this year's acts included country favorite Randy Houser, Ramon Ayala, hip hop tradition with Salt-n-Pepa, the smooth r and b and pop of Kool & the Gang, and Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez. Also included with admission tickets were Grandstand Arena favorites such as Humpz & Hornz Bull Riding, Monster Trucks, Junior Outlaw Sprints, Mini-Dwarfs Racing and Demolition Derby. There was one special Monster Trucks and Freestyle MotoX show held Wednesday evening, February 20th. And, new to the fair this year, the fair and fest offered mid-week entertainment on the Pageant Stage including regional tribute bands.
With all that free entertainment, fair admission remains a good deal for attendees, with several special days reducing attendance costs even lower. Adult pricing was $11, seniors 55-plus $10, kids 6-12 $9, and ages 5 and under were free. Veterans plus three guests were free throughout the fair; and a season pass was $30, with unlimited carnival ride wrist bands available at $25 Tuesday-Thursday, and $28, Friday through Monday. Presale pricing reduced admission by $1 per individual ticket in all categories, and made unlimited carnival rides $22; season passes, $25.

On opening day Friday the 15th, Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, the fair's presenting sponsor, offered an admission deal for all at $5. Sunline Transit bus riders received a $4 discount admission to the fair; and on Kids' Days Tuesday through Thursday the 19th through 21st, one child per each per paid adult admission was admitted free.

A wide range of top attractions and favorite indulgences were among fair-goers favorites this year, according to fair manager Veronica Casper. The fair's ever-popular cinnamon rolls, s'more ice cream cones, deep fried Twinkies, and Funnel Cakes were still sweet favorites – although the signature treat of the fair remains the date shake. On the savory side of things, turkey legs and BBQ were big hits. Also popular were a cheese stickthat combined Pepper Jack, American and cream cheeses inside a crispy corn dog crust. Naturally, there were many different kinds of dates for sale as well. 

Not for sale but on display inside the Taj Mahal pavilion were large local lemons, grapefruit, and oranges.

A vast selection of carnival rides from Butler Amusements included thrill rides, family favorites, and kiddie attractions. Butler has brought rides and midway to the fair in Indio for over 20 years. 

The big new thrill ride this year was the Mega Flip, manufactured by KMG in the Netherlands. Popular rides in kiddieland include the Dragon Wagon Kid Coaster, a kid-size Ferris Wheel, and the shaded Cycle Jump. Turbo, Vertigo, and the Century Wheel were among returning rides popular with attendees. The all-ages Americana carousel remains a big draw for the carnival riders as well; other ride favorites included the White Water Flume, and the Vertigo.

A separate attraction was the Slingshot, a one of a kind ride that positions one or two people in a semi-circle basket and sends them soaring over 100-feet into the air. Priced at $30 per person, passengers reportedly reached about 100 miles per hour with the force of five times their body weight. 

Animals – both livestock and exotic – were another big attraction for the fair. Sea Lions performed in the Sea Lion Splash show, camels and ostriches raced. There was also a petting zoo, and the exotic wildlife of Amazon Wonders and the Rainforest Exhibit, with shows daily from 3 to 7 p.m., and the exhibit itself open all day. The exhibit was produced by Pacific Animal Productions, and featured the company's signature decorative plants, hands-on interactive stations, and exotic parrots, monkeys, and geckos, all in a rainforest landscape. 

Also at the fair: The Riverside County Department of Animal Services successfully helping to place rescued animals into loving homes for the 5th year. 

Always celebrating the date harvest in the Coachella Valley that marks its origins, 

the date festival runs side by side with the fair itself. The date Queen Scheherazade and her two-person court acted as goodwill ambassadors at the fair and festival, this year Julianna Gaytan was crowned queen. On the Pageant Stage, the Arabian Nights Musical Pageant is always a huge crowd-pleaser, this year the presentation was a lush Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (and Ring.) Sparked by impressive sets – including an Arabian castle; a large cast; musical performances; live animals; and vibrant costumes, presentations ran at 6:15 p.m. Friday through Monday evenings.

Another unique event took place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, February 16th, with the Blessing of the Dates, a traditional ceremony in which prayers for the date palms, and worker safety are made, as well as small sample cups of date shakes distributed.

Other entertainment and exhibits also ranged beyond fair standards, including an extensive, 1100-foot track and model railroad exhibit from the Coachella Valley Model Railroaders, memorabilia collections and eleven local student-designed “patios” some with themes that included films such as Coco, Peter Pan, and Jurassic Park.  Each patio area was surrounded by a picket fence and contained individual objects to fit their themes. 

In one of the fair's main buildings, a wide range of fun collectibles were on display, from Stephen King-related film and book memorabilia to Hello Kitty Dolls, and Barbie Christmas ornaments. 

The fair and fest also included the Presidents' Day Grand parade on Monday, February 18th, with floats, bands, and equestrian performers.

Marketed with a combination of television and radio spots, social media, and locally-placed posters, despite a large rainstorm drenching the area and flooding local golf courses the night before the fair opened, turn-out this year stayed consistent with last year's attendance.
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