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Record Breaking Humboldt County Fair
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This year broke records for the Humboldt County Fair, with attendance up 11%, close to $267,000 in admission fees, and bringing in more than $700,000 overall than last year. According to fair CEO Richard Conway, the annual August event was as successful as it was due to community support.

Among the most popular events were the horse races, livestock barns, and the impressive Gladius the Show, featuring equine performers and acrobats, and described as mix between a Cirque de Soleil performance and a scene from Mad Max.

People also flocked to the annual Surf and Turf BBQ, with celebrity chef Guy Fieri judging. A wide range of BBQ chefs showed up; Fieri, a hometown boy and fair favorite, extolled the dishes he tasted. It was Fieri’s fifth year judging the festivities, and he termed the pit-masters in competition as truly “rocking it” this year. Like Fieri, fairgoers also sampled the BBQ dished up from various booths, while Rex Bohn, the 1st District Humboldt County Supervisor emceed the contest.

The community also appreciated Diverse Abilities Day, held August 20th. On this date, the fair’s atmosphere was toned down, with dimmer lights and quieter ride sounds to make attractions more welcoming to those with epilepsy or autism.

Both inclusive and fun, the fair, Conway says “has been around for 120 years. When it began, the original focus was on agriculture, floraculture, and horse racing. We’ve kept all of those traditional aspects, but as things have progressed over the years, we’ve added a great deal of entertainment and we added carnival rides,” he notes.

The fair is the oldest continuously running fair and horse racing track in California, located in its current home at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale since 1896. It remains one of the Victorian-style community’s largest attractions. The half-mile oval track requires a great deal of skill from both horse and rider; its traditional style blends with the look of the town of Ferndale itself in recreating an atmosphere of an earlier era, something attendees appreciate, Conway says.
Many of the fair’s traditions are throwbacks, such as the animal and crafting exhibitions and the ever-popular horse races for which there is no additional admission charge. Throughout the fairgrounds this year, displays noted the history of the fair; allowing attendees a taste of nostalgia. On the modern side of things, the newly revamped Friendship Stage served as the main entertainment location.
Today, the fair works with California Carnival Company when it comes to rides. The vendor has brought in several new rides over the last few years, including a new type of Ferris Wheel in 2017 which Conway says is a popular attraction.

Overall, Conway says, “We do entertainment, we do agriculture, we try to bring in major entertainment options that you wouldn’t necessarily see at most smaller fairs.” For example, the Gladius equestrian show was a spectacular addition that was a strong crowd draw, Conway attests. The show included chariots and 22 different horses in a lushly impressive event. “Gladius is really well presented, it’s not something you’d see just anywhere. We also do musical acts, but we don’t do big-name concerts. Instead we put that focus into the main entertainment category, something that will appeal to all ages. We use a lot of local entertainment when it comes to music.”
This year’s acts included the Boom-Gatsby Rat Pack LTD percussion ensemble, an act that fired up the crowd with their unusual instrument selection of trash cans, buckets and regular drums, the Clint Carvalho and his Extreme Parrots exotic bird show; and a top-notch Fresno act, a Johnny Cash cover band known as the Only Cash Tribute Band. There was also a Mark Twain impersonator, and the Mr. & Mrs. G Crossbow Act stunt performers were also big hits.
The theme of this year’s fair was “Family, Friendship, and Fun,” and Conway aimed to achieve just that. “We really had something for everyone this year.”

As to marketing the fair, Conway explains “We put most of our fair’s marketing focus toward social media these days. We’ve done a lot of traditional print, television, and radio in the past. Now we really are focusing on a combination of radio spots and social media. The goal is to reach an audience that’s broader in many ways. We get a lot of response form social media, so we know that it’s working.”

As far as pricing goes, Conway notes. “There’s a general admission price of $10, which includes the live horse racing we offer. That’s a big draw for us, so there is no additional fee to attend the races. On the days we offer horse racing, attendance jumps considerably.” He adds that “Carnival rides are available for an additional individual ticket price or daily pass. We have a senior day, and a kid’s day, and we have special rates for seniors and children throughout the fair.” Children were free on the fair’s opening day, August 16th. The fair ran until August 26th, and featured seven days of horse racing.

In terms of food items, the selection was varied as always. “We’re fortunate because of our two-week run that we are able to get a lot of interesting vendors from outside the immediate area. We get everything from fried alligator to Louisiana hot links,” Conway says. “Our food concessions always do really well by offering tastes for just about anyone to enjoy. This year was no exception.”

Popular treats this year included a pork sausage – a.k.a. a banger - on a roll with onions and peppers, and a lamb-burger, fried pickles, a rich Marionberry cobbler, fried peaches, and deep-fried Snickers, and deep fried Twinkie on a stick. There were giant curly fries, the always-popular fair-favorite funnel cakes, and free scoops of locally-made ice cream served up by the Humboldt Creamery, handed out by the 2018 dairy princess Sarah Richardson.

Sweetest of all, however, according to Conway: the increased attendance and continuing community support for the fair.
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