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Sell Out Events Make the Orange County Fair a Big Win

Photo by Steve Hinz

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At the Orange County Fair in Southern California this year, 1,393,482 guests, including 40,042 who entered free between noon and 3 p.m. on Opening Day and 59,069 children who received free admission on Kids Days or were under 5 years old attended the month-long event, coming in at just under last year's record attendance of 1,470,636. The fair ran July 12 through August 11 th.

And, more than 200,000 people enjoyed concerts and attractions this year, with music taking a big slot in fairgoer interest. Concerts at Pacific Amphitheater saw ticket sales up 7% and at the other, smaller music venue, The Hangar, the number of tickets sold was up 13% this year. 

According to Dan Gaines, the fair entertainment director, “The numbers are great, but for me it's more about the dancing and the happy faces.”

The Toyota Summer Concert Series at Pacific Amphitheatre hosted 31 shows in all including three pre-Fair shows and five post-Fair performances. There were 12 sold-out shows including Rebelution with Collie Buddz and Iya Terra for two nights, with both sold out; Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo with Melissa Etheridge, Styx, Brothers Osborne with Chase Bryant, Chicago, Dwight Yoakam with Midland, The B-52s with Dead Man's Party, The Fab Four, “Weird Al” Yankovic, America with Poco and Firefall, Bush, and Jackson Browne.

New to the Pacific Amphitheatre this year was the Viva El Mariachi show, an event which expanded from a smaller show held at The Hangar previously.

This year in The Hangar, Grammy-winning artists performed as did a range of  quality tribute bands. There were 11 sold-out shows in 2019 including Brew Hee Haw featuring Dead Man's Party, Brew Hee Haw featuring Fast Times, Los Lobos, The English Beat, Queen Nation, Rumours, Sweet & Tender Hooligans, Which One's Pink?, Elton — The Early Years, and Zeppelin Live. The Brew Hee Haw event was new to the venue this year, and it featured tastings of over 100 craft beers. Brew Hee Haw was a separately ticketed event at $55 in advance and $65 at the door. Tickets included fair admission.

At Action Sports Arena, the sound wasn't of music but of demolition derbies and monster truck shows that included ten sold out events. 

The fair's theme this year was Acres of Fun, with a link to sustainable items and the environment. With that in mind, there were four agricultural-themed lounges spread throughout the fairgrounds where fairgoers learned about avocados, strawberries, oranges and beef: all raised in California. Recycled OC Fair banners from past years were re-purposed into cushions along with palettes made into sofas, chairs, tables and stools. Along with the lounges, found objects were used to create decorative displays; festive pennants were repurposed from old banners and signs, solar and wind powered charging stations were available for attendees to charge their phones. Fairgoers also found a fair with paper not plastic straws and edible spoons in the Culinary Arts area: sweet, chocolate, and savory.

The carnival was a strong draw this year with two distinct areas, a Main Carnival and Kidland.

Preloaded FunPass allowed easy ride access. Tickets or credits, were $100 for 200, $50 for 100, and $20 for 40. The FunPass made access to rides and games, as well as card re-loading, even easier. 
A brand-new thrill ride, the Titan, was among the most popular rides at a carnival run by Ray Cammack Shows. Titan was billed as the largest portable aerial thrill ride in the U.S. “It's like being on the end of an airplane propeller,” Chris Lopez, vice president of RCS notes. 

Another big draw was also new this year: La Grande Wheel XL. The 3 and a half minute ride stood 130 feet tall, and glowed with a half-million LED lights. Climate controlled cars held 6 to 8 riders and carried around 2,000 passengers an hour.

It wasn't the only wheel to ride: the classic Big Wheel, at 108 feet high, was also still on hand at the fair with its open-air cars. 

Other new rides included the Endeavor which suspended passengers through 3G acceleration, and the Rockin' Rodeo fun house. The Kidland area at the fair also has two new additions: the Circus Train and Tea Cups spinner. The latter had appeared at the fair before but was making a return visit after a long absence. Lopez says many people were asking for it. 

RCS partnered with the fair for the 25th year.

Along with the rides, kids enjoyed the Kids Can Cook show at Centennial, baby animals, a honey tasting bar, and the Russell Brothers Family Circus as well as kids' eating competitions and the All-Alaskan Racing Pigs.

Besides rides and entertainment, there were also plenty of fun new foods on hand. From Salvadoran Pupusas to Sliders on a stick, and the Beyond Burger meatless burger from Biggy's & Juicys, to Crunch Hot Cheetos Caramel Apples from the Candy Factory, Elote Dogs and Tots, and Cinnamon Maple Bacon Bombs, there was plenty to taste.  

Speaking of Cheetos, attendees ate an entire truck load Flamin' Hot Cheetos on top of a wide variety of food items this year.

There were also easy ways to try lots of new tastes, including budget friendly options priced at $7.19, $8.19 and $9.19, and a $3 Taste of Fair Food on Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m. 

Admission bargains to the fair itself were also readily found. A Super Pass allowed attendees to enjoy the fair for its entire run, Seniors Day, every Friday, provided $5 admission for those 60 and older; also on Friday $2 rides and games were available at both the kiddie and main carnival. On Saturdays and Sundays, attendees found half-price admission and carnival rides for half the usual number of tickets. On Thursdays, kids 12 and under received free admission all day; 5 and under were always free.

The fair held its first-ever Out at the Fair Day and welcomed hundreds of LGBTQ guests and friends to a day of family-friendly events; also new was a Love is in the Fair Contest, won by Leslie Leong and Michael Nguyen. The contest resulted in the couple holding their wedding at the Fair on Aug. 10.
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