Sonoma-Marin Farm News, September 2011
Story by Tim Tesconi
|Santa Rosa returned to its rural roots when cowboys and cowgirls drove a herd of Longhorn steers from Courthouse Square to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The cattle drive was held on Aug. 7 as part of the fair’s 75th anniversary celebration and as the kickoff to Farmers Day, which was held that day. There were nearly 5,000 people lining Fourth and E streets to watch the steers as they moved through town to the fairgrounds. (Photograph by Steven Knudsen of the Farm Bureau Staff).|
The Sonoma County Fair’s 75th anniversary Diamond Jubilee was certainly a fair to remember, a three week celebration that showcased agriculture, community and the fair’s enduring role as the glittering thread in the county’s social fabric.
Who can forget the cattle drive through downtown Santa Rosa? Or the fabulous “Hall of History” that chronicled the events and colorful people who shaped the fair over the last 75 years. The new additions complemented old favorites like the magnificent Budweiser Clydesdales and the rough and tumble of the pig scramble, part of the barnyard Olympics on Farmers Day. It was all there like you remember, from the doe-eyed Jersey calves to Mom’s Apple Pie and the Pasta King to mechanical bull riding. It’s where city and country folks came together to celebrate the county’s agricultural heritage.
Fair officials, still busy tallying records and receipts, said all in all it was a great fair and a worthy 75th edition of the county’s biggest and most popular annual attraction. Now the challenge is to top it all next year.
“The 75th Anniversary of the Fair will most definitely go down as historic" said Ross Liscum, president of this year’s Sonoma County Fair. “Our Museum showcasing 75 years of the Fair, the Cattle Drive through downtown drawing attention to our Agricultural roots, the Junior Livestock Auction raising over $1millin for the fifth straight year, three weeks of horse racing, and all the other shows and attractions provided for our community. What a successful Fair.”
According to the results that are still coming in, the opportunity to extend the fair to nearly three weeks certainly paid off in larger overall attendance and revenues. Fair officials are planning to do it again in 2012, running for three weeks with the tentative dates of July 25 to Aug. 12.
Despite a turbulent economic climate at the beginning of this year's Fair - as the Federal government debated issues around the debt ceiling and federal spending, and coupled with less-than-perfect Sonoma County weather with cold and windy evenings - attendance and spending at the fair were still quite strong overall.
Although the final numbers won't be released for a couple of weeks, the preliminary results show paid admissions were up 15.56%, with a total of 194,268 people, up from 168,111 in 2010. Not all concessions have been reported, but those that are in so far are already up over 12%, at $2,583,960. In 2010, concessions brought in $2,300,354, according to fair manager Tawny Tesconi.
On-track betting was up over 2010 numbers, which is encouraging. In 2010, the on-track betting was roughly $4,007,000, while this year it was slightly more than $4,020,000. The off-track overall was down slightly from $37.5 million to $33.5 million, but considering that there were eight fewer thoroughbred races this year, that number is still comparable to the 2010 numbers.
This year the Fair saw the return of some perennial favorites, such as the Valentine's Performing Pigs and Circus Luna, as well as hilarious and surprise fair-favorites like the Wild West Turkey Stampede. There were a number of events and attractions added to the schedule to celebrate the Fair's 75th Anniversary.
In particular, the Diamond Jubilee Cattle Drive, which brought an estimated 4500 spectators to downtown Santa Rosa on a chilly Sunday morning to watch the procession of 56 longhorn steers, as they made their way down Fourth and E streets to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Other commemorative events included the Diamond Jubilee Review, which entertained fairgoers with a vaudeville-styled show, and the Farmer's Day events, which revived many historical favorite events like Mutton Bustin', Pig Scramble and the Greased-Pole Climb, among many others.
According to Hall of Flowers designer Greg Duncan, this year's theme, "A Stroll Down Memory Lane," which brought back favorite themes and decor from past Flower Shows, was very warmly received by fairgoers.
"I think everyone really liked having a chance to see their favorite themes and decorations from years past,” said Duncan.
To commemorate the fair’s long and colorful history, the Garden Annex building was transformed into a museum of fair memorabilia, photographs and narratives that told the fair’s story. Dubbed the Hall of History, this attraction was a huge hit with fair-goers of all ages. Some of the displays included were from the fair's archives, but many items were donated to the museum by the public, in an impressive display of community-support and fair-loyalty. Katherine Rinehart performed no small miracle by bringing all these photos and props together in an educational and interesting way. Many fairgoers spent hours in the Hall of History studying the exhibits, which truly captured the spirit of the fair and its place in the community.
"Being the curator of the Sonoma County Fair's 75th Anniversary Museum was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career,” said Rinehart. "The Museum exhibit received a great deal of praise with people commenting that the Museum should be an annual event."
This year's headline concerts were big draws as well. Fans packed the Chris Beck Arena to see Huey Lewis and the News, the David Crowder Band, and Trace Adkins with Amy Scruggs.
It was another noteworthy year for the 2011 Sonoma County Fair Junior Livestock Auctions. The combined total for all auctions broke the $1 million mark for the fifth year in a row, bringing in $1,039,788.20 - the best since 2008, before the economic downturn. The auction totals across categories have far out-paced last year's record-breaking numbers, further emphasizing the community's strong support of youth agriculture programs.
“We were fortunate to have had warm, but not hot, days during this year's fair. As compared to the unusually foggy and cool weather we had last year, this was nearly perfect daytime weather for an outdoor fair,” said fair manager Tesconi. She said the nights were still the typical Sonoma County weather of cool temps and fog, but there were several evenings where the fog didn't roll into until much later, making it quite pleasant.