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Get out your blue jeans and your gingham, your blackberry jam and your appetite for fun.

It's fair season in the North Bay, where an off-beat blend of corndogs and classical music, gunny-sack races and solar-powered carousels will spin you back to the future faster than you can say Ferris wheel.

From San Rafael and Petaluma to Santa Rosa and Calistoga, this summer's fairs offer an interesting blend of simple pleasures and modern technology. And, like the World Wide Web, they pride themselves on their interactive spirit.

"What's really happening is a 21st century fair, because people want to do things now, like .<TH>.<TH>. make-your-own wine and cheese," said Vicki DeArmon, marketing director for the Sonoma-Marin Fair, running through Sunday. "Then there's the traditional fair component, with the ag and the canned goods."

With the economy still in the doldrums, local fairs provide families with an affordable staycation, offering a little bit of fun for everyone, from urban-farm teens to quilting queens.

Fairs have a chance to capture the mood of simplicity and returning to our roots," said Jim Farley of the Marin County Fair, opening July 1 in San Rafael. "They are perfectly positioned to respond to the backyard poultry and canning that are happening in suburban and urban communities."

Each fair is a world unto itself, with literally hundreds of activities to choose from. Here's some of the new stuff at each one; you'll have to explore the rest of the bounty on your own.

Sonoma-Marin Fair, now through Sunday, Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, 175 Fairgrounds Drive, Petaluma. sonoma-marinfair.org.

This year, the fair has created a strong marriage between local food, chefs and wine.

At the Farm-to-Table Showcase, you can taste cheese, butter, bread, olive oil, jam and honey while interacting with local ranchers and producers.

Right next door, you can check out the chef's demonstrations, where well-known toques such as John Ash will put on demos with the help of assistants selected from the crowd.

"It truly is farm-to-table," DeArmon said. "The chefs are using local foods, and the producers are right next door."

With the winners of the fair's North of the Gate Wine Competition being poured in the Wine Garden — including the Best of Show, Husch Vineyard's 2009 Chenin Blanc — it's a well-rounded celebration of the table.

Don't miss: At 6 o'clock tonight and Saturday, learn what wine goes with corn dogs and funnel cakes during talks by wine judge Debra Del Fiorentino and Giovanni Balistreri of Russian River Vineyards. Then check out Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at 8 tonight.

Marin County Fair, July 1 to 5, Marin Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. marinfair.org.

The Marin County Fair has been honored as the most innovative county fair and the greenest county fair on earth, so don't expect to find a bunch of tacky side shows touting large pigs and cows.

Instead, kids can ride the first-ever solar-powered carousel while mom watches global street food made by cutting-edge chefs like Bay Laurel Culinary's Chris Greenwald, who will chop up a Peruvian Ceviche with a Sweet Corn Salad and Grilled Bread.

The chef's demonstrations, run by Rachelle Boucher, are done on state-of-the-art appliances from Standards of Excellence, including convection ovens and other fun toys.

"The demos are about an hour long, so people can just hang out and really get engaged," Boucher said. "There will be tastings with each chef, and we'll do a lot of Q & A and interaction."

The global theme is echoed by the live entertainment — from Cuba's Tiempo Libre to Jamaica's The Wailers — as well as in the film theater, where you can watch 3-D movies of Mexico, Tuscany and Cambodia.

Don't miss: For the first time ever, The Del McCoury Band (bluegrass) is touring with the Preservation Hall Band (New Orleans jazz) this summer. They team up for an all-Americana concert here at 2 and 4 p.m. July 4.

Napa County Fair, July 1 to 4, Napa County Fairgrounds, 1435 N. Oak St., Calistoga. napacountyfair.org.

The Napa County Fair has brought agriculture back into the mix this year, with an antique tractor and truck exhibit and an expanded olive oil competition.

"We want to reach out and make it more of a community event," said Carlene Moore, CEO of the Napa County Fair. "It's a way to reconnect."

Other community contests include the amateur wine contest and the annual barbecue contest, where folks set up their own grills and serve up their own barbecue recipes, for prizes.

For kids, there's a hands-on arts and crafts area and a program called Circus Imagination, where kids can dress up as tightrope walkers and lion tamers.

Don't miss: The Old-Fashioned Fourth of July starts at 11 a.m. in downtown Calistoga with the Silverado Parade, then continues at the fairgrounds at 2 p.m. with old-fashioned games: gunny sack races, a pie-eating contest and a watermelon-eating contest. In the evening, there will be surf music by the California Beach Party Band to warm up the crowd for the fireworks show.

Sonoma County Fair, July 27 to Aug. 8, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. sonomacountyfair.com.

The flower show and the horse races, the garlic fries and the pesto spaghetti are always some of the most memorable attractions of this "dog days of summer" fair.

This year, fair-goers on Aug. 3 will also get to hear a free concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, thanks to Sonoma Paradiso, a wine auction and foundation founded by Jess Jackson, Barbara Banke and Peggy Furth.

Marcy Smothers, who serves on the board of Sonoma Paradiso, put together the concert as part of the auction's mission to fund local children's charities and present a free concert for kids every year.

"I was trying to figure out where we could grow it and make it bigger," Smothers said. "Hearing that kind of music, in that setting, is a gift to the community."

The concert will be held on a professional stage at the Chris Beck Arena, which holds about 4,000 people. Invited guests from local kids' groups will not only get free admission to the fair, but VIP seats at the concert and a discount pass to the rides.

The concert led by Dr. Richard Loheyde will feature 40 musicians, including a baritone who will sing arias from Rossini's "Barber of Seville" and Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro." Works by Dvorak and Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Verdi round out the community concert.

Don't miss: The 30th annual Sonoma County Blues Festival will be held July 31 at the Redwood Theater. This show requires a separate, paid ticket, available at the box office and online.

Town & Country Fair, Aug. 11 to 15, Napa Valley Expo, 575 Third St., Napa. napavalleyexpo.com.

"Blue Jeans & Country Dreams" is the theme of this downtown Napa fair, which draws folks from as far away as Fairfield and Vallejo with attractions like the Destruction Derby and the World Freestyle Arm Wrestling contest.

The white-linen set may be more interested in the tasty "behind-the-scenes" preview gala at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, featuring culinary delights from the valley's finest restaurants and wines from Grgich Hills, Trefethen and other venerable vintners. Tickets are $25. To order, call 253-4900.

Don't miss: "American Idol" fans will want to head to Napa on Aug. 12 for a soulful concert by Danny Gokey, the third-place winner from season eight, who, along with Adam Lambert, lost out to Kris Allen.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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