A regional tradition since 1936, the Sonoma County Fair — now in its 81st year — always aims to maintain the traditions that fair fans revere, while introducing a little something new each year.
The theme for this year’s fair — running Aug. 3-13 in Santa Rosa — is “Holidaze at the Sonoma County Fair,” with different days designated for the celebration of holidays ranging from Thanksgiving and Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Even Talk Like a Pirate Day gets its own spot.
The theme carries over to the ever-popular Hall of Flowers with a “Holidays in Bloom” exhibit that includes displays honoring Dia de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras and more.
A new feature this year is the Norcal Brewfest, offering tastes of more than 50 beers and ciders. Of course, fairgoers will find their perennial favorites: the carnival rides, food booths, livestock competitions and more.
And no year at the fair would be complete without the big crowd-pleasing events at the fairgrounds’ Chris Beck Arena: the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) Rodeo, Monster Trucks and the Destruction Derby.
The rodeo features saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, bareback riding, calf roping, barrel racing, bull riding and more.
“I don’t think the county fair would be the same without a rodeo,” said professional rodeo announcer Don Jesser, who has been helping rodeo fans follow the action at the Santa Rosa event since 1990.
“That rodeo’s fan base just has been growing and growing ever since,” said the 68-year-old rancher and former bronc rider from Twin Falls, Idaho. “That rodeo is a lot of fun, it seats a lot of people and the fans are outstanding when it comes to supporting the cowboys.”
Proud to be a part of what he calls “America’s No. 1 Family Sport,” Jesser pointed out during a recent phone interview that announcing at a rodeo — something that he does about 20 weekends a year, mostly in California — is not as easy as it sounds.
Too many statistics and too much dense background detail can spoil the excitement.
“There is a trick to the trade,” he said in a voice straight out of vintage cowboy movie. “There are a lot of young announcers with good broadcast voices, but you need to have been involved in the sport. You need to know when to comment and when not to. You can’t overreach. You need to let the judges do their job.”
Narration is a slightly different issue with the motorsport events. It has to be inserted in the spaces between the roars of Monster Truck engines and the collisions of Destruction Derby.
The fair’s two big motorsports events — with three nights of Monster Trucks and one for the Destruction Derby — are produced by WGAS Motorsports Entertainment, founded by John Borba and based in Cool, northeast of Sacramento.
The Monster Trucks event runs three nights and presents a different show every night:
Aug. 10 — Quad Wars. Two professional teams compete over a course of jumps and turns.
Aug. 11 — Freestyle Motocross. Professional Fitz Army/Metal Mulisha Riders open the show, performing stunts with names like Rock Solid, Cliff Hanger, Whip and the crowd’s favorite, The Back Flip.
Fun at the fair
What: Sonoma County Fair
When: Aug. 3-13. Gates open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennet Valley Road, Santa Rosa
Admission: $10 for age 13 and older, $13 after Aug. 2; $7 ages 7-12; free for age 6 and younger. Information: 707-545-4200, sonomacountyfair.com
Chris Beck Arena events
(Tickets required in addition to fair admission.)
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5. $25 for box seats; $12 for grandstand seating, or $15 after Aug. 2; $10 for bleachers, or $12 after Aug. 2.
Monster Trucks, 7 p.m. Aug. 10-12; $15 for box seats; $10 for grandstand seating, or $12 after Aug. 2; $8 for bleachers, or $10 after Aug. 2.
Destruction Derby, 6 p.m. Aug. 13. $20 for box seats; $12 for grandstand seating, or $15 after Aug. 2; $10 for bleachers, or $12 after Aug. 2.
Aug. 2 — Hall of Flowers Preview. Get an early look at this year’s “Holidays in Bloom” exhibit, and enjoy appetizers and wine, before the fair even opens. 5:30-7:30 p.m. $35.
Aug. 5 — Norcal Brew Fest, honoring the winners of its inaugural competition, and offering unlimited tastes of more than 50 beers and ciders. 1-4 p.m. $45, including fair admission.