Sonoma County Fairgrounds hosts Summer Fun Fest
Last year, COVID-19 concerns forced the cancellation of the Sonoma County Fair for the first time since World War II, but this month it’s back, on a smaller scale and with a one-time-only subtitle: the “Summer Fun Fest.”
“We wanted people to know we’re doing something fun for summer, but we didn’t want people to think it would be the full fair,” said Becky Bartling, chief executive officer for Sonoma County Fair. “We won’t have horse racing, the Hall of Flowers or all of the competitive exhibits. It’s really a modified fair.”
The “Summer Fun Fest” will run July 28 through Aug. 1 and Aug. 4-8 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. There still will be carnival rides, fair food and the traditional livestock judging and auction for young exhibitors.
“The carnival will be about the same size this year. It’ll all be on one lot to save space, but you won’t notice any big difference,” Bartling said.
The carnival will feature the Zipper, gondola wheel, drop tower and a variety of family-friendly rides.
“We’ll have 35 different food stands, with cinnamon rolls, corn dogs, funnel cakes and turkey legs, all the fair food people love,” Bartling said.
One longstanding food vendor will be missing this summer — the Ibleto family with their beloved Pasta King stand. Art Ibleto, founder of the popular local pasta brand, died last November at age 94.
“The Ibletos didn’t want to do it this year after Art’s death,” Bartling said.
The perennially popular rodeo events return, with the Professional Cowboy Rodeo Association competition on July 31 and the pageantry of the Mexican Rodeo on Aug. 1. For those with a more mechanized mindset, the Monster Trucks return Aug. 7 and the Destruction Derby rumbles once more on Aug. 8.
“For the kids, we’ll have Scotty and Trink, with comedy and juggling,” Bartling said of the performing duo.
The festival also will include live music every day by 20 local bands, including the Poyntlyss Sistars show band playing dance hits and the venerable, eclectic Pulsators.
And there are some new additions this year.
“We’ve got camel rides every day. We’ve never had that before,” Bartling said. “And we’ll have pig races Aug. 4-8.”
There will be a new quinceañera expo, featuring fashions and other vendors to enhance the traditional Latino celebrations held for girls on their 15th birthdays.
The “Summer Fun Fest” also will host the Peggy Sue Classic Car Exhibition, the first time it has been held as part of a larger event, Bartling said. In the past, the car show was held annually at the fairgrounds as a separate event. The customary downtown car cruise is not planned this year, Bartling said.
Fair attendance will be limited to 10,000 people per day, in line with state recommendations introduced in mid-June that allow large outdoor events to be held without asking attendees for proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
The state’s gradual and sometimes halting emergence from its year-and-a-half coronavirus pandemic shutdown ruled out horse racing and the popular Hall of Flowers contest and exhibition this year, Bartling said.
“The Hall of Flowers takes a long prep time. The competitors have to start growing plants in the winter,” she said.
The official guidelines for reopening were still uncertain when fair organizers had to make decisions.
“At that point, we decided not to do the Hall of Flowers, and the same with the horse races, ” Bartling added.
Tickets for the Sonoma County Fair’s “Summer Fun Fest” went on sale June 14 and so far, Bartling is encouraged.
“We’re ahead of where we were in 2019 by 70%,” she said.
During the pandemic, most events at the fairgrounds were canceled and the fair has struggled financially. It was forced to lay off 15 employees and faced a quarter-million-dollar deficit in its $9 million annual budget.
“The positive news is that we’re looking forward to a very active fall at the fairgrounds, with a lot of events coming,” Bartling said. “In fact, we’re having trouble finding dates for some events.”
With the fairgrounds presenting the “Summer Fun Fest” and the fall calendar filling up, Bartling is optimistic and thankful for the chance to bring in visitors again.
“The fair is our tradition where people get together,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to have some normalcy.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.