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Live Music, thrill rides, the smell of popcorn and rides for the little tots, all the things that one thinks of when the Fair comes to town. Spectators from a past fair taking part in the entertainment brought to Ridgecrest by the Desert Empire Fair. / Laura Austin File Photo

Fair and Rodeo time this weekend at Fair Grounds

Laura Quesada News Review Staff Writer– Some family favorites return to the Desert Empire Fair, starting tonight through Sunday. However, there is lots of new family and grown-up fun to experience. Tickets can be purchased in advance on their webpage. You can also ext the word “Ticket” to 760-760-2226 and receive a link to purchase tickets from your phone and show your ticket via phone at the entrance gate. 

   Chip Holloway, Chief Executive Officer of the Desert Empire Fairgrounds, is excited, “The thing that I’m excited about, because kids in the desert may not have ever seen this, we’re going to have the Live Shark Experience.” You will be able to see the sharks all day with shows happening throughout the day. For an added bonus, on Saturday afternoon, weather permitting, we just may be treated to seeing Holloway, a Certified Scuba Diver, feeding the sharks while he is in the shark tank. He tells us, “If he brings enough equipment, I agreed to go in and feed sharks with him.”

   For a tamer bit of fun, Holloway says, “Another thing that I’m excited about, that I hope will grow, one building is going to be called ‘Made in Ridgecrest.’ It’s only going to be crafts and goods made by local Ridgecrest businesses or people.”

   Returning this year are two favorite acts who haven’t been here in a while, Tina Marie Comedy Hypnotist and Balloon Man. Back again from last year look for A Petting Zoo which is presented by THOR and will be located in “Kid Zone” which also has three bounce houses. Other returnees include Jack Spare Ribs Comedy Show, Jeremy the Juggler, Racing Pigs, a kids tractor pull and the largest model train display in Kern County.

   It wouldn’t be the Fair without the Rodeo on Saturday night and Destruction Derby on Sunday night. On Sunday the gates open at 4:30pm, there is a driver meet and greet at 5pm to 5:30pm, and the derby begins at 6:00pm. Holloway explains, “People build these cars to very strict specifications, so hopefully nobody gets hurt. Then they try to destroy each other, they just bash each other. It’s probably one of the most popular things at the fair. 

   Junior Livestock Shows happen daily from 8am until 4pm. This year the local Junior Livestock Association (JLA) has a new board and new leadership. “These kids raise animals all year, then sell them at the fair to get enough money to get a new animal to start raising for next year. And those kids work. It’s not like these kids that their parents go out and collect money for baseball. These kids get up at four o’clock in the morning.”

   So much to choose from and only $5.00 to get into the Fair. Holloway used to use the largest share of his budget to bring bands, but has since decided to spend 60% of the budget to bring things to the Fair that he can offer for free. “I have this mindset: if you’re single mom and you can’t afford the rides” your family can still have a super fun day. He aims for four to five hours of free stuff per day. Plus, he makes sure that the kid stuff also appeals to adults.

   Parking is also $5.00 with half the proceeds going to the Boy Scouts. Paid in advance the  Ride Wristband is $25.00 and $30 at the gate. The rodeo and the Destruction Derby are extra.

   There is Live Music throughout the three days. Friday night kicks off at 5:30 with Salsa Steel who play three times each day. At 6pm a local favorite, “9o’clock is the New Forty” takes the Grand Stage and returns Saturday night at 6:30pm (see the October 14 edition of the News Review). “Raised on Radio” has two shows on Friday night, 7:30pm and 10pm. This should be fun as the lead singer, Michael Furlong, changes costumes to portray and cover Tom Petty, The Cars and Brian Adams. Saturday afternoon at 1pm the Burroughs Jazz Band will grace the Joshua Flats stage.

   In the “not what we expected” category in music, “The Outlaw Mariachi” do not primarily play Latino music. Holloway says, “They’re showmen. They come out with the whole machismo black leather and there’s two girls in it that play fiddle; however, their music is typically Classic Rock but they do it with kind of the Latin flair.” Their website has videos of tunes by Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. They were wildly popular at the showcase where Holloway and other Fair executives attend to hire bands. Holloway booked them for two nights, Saturday and Sunday, thinking that folks would tell their friends and come back on Sunday night.

   Of course there is Fair Food and many vendors. “We are getting a really good mix of vendors. We’re probably gonna have twice the number of vendors than last year.” Holloway has been going to fairs his entire life. He really enjoyed the commercial vendors who could put on a show while demonstrating their wares. 

   The Fair has been faring well under Holloway’s leadership. When he signed on in 2015 the Desert Empire Fairgrounds and other fairgrounds in California were having financial difficulties. The funding base had changed and it was tight all over. Last year’s attendance was way up, 140% up from previous years, and Holloway has been able to use those funds to improve the grounds. Look for freshly painted buildings and improved floors. He uses an allegory, “We’re like a farmer. We’re planting our crop every year, then the fair comes along, we harvest that crop and all that revenue that comes in from the fair is used for capitol improvements. Everything else we get,  from weddings or the little bit the state gives us, maintains operations for the 12 months. There are 362 days there’s not a fair but the three days of the fair generates extra revenue to reinvest into the fairground.” And don’t forget, these fairgrounds also serve the community by offering emergency services.