Fair CEO sees more family fun, service efforts ahead

By JONATHAN WHITAKER
April 20, 2017

The ‘Five Best Days Of Summer’ are fast approaching with the Merced County Fair set for June 7 to June 11.
Preparations at the already busy fairgrounds are ramping up for the big event, according to the the fair’s CEO Teresa Burrola, and there’s already great momentum gained from last year’s success.
The director met with the Times recently to talk about how things are going at the fairgrounds, the coming attractions, and upgrades to facilities and ambience.
These days it’s hard not to notice that the fairgrounds is a full-time, year-round operation, with all of its buildings and outdoor areas in active use — from community service events and cultural celebrations, to auto racing, flea markets and educational opportunities.
Burrola points to the upcoming Spring Clean Up electronic recycling effort to be centralized at the fairgrounds on the weekend of April 29-30, and again on the weekend of May 6-7. This event held jointly with the City of Merced is a great, free chance for residents to rid homes and businesses of e-waste in a safe and secure manner.
Meanwhile, the rental program for facilities at the fairgrounds is going really well, according to Burrola, and that helps support the annual County Fair in June.
“People may think we make a lot of money off the fair, but we have a lot of bills to pay: for the sound, the stages, the lights, the concert performers, all our employees, public safety …” she said.
Fairground rentals make up about 280 contracts a year for single or multiple-day events like fundraisers, cultural festivals, exhibitions, and big family celebrations. There’s also the auto racing season at the Grandstand, the multiuse Hilmar Cheese Barn, the Head Start educational classrooms along G Street, and the weekend flea market across the street.
Burrola says the fairgrounds is maintaining its own while receiving less than a third of the annual state funding it received in pre-recession years. Nevertheless, monies are coming in by way of grants for emergency arena lighting, for example.
She does point out that local leaders, particularly Assemblyman Adam Gray, have been friends of the fair and continue the search to find additional funding. “He [Gray] really does believe County Fairs are so vital for communities. … Not only are we here for fun and celebration, and that sort of thing, but we are here when tragedy strikes, when there are fires or floods. We then become evacuation centers. We also become places where displaced livestock animals can be sheltered. So in this way we stay connected to the county and the state if there is some sort of emergency situation. We can open our doors and be available.”
But it’s the annual Merced County Fair that grabs the most attention and the one event that local residents appear to appreciate the most.
With that in mind, Burrola is smiling after a huge success last year.
“We improved our programing, beefed up our entertainment, the weather was great, and as a result we saw a 14 percent increase in attendance,” she said. “This year we continue to have a strong entertainment lineup and some new features too.”
In The Spotlight
The “I Am King — The Michael Jackson Experience” is expected to bring a “show” atmosphere to the popular Table Mountain Concert Series, and draw a broad, family audience of all ages to the free Outdoor Theatre Stage on June 7, opening night. Nothing quite like it has been offered at the concert series before. Not only will it feature the music of the “King of Pop,” but also a cast of Broadway and Las Vegas dancers.
Country music star John Michael Montgomery (“I Swear” and “I Love The Way You Love Me”) June 8; funk group WAR (“Spill The Wine” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends”) June 9; and regional Mexican music star Noel Torres (“El Tiempo Contigo”) June 11, will all round out the big name entertainment.
Burrola, however, says a local group featured in the series on June 10 is causing quite a stir in the region. Moonshine Bandits from Los Banos have quite the following for their country-rap group with recent albums on the Billboard charts.
“I’m honored to have them on our big stage,” Burrola said. “I think these two young men [high school friends from Los Banos] are going to do well.”
Fairgoers will find some new surprises this year in the form of animal and food attractions. Burrola said the new “Lorikeets Exhibit” was inspired by a visit she made to the annual Western Fairs Convention to see what was new and exciting going on. Lorikeets features an enclosed tropical area to have an up-close and hands-on feeding experience with exotic birds sipping nectar from cups. Along the same lines, the fair will also introduce camel rides to local residents — yes, people riding atop real camels — and All-Alaskan Racing Pig competitions.
On the Midway food court area, visitors will see a brand, new, shiny Chinese Food concession stand that will join the veteran food vendors.
Butler Amusement, with thrilling rides and an excellent safety record, will continue to operate the carnival areas.
The nightly Grandstand entertainment lineup will include Auto Racing (June 7); WGAS Motorsports (June 8); Bull Competition (June 9); and the Valley Tractor Pullers (June 10).
Savings and Service
The fair’s pre-sale is going on until June 6, with $2 off adult admission; $10 off a 5-pack of admission tickets for just $30; and $5 savings on unlimited carnival ride wristbands.
On the June 7 Opening Night — “Mercy Medical Center’s We Care Wednesday” — it’s also Seniors’ Day with those 62 or better able to enjoy the fair all evening long for FREE. Also, that same night, the fair staff is bringing back the Community Food Drive. Bring 5 cans of food anytime between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and get into the fair for FREE. All food will be donated to the Merced County Food Bank to feed those in need in our very own community.
Thanks to a grant from Merced County First Five a special place for mothers and babies is being created. It’s a colorful and relaxing nursing station / rest area, along with restrooms for diaper-changing.
Burrola admits she’s helping to add a softer, feminine touch to the fair — all in an effort to welcome more families. Instead of the brief firework displays they have used at night, the CEO this year invested money to light up walkways and gathering places with decorative displays, including around the Coors Light Stage and dance area, and beer gardens.
“As a mom and a grandmother myself, when I walk into a place, I want it to have a that feel — a good, safe, enjoyable feeling — kinda like a Disneyland effect.”
Deadline Near For
Competitive Exhibits
Don’t delay! The 2017 Merced County Fair is approaching fast, and they are looking to feature the best of Mercd County as part of competitive exhibits — from arts and crafts to livestock.
Remember, the majority of the competitive exhibits are FREE to enter.
The Exhibitor Handbook is available online at mercedcountyfair.com. Just click on the button that says “Competitive Exhibits” on the bottom left.
MAY 4 is the deadline to enter!
Says CEO Burrola: “I would love to double our number of entries from last year as this is our opportunity to showcase the incredible talents of our community.”


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