The laughter of children, the neighing of ponies and the smell of deep-fried foods filled the fairgrounds this weekend as the 123rd annual Merced County Fair came to an end.
Fairgoers were able to enjoy a variety of musical numbers, dance performances, carnival rides and game booths.
The main attraction on Saturday night was the Humpz and Hornz Bull Riding Tour, featuring 30 bull riders. Sunday night attracted a large Latino population with the Jaripeo Ranchero, a bull riding event with musical performances by Norteño artists.
Atwater resident Guadalupe Cervantes was one of the many people awaiting the jaripeo event.
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“My family and I have been coming to this fair for about 10 years now, and the bull riding is definitely our favorite thing to watch,” Cervantes said in Spanish. “We also go to other jaripeos in different parts of the Valley, but this one at the fair is one of the better ones; it’s always a good time.”
Closing night entertainment also included hypnotist Alan Sands and singer-guitarist Steve Lord.
Tom Jorgenson, curator at Picasso’s Place Art Center, a colorful corner with easels and art supplies for children, has worked at several fairs throughout California, yet the Merced County Fair is by far one of his favorites, he said.
“I love this fair,” he said. “It seems that small-town fairs are always better, and I think that’s because it is put together by the people who also come to the fair, and not by big businesses.”
Jorgenson said he hopes people were able to take advantage of the many free attractions and activities the fair had to offer.
“There is so (much) free stuff people can do here, like this art center – there is no charge and children can take their paintings home,” he said. “Parking and admission were only $5; that’s a really good deal, compared to fairs in bigger cities where they charge about $12 only for parking. I just think that’s great because it makes the fair affordable to almost everyone.”
Amber Siegel, a new Merced resident, said she also prefers smaller fairs because of the close-knit community feeling.
“This is my first time here. I was used to huge fairs, like the one in Fresno, but this is nice,” Siegel said. “There’s a lot of things to do, especially for children. As a mother of three, that’s something I always look for – what’s there to do for my kids.”
Another attendee, Maria Sandoval, said she has been attending the Merced County Fair since she was child. Now she makes it a point to bring her children and continue the family tradition.
“Growing up, my parents would always bring me to the fair, and we always came on Sunday because they have the (jaripeo) event that day,” Sandoval said. “Today we came early to beat the crowd, and also because admission was free before 3 p.m., so that’s a good deal.”
Sandoval said the only nuisance was the heat, typical for this time of year, but that with short breaks in the shade she has learned to have fun regardless.
With temperatures in the low to mid-90s, the weather was pleasant in comparison with past years, said Anna Chad, owner of the Chocolate Factory stand.
“Business this year was pretty good,” she said. “Our days would start somewhat slow but they would pick up later in the day as it got cooler.”
Chad also said Saturday and Sunday were the fair’s busier days. The fair opened Wednesday.