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Swinging time at the Napa County Fair

There will be 16 carnival rides at this year’s Fourth of July Fair.

Tom Stockwell/Star

Fewer than a dozen days remain until the Napa County Fair kicks off its Fourth of July celebrations in Calistoga.

This year, the event includes a Fiesta Mexicana y Jaripeo from 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday, July 3. The traditional fair begins with a parade down Lincoln Avenue at 11 a.m., and ends with the fireworks sky concert at 9:30 or 9:45 p.m. Monday, July 4.

Napa County Fair CEO Carlene Moore and her staff were busy a week ago accepting hundreds of entries and exhibits — from photographs and fine art to jams and jellies and knitted items — that make the county fair different from a festival or farmers market. Moore even asked me to wait for a few minutes while she completed payroll, certainly as important as an interview.

A few of the entry categories remain open, those for cut flowers, roses, vegetables and agricultural products like fruits, nuts and berries. Entries will be accepted until June 29. “You don’t know today what is going to be ripe,” Moore said, so people can bring those entries in on July 2, so they will be fresh for the fair.

The Fair CEO is passionate about those entries and exhibits. Judges will pick the best in each category and give honor and recognition to their creators with blue ribbons. These everyday talents are celebrated and people enter year after year, people like Ruby Campbell, Pearl Nystrom and Deirdre Shibano.

A couple of years ago, the entrance to the fair was changed, so that everyone went through those exhibits. Moore said people enjoy seeing what their neighbors create. In fact, exit interviews have been conducted with fairgoers throughout the state, Moore said, and usually at the top of their list is seeing the exhibits, ribbons and awards.

Fiesta Mexicana y Jaripeo

Let’s start with first thing first. On Sunday, the Fiesta Mexicana y Jaripeo will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. The last few years, the event has been in August, but before that, it was held on the Sunday of the multi-day Napa County Fair. It will include the carnival from Brass Ring Amusement from the Sacramento area, with its 16 rides; Mexican bull riding (at 3 p.m.); and a variety of bands from 6 to 10 p.m.

If you’ve never seen Mexican bull riding, it is different from the kind held in America, where riders try to stay on the bull for eight seconds. In Mexican bull riding, the winner is the rider who can stay on the longest. “So they really get bucked around,” Moore said. “There’s a mariachi band playing, the crowd is cheering, clapping and singing and almost dancing. There is so much energy around it,” she added.

For those who attend on Sunday, it is very much a Latino cultural celebration, with the music, food and entertainment of Mexico.

Fourth of July

The annual and traditional Fourth of July celebration begins with a parade down Lincoln Avenue that’s more than 100 years old and the oldest in Northern California.

The parade’s grand marshal is Calistogan Hilde Fechter, who has worked in the fair’s exhibit department for more than 50 years, helping receive and display the items people enter. It is fitting that this longtime Calistogan is being honored.

The parade will feature floats, horses, antique cars, a couple of bands, including a marching band, March Fourth!, that is more carnival than anything else. These 20 musicians are on stilts, dressed in flashy outfits, and they dance down the parade route, which starts at Cedar Street and Lincoln Avenue, then heads to the fairgrounds on Fair Way.

The fairgrounds open at noon and along with the 16 carnival rides and games of chance, there will be live music on two stages, a chefs showcase every hour, a Kid Kountry area and an Agville area, with hands-on interactive stations (you can milk a cardboard cow, for example, or plant a seedling in a raised bed).

Moore said one of the most popular games at the fair is the goldfish game, where a live goldfish is the prize. “My daughter won a goldfish when she was 5 — it was named Goldie — and she had it until she was in high school. I didn’t know they had such long lives,” Moore said. By that time, it was 5 or 6 inches long, because it had lived in a large tank.

At the end of the day, at 9:30 or 9:45 p.m., the fireworks sky concert, choreographed to music, will begin. “We want a good dark sky,” Moore said. Although you can see the fireworks from your backyard, it’s best if you watch from the grandstands. It’s included with your admission ticket and Moore said it’s worth it, because there’s a ground show. The Fair Association has worked with Pyro Spectaculars for several decades and the 20-minute show is jam-packed. For the last decade or so, the fair has contributed $17,000 for the show, with community donations. This year, the fireworks will cost $31,000.

Surprisingly, the Napa County Fair isn’t a moneymaker, even with all the activities. Three years ago, the Fair Association had to pare down the event from several days to a single day, because it lost state funding and needed to be self-sustaining. “The last year we were a multi-day fair, we had a net revenue loss of $60,000, which is not sustainable,” Moore said. “Over the last two years, the loss on the fair is $20,000.”

Volunteers are still needed on all the days leading up to the fair and on July Fourth itself. If you work a four-hour shift, you get free admission into the fair and a VIP seat in the grandstands for the fireworks. If you’d like to volunteer, call the fair office, 942-4111, or go to; or send Viri Agapoff an email at Shifts are available online.


St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st