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Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

Not to get all paranormal, but when I visit Napa Valley Expo these days I see ghosts.

Not human ghosts. I speak of spectral buildings that long defined the fairgrounds, but disappeared after the 2014 earthquake.

Merlot Hall, gone. Cabernet Hall, gone. The nonprofit food booths around the Plaza Stage, gone. And for reasons that elude me, the entire grandstand arena, gone.

The airing out of the Expo has been a good thing for the BottleRock music festival which packs the grounds with 40,000 people each day. All that extra space makes for better crowd flow.

But at other times? The Expo can seem a glass half empty.

Which is another way of saying the Expo is in transition. Directors are working on an ambitious masterplan that could someday shake everything up. Come back in five or 10 or 20 years and gaze in wonder!

The 2019 version of the Town & Country Fair isn’t in the future. It’s now.

I went on opening day in high spirits because I love fairs. The smell of cotton candy, the grunting of pigs, the come-ons from the carnival vendors.

It’s not Disneyland, some might say snootily.

Thank heavens, I say. Summer fairs are supposed to be a crazy quilt of Americana, not a slick fantasy zone.

As always, this year’s fair has a charmingly ridiculous theme: “Reach for the Mooooon!” complete with an image of a plucky cow in an astronaut’s suit floating through space.

Moments after stepping onto the grounds, I encountered a man trying to entice parents to pay $5 so their kid could pluck a rubber duck from swirling water. “Everyone is a winner,” he said.

If I were a parent with kids in tow, I’d have fled for my financial life.

Attractions further down Exposition Boulevard were more like it. A man who climbs into a giant balloon, then wiggles for hysterical effect. A band playing old-timey music.

The ground are looking really sharp this year. All those buildings wiped out by the earthquake have created clean vistas. Both the Plaza Stage and the adult carnival appear more alluring.

Years ago I used to enter my white/whole wheat bread in the Home Arts competition. Even won a blue ribbon once.

Searching among baked goods this year, I couldn’t find a single loaf of regular bread. Society has moved on. Instead of baking, people must be tweeting.

The professional art entries are wonderful, as always. The bunnies are still great, too.

The livestock area is the usual cacophony of bleating, baaing and oinking as kids in snazzy 4-H jackets groom their auction entries and chat up each other. I swear I saw some flirting going on.

Call me a germaphobe, but I toured the livestock pens with my hands tight to my side and my eyes on the lookout for animal excretions. A goat poked his head out and begged to be scritched. Sorry, fella.

Opening day’s big attraction was a Righteous Brothers concert featuring Bill Medley, the 78-year-old surviving Brother, and Bucky Heard, the fallen Brother’s replacement.

Cheryl and I were on the fence. Stay for the oldies or go home for some fresh streaming on Netflix?

I feared that a Righteous Brothers show in 2019 would be a palid thing compared to the ‘60s. Then again, I had a surprising yearning to hear “You’ve Lost that Loving’ Feelin.’”

So we stayed, as did a packed house of fans for whom yesteryear didn’t seem that long ago.

The show was excellent. Medley still has his singing chops, with a dry wit to boot.

As I feared, the band ran through a dozen lesser Righteous Brothers hits and period pieces, saving “Lovin’ Feelin’ for the finale.

This was a smart move. I didn’t see a single person bail early.

Finally, after thanking his band, voicing a tribute to military veterans and touting merch, Medley got ready to launch into what he called “the most played song in the history of American radio.”

Then he paused. “What’s that noise?” he said.

Huh?

Then I heard it, too. In the distance, the rumble of Wine Train.

This awkward moment didn’t last long. Medley regained his composure and transported all of us into the Land of Nostalgia.

That loving feeling? Medley’s still got it.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.