By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

Instead of the usual fireworks display you watch at every-state-fair, USA, a high-tech computer-controlled drone light show will light up the skies over the California State Fair this year. And organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, grown on The Farm located at the fairgrounds, as well as other vegan options, will expand visitors’ eating choices, along with traditional treats like hot dogs, cotton candy, kettle corn, funnel cakes, and more.

“We’re welcoming all families and friends to the State Fair this year. There are so many exciting attractions and there is entertainment of all kinds for everyone to enjoy,” said Anita R. Johnson, a Sacramento resident and Chair of the Fair’s advisory board. She is one of three African-American women on a diverse 18-member team working to increase the event’s appeal to Californians from all walks of life.

The vice chair of the advisory board, Letitia Earl, is also African-American and so is another member, Twiana Armstrong-Bryant.

They say the organizers of the California State Fair, which will be held July 12-28 at Cal Expo’s sprawling 350-acre fairgrounds in Sacramento, are turning up the tempo a bit this go-round with a few surprising activities. They are also revving up some of the usual attractions guests have come to love over the years about the annual California cultural showcase.

“We’ve made it as innovative as possible. We’ve made sure that it will be safe and it will be fun,” said Earl, who lives in Elk Grove and has been inviting everyone she knows to attend this year. She says one of the main goals of the advisory board, comprised of people from of all backgrounds – racial, geographical, age, ethnic, etc. – is to make the Fair representative of every aspect of California.

“People from other states travel here just to be a part of the Fair,” she said. “There will be mariachi bands, a youth mariachi band competition, a marching band with a drum line, and a beautiful and colorful parade that will include Hmong dancers.”

1990’s chart-toppers TLC will perform on July 14, on a day that has been themed “Out at the Fair” for LGBTQ people and their families.

And Oakland’s own Tony! Toni! Toné!, the popular R&B trio, is on the concert lineup for July 26. Other  popular artists like Sean Kingston, Martina McBride, Mariachi Vargas, Clay Walker, .38 Special, We Are Messengers and Marshall Tucker Band will all perform live for fairgoers.

Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), one of several African-Americans elected to the State Legislature, said he’s proud of the work the State Fair and its advisory board have done and he’s looking forward to the festivities.

“The Fair and its cultural advisory committee have played a pivotal role at ensuring the State Fair is representative and welcoming of all Californians,” he said. “I appreciate their efforts to showcase and celebrate California’s rich diversity.”

Food vendors will compete in a best-food-of-the-fair battle that will include a range of dishes representing various cultures and tastes.  There will also be multiple olive oil tastings, as well as a very sweet-sounding “peaches and honey” recipe match-up in which advisory board members will participate.

“Everyone will feel included,” said Bryant-Armstrong, who lives in Rocklin. “It will be a good time. And we’ve made sure it is economical, and parents can continue the long tradition of bringing kids to the Fair.”

For the kiddoes, there will be a goat mountain with actual animals, a selfie exhibit, and lots of games and rides. And the Ferris wheel, of course.

There will be roller coasters and a monorail for adults, too, and guests can enjoy an afternoon of horse racing, or check out winning products from some of the Fair’s many competitions – from baking, crafts and home brewing to photography, commercial cheese and home wine.

At an “elegant” evening Gala event on June 27 hosted by Friends of the Fair, scholarships and awards will be given to students and winners in a variety of industries, including technology, agriculture, television and film.

California held its first State Fair in 1854 at the Music Hall on Bush Street in San Francisco, where there was a large exhibition featuring the state’s agricultural products, including livestock. It was held in several other cities afterwards before moving in 1859 to an Exhibit Hall at 6th and M streets in Sacramento. It has been held in the state capital every year since then.

In 1968, President Ronald Reagan, when he was governor of California, dedicated the current Cal Expo location at 1600 Exhibition Boulevard in Sacramento.   

General admission tickets for this year’s Fair are $14. For $28, fairgoers can purchase a first-ever special food festival pass that will allow them to sample a variety of foods at no additional cost.

Discount admission prices will be available at for the deal-savvy and there will be free days for first responders (July 25th) military, and veterans (July 18th).

“We want everyone to tell us they had a good experience,” says Armstrong-Bryant. “And if you have questions, concerns or complaints, we want to hear from you, too.” 


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