When deciding on a theme for this year's Monterey County Fair, event organizers looked to one of the region's defining elements: the berry.
"We wanted to choose a Monterey County top commodity," said Kelly Violini, CEO of the fair. "Strawberries were the top crop in Monterey County in 2011."
So the call went out to the community to create a slogan that gives tribute to the county's $713 million strawberry industry. The winning slogan, submitted by 13-year-old Trent Baldwin, is "Very Berry Extraordinary!"
Various berry-themed activities have been under way throughout the year, including a gardening project with more than 1,000 strawberry plants transplanted onto the fair grounds.
The Monterey County Fair also hosted a special "Strawberries in the Classroom" program in local schools this year, which will culminate in School Tour Day on Thursday, when students and other fair attendees will help to build the world's largest strawberry shortcake.
"We're hoping for 12,000 pounds — there will be a lot of frosting," mused Violini. After the oversized cake is complete, slices will be sold to the public for a dollar donation, with the money slated to benefit the 4H program.
In this way, the theme comes full-circle. Not only does "Very Berry Extraordinary" highlight the importance that berries play in the local economy, it also gives homage to one of the fundamental components of the Monterey County Fair itself: the county's rich agricultural heritage, all the way from professional farmers to 4-H farmers-in-training.
As a fourth-generation Salinas resident, Violini's first experiences with the Monterey County Fair were as a youth involved in 4-H. "This is very near and dear to my heart," she said. "As a child, I raised pigs, sheep and steers, and I used the money (I earned from selling the livestock) to pay for my college education."
On Saturday, more than 300 youths who are participating in local 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs will sell their livestock at the Junior Livestock Auction.
Like Violini, many of these young people plan to save the money they raise for their college educations.
Saturday will also be Water Awareness Day, with informational booths and activities set up to remind people of how important water is to the local agricultural industry, as well as to the quality of life on the Monterey Peninsula.
New this year, the fair will feature Dollar Day on Thursday, when admission will cost $1, along with $1 parking and $1 carnival rides until 5p.m.
Thursday will also be Senior's Day, with a special Senior's Fair from 11a.m.-3p.m. at the Turf Club, featuring free coffee and doughnuts as well as prizes and informational booths. Grandparents with grandchildren in tow will be eligible to ride select carnival rides for free.
Other specially themed days include Military Appreciation Day on Friday, when all active duty military personnel and their dependents will be admitted into the fair free-of-charge.
There will be a flag ceremony in honor of those who've served in the armed services at 6p.m. at the Flying U Rodeo (in the Pattee Arena), followed by a free rodeo performance.
Sunday will be Fiesta Day, featuring a variety of Latin-themed musical performances (Rocio Y Sus Sonora, Los Cadetes de Rigoberto Cantu, Banda Oro Verde and Ruckatan). There will also be a special ticketed Fiesta Del Charro show that includes dancing horses and a Mexican bull-riding performance.
Monday, Labor Day, will celebrate the closing of the Monterey County Fair with Picnic Day, when all the tables will be decked out with red- and white-checkered table cloths.
Patrons are encourage to bring picnic blankets to spread out in front of the stage to lounge on while listening to a concert by the Monterey Bay Symphony.
One of the biggest draws to the fair every year is the concert series, and this year is no exception. Featured performers include the British rock quartet, Foghat, performing Thursday evening on the Payton Garden Stage.
Characterized by their classic blues-rock slide guitar sound, Foghat is best known for hits such as "Slow Ride," "Fool for the City" and "I Just Want To Make Love To You."
Friday will feature Fan Halen, a tribute to the rock band Van Halen. Based out of Southern California, this high-voltage tribute band has spent the past decade reviving 1970s rock 'n' roll on stages around the world, from across the U.S. and Canada to Mexico, South America and as far away as Japan.
The Chris Gardner Band will perform its energetic country-rock on Saturday. A relatively new group to hit the Nashville music scene, the band released its first album, "The Answer," this spring.
The band has opened up for major country artists, including Chris Young, Luke Bryan, Love and Theft, Jerrod Neiman, Joe Nichols, Mark Chestnut and Josh Gracin.
Closing night of the fair, Monday, will feature two shows by Mobility, an upbeat band that plays a mix of rock, country and pop favorites from yesterday and today.
Mobility is a subdivision of the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West, traveling along the West Coast to perform for civilians and military personnel alike.
As in years past, fairgoers this year will again be able to park conveniently and ride a dedicated shuttle bus to the fair.
On Thursday and Friday, the public can park for $5 at Shoreline Community Church (2500 Garden Road, Monterey) and take a free shuttle to the fair's main gates every 15 minutes.
Saturday through Monday, parking is $5 per car, with a free Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) shuttle from Monterey Peninsula College, Lot A.
From 11a.m. to midnight, MST will provide a comfortable bus ride to and from the fairgrounds at no charge with advance fair tickets.
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What: 76th annual Monterey County Fair
Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey
When: Gates open at noon every day; close at 10p.m. Thursday and Monday (Aug. 30 and Sept. 3); close at 11p.m. Friday through Sunday (Aug. 31-Sept. 2)
Tickets: $9 general (ages 13-64), $8 for seniors (65+), $5 for children (6-12) free for children 5 and under, available at gate; discounted tickets and carnival wristbands available online at www.montereycountyfair.com