COSTA MESA, Calif. (CNS) -- The 2023 edition of the Orange County Fair began on Friday, featuring its first new exhibit since the pandemic as well as a return of many longtime favorites.
"We're very excited about a brand new exhibit," Orange County Fair CEO Michele Richards told City News Service. "It's a custom-made one for us about the art of music. It will take up one of our entire exhibit buildings and the best way I can describe it is as a walk-through exhibit, nostalgic journey through iconic album art."
The exhibit features the original large hand-painted billboards that touted the release of now-iconic albums, Richards said.
When the fair returned in 2021 after a pandemic-induced hiatus the focus was on maintaining the usual staples of the fair as well as controlling crowd sizes, Richards said.
"We were so limited the last two years coming back from the pandemic and we decided we have to get back to that one iconic exhibit feature," Richards said. "We worked with this company before on smaller projects and they partnered with a company that bought up all of those billboards from Hollywood and they approached us actually a couple of years ago about doing this exhibit.
"We thought it was such a terrific idea that it would capture our customers' attention. I've been watching it getting built every day and I'm super excited about it."
Richards said the company that bought the billboards, which used to be displayed on major streets like Sunset Boulevard when the hit albums were released, "did a great job of preserving them and they come in in pieces."
The billboards feature works of Madonna, David Bowie, Prince and others, Richards said.
"There's one of Tom Jones and the Smashing Pumpkins is in there," she said. "The music (featured in the exhibit) goes from the '40s and '50s all the way to the present day."
The crowds will continue to be controlled this year with no on-site tickets available. All tickets must be bought in advance of a visit online. Fair organizers say the smaller crowds provide a more pleasant experience for the customers.
"We're doing it because it works for the guests and the surrounding neighborhoods," Richards said. "It's a much better guest experience when we control our attendance."
This year the fair -- with the "Happy Together" theme -- is offering a "super pass" for every day of the fair, which runs through Aug. 13 except on Mondays and Tuesdays, Richards said.
"The cost is $60 and you can come any day you want or every day you want -- even when it is sold out," Richards said.
Another new perk at the fair is unlimited water at no cost for visitors who bring their own thermos or bottle, Richards said. Visitors can also buy a souvenir water bottle and refill it with chilled, filtered water at filling stations throughout the fairgrounds, Richards said.
"We're on a mission to try to eliminate plastic water bottles at the OC Fair, so starting this year we are supplying four water stations throughout the fairgrounds that will serve up free filtered water for our guests if they bring an empty water bottle," Richards said.
The fair will feature three new carnival rides.
"One is called Joker 360," Richards said. "We also have a brand new roller coaster called Rafter that looks very gnarly. And a ride called the Slingshot... The ride shoots you up the air 70 feet. It literally slings you into the air."
As for fair food, Richards said, "There's some really good stuff this year. There's always crazy food at the fair, but we're really excited about the new stuff because we think it will appeal to a wide range of palettes"
One is a Maple Bacon Smoothie "for those super bacon fans," Richards said.
"There's a fruit pizza," she said. "And deep-fried s'mores. I'm really looking forward to that one."
California Grill will serve up all vegan and vegetarian fare, she said.
"That's a first time at the fair," she said. "Our customers asked for it and we're delivering it."
The Pacific Amphitheatre will feature concerts from Motown legend Smokey Robinson, country icon Dwight Yoakam, classic rockers Cheap Trick, Chicago, Styx and George Thorogood and post-punk pioneers X.
"Beck is coming" Aug. 9, Richards said. "And we'll have all those great tribute bands each night (in the Hangar)."
But some old favorites are also on the way back, she said.
"The rodeo is coming back," she said. "We haven't had that in the last few years.... If people have been to the fair the last couple of years they're going to discover so many new things this year... and all of the favorites are coming back and lots of new stuff so you can discover and rediscover."