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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Fair Mixes Traditional, High-Tech : Lancaster: The 56th annual Antelope Valley event will include livestock judging as well as a laser light show.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 56th annual Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival opened Friday afternoon, celebrating the rural roots of an area where farmland is quickly giving way to suburban housing tracts and bustling shopping centers.

The 11-day festival, which is expected to draw up to 300,000 visitors to the Lancaster fairgrounds, will mix traditional livestock judging and country music concerts with newer attractions such as a high-tech laser light show and a riding lawn mower race.

On Friday afternoon, Antelope Valley Fair Board members, city officials, the Quartz Hill High School Pep Band, a piano player on wheels and a man walking on stilts took part in brief ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

“We’re excited to get the gates open,” said Charla Abbott, president of the fair board. “We promise you 11 days of fun, entertainment and some education, too.”

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Midday temperatures topped 100 degrees, triggering concerns about a heat wave that could cut into the festival’s attendance. But by late afternoon, the temperature had dropped, and a breeze helped cool down the grounds. A growing crowd of visitors streamed into the carnival and the exhibit halls.

One of this year’s first events was a pig race, in which 6- to 8-week-old animals scurried around a track to earn a treat of vanilla ice cream and Oreo cookies. Charlie Cook, who trains the pigs and takes them to fairs throughout the state, said the animals learn the routine in just three days.

That’s fortunate, he said. “Because they grow up so fast, their racing career only lasts about a month and a half--or as long as they can fit in the gate.”

Jennifer Liebel, 21, and Damian DeGoede, 19, both of Lancaster, cheered for their favorite porkers, while their children, 9-month-old Jason and 2-year-old Brooke, looked on from the comfort of rented strollers shaped like green lizards.

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“It’s fun for the family,” Liebel said of the fair. “There are lots of animals, lots of rides and lots of food. We’ll be here next year--probably tomorrow too!”

Equally enthused was John Schoenmeier, 11, of Mojave, who had entered his pigs and lambs in the fair judging for the third year in a row.

“You have a good time, everybody’s happy,” the youth said. “The only thing I don’t like is people trying to steal the baby chicks” from an open poultry exhibit.

The Antelope Valley Fair has its roots in local harvest festivals and friendly cow-milking and hay-loading competitions that date back almost 100 years. The Antelope Valley Fair Assn. was formed in 1938 and promptly bought the current 80-acre fairgrounds for 35 cents per acre.

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The festival became affiliated with the state’s Division of Fairs and Expositions in 1941. Today, the fair has an annual operating budget of $3.8 million.

This year’s event will feature nationally known performers, such as Randy Travis and the Smothers Brothers, and colorful events such as World Class Wrestling, a “Monster Trucks” show and a rodeo.

The fair also is a major fund-raising event for local service clubs and other nonprofit groups, whose members operate food and drink booths.

City officials, school groups and local businesses will celebrate the arrival of the fair today with a parade featuring nearly 100 entries marching along Lancaster Boulevard in the city’s old downtown district. The parade, beginning at 10 a.m., will start at 10th Street West and move east toward Division Street near the fairgrounds.

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The fair itself reopens at noon today and Sunday, running till 1 a.m. on both nights. Admission is $5 for those older than 13 and $3 for children ages 6 to 12 and for senior citizens over 65.


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