A virtual fair? Organizers of the canceled O.C. event plan to stream fan favorites

A Ferris wheel at the Orange County Fair
From July 17 through Aug. 16, visitors can enjoy an annual tradition without having to leave their homes, as a Virtual O.C. Fair rolls out online concerts, competitions and tours.
(File Photo)

When the leaders of the Orange County Fair announced in late April this year’s festivities would not be taking place in Costa Mesa because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fairgoers were crestfallen.

“It was just depressing,” said Costa Mesa resident Kelly Haggard, 48, an avid fairgoer who’s attended the event for more than two decades. “It literally felt like it was going to be a year without a summer.”

Gone were the pig races, contests and wacky treats. No concerts, no viewing the table-setting displays, no wine garden.

Not wanting to let fair fans such as Haggard suffer through a summer marked by canceled gatherings, holidays and annual traditions, fair officials are planning a virtual celebration that will bring the fun to them.


From July 17 through Aug. 16, people will be able to enjoy some of their favorite fair highlights without having to leave home as the Orange County Virtual Fair rolls out a suite of contests and competitions, cooking demonstrations, online tours and more.

The O.C. Virtual Fair
The O.C. Virtual Fair, which takes place July 17 through Aug. 16, will feature online concerts, competitions and more.
(Courtesy of the O.C. Fair & Event Center)

Michele Richards, chief executive of the O.C. Fair & Event Center, said this week that organizers hope the virtual event will be a bridge for fans between this year’s cancellation and the fair they hope to hold in 2021.

“We’d love for them to have that great feeling — a little bit of it, anyhow — they get when they come to the fair and they walk through the gates and feel they’re in a magical place,” she said. “If we can bring that to the virtual fair, we will have accomplished our goal.”

Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach announced Thursday that they would also be shutting down their beaches on Sunday. Orange County will also close its beaches.

The annual Jr. Livestock Auction, which last year saw the sale of 257 animals and brought in a total of $279,476, won’t happen, but organizers connected 4-H and other student groups to interested buyers remotely, so projects could be completed.

The annual Fun Run 5K race has also gone virtual, with medals and giveaways for participants.

Instead of hauling in jams, vegetables and artwork to be scrutinized by a panel of in-person judges, competitors can submit photos for a virtual contest in one of 33 categories before Monday’s deadline.

Evy Young, the fair’s agricultural education supervisor, said a few brand-new competitions have been specifically created for a “These Times” contest designed to capture scenes of life during the pandemic.

Orange County Fair livestock
Organizers of the Orange County Fair connected 4-H and other student groups to interested buyers remotely, so livestock projects could be completed despite this year’s cancellation.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

“These are unique categories that were created for these unprecedented times,” Young said. “It’s not the categories we would have had in a regular fair season.”

A “Best Bedhead” category will let people show off untrimmed quarantine hairdos, while a “Home” category offers a chance for those working from home to share their creative office ideas.

For people who saw the O.C. Fair as a prime opportunity to shop for gadgets, food items and services, organizers have compiled a list linking visitors to vendors online.

Costa Mesa will reduce its workforce across all sectors by 5% in 2020-21. But two council members said hastily made agreements violated a policy promising transparency in labor negotiations.

Food and farm vendors are creating video demonstrations and tours for a virtual opening day. Chef Dominic Palmieri, a k a the “Midway Gourmet,” will teach viewers how to make deep-fried Oreos.

The O.C. Fair was expected to generate more than $36 million in revenue through Aug. 31, including $11 million in ticket sales and $12.9 million in carnival and concession purchases, according to fair documents.

Spokeswoman Terry Moore said Thursday that the online version is more of a tribute than an attempt to recoup losses.

“The virtual fair, truthfully, is not really a revenue-generating opportunity,” she said. “It’s more about keeping the spirit of the fair alive.”

Richards said organizers hope to create a virtual community gathering during a time when many friends and relatives can’t physically be together.

“We know it’s tough out there,” she said, “but we want to bring a little joy to our guests.”

Cardine writes for Times Community News.