Entertainment · Fresno

Big Fresno Fair roars back with new chief at helm, Dwight Yoakam rockin’

This year’s Big Fresno Fair opening ceremonies went a little smoother than last year.

For starters, the speakers did not have to compete with Anthrax this time around. 

Last year, Anthrax performed on opening night at the Paul Paul Theater but arrived late to town, pushing its sound check into the opening ceremony hour and creating quite an interesting event. 

With a much softer ceremony that lacked heavy metal, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen, Wednesday’s emcee, joked that he should be good to go this year if Dwight Yoakam started practicing for his concert that night. 

“Do you guys remember I was kind of battling with Anthrax? I didn’t know who Anthrax was at the time. I did a little research and now I know who Anthrax is. I’ll just tell you that if today we have that same conflict with Dwight Yoakam I can sing along this time,” Jacobsen joked. “So I’m really excited about that.” 

Yoakam didn’t have to take the stage early, allowing the fair’s opening to go off without a hitch. 

It was a kickoff event filled with excitement, especially to be able to return for a second consecutive year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced its closure in 2020. 

The 139th annual fair also marked the first year under the sole stewardship of Lauri King. 

Before being hired as CEO in July, King served as co-CEO alongside Stacy Rianda following longtime leader John Alkire’s retirement in September 2020. 

“We have so much to be proud of here at the Big Fresno Fair. We’ve worked hard to grow our fair into the fourth largest fair in California, and the leader in the fair industry. We have a first-class horse racing meet that is viewed by people throughout the nation. We have our Table Mountain Rancheria Park that is our own little version of Disneyland for the community with its 10 whimsical and educational attractions like the award-winning pirate ship and Meyers Water and Wildlife Tree,” King said. 

“We have our amazing competitive exhibits that showcase the best of Fresno County through the entries from our community members. We have incredible education programs like our Fair Education Program, which brings in over 30,000 parents, teachers and students, our little future fairgoers.”

King also highlighted the 11th annual 4.0 & Above program, which will give away over $100,000 in scholarships to students, as well as a 2023 Toyota Corolla to one student. 

The livestock department has over 1,000 exhibitors this year, the agriculture building showcases all sorts of commodities that are grown in Fresno County and sent around the world, and King also noted the Big Fresno Fair Museum and the Fresno County Historical Museum as fair highlights. 

Boxing champion and Avenal native Jose Ramirez will be at the USA Boxing Championships at the fair on Oct. 16 signing autographs. 

“There are so many new things at this year’s fair and so much to be proud of overall, and that doesn’t even cover all of what the Big Fresno Fair brings to the community,” King said. “I’m so proud to have been a part of the fair’s transformation over the last 19 years, and I look forward to enhancing these attributes that make the fair and our fairgrounds so special so we can continue to serve this wonderful community and of course showcase and celebrate agriculture, our foundation of fairs.” 

At the end of the opening ceremony, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino, Rick Ransom and Michael Joseph Giovannetti were inducted into the Fair Hall of Fame, and Tim Sullivan and the Sun Maid Kennel Club were presented with a Blue Ribbon Award.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.