Big Fresno Fair kicks off with honors for Sheriff Steve Magarian, Bennie Gonsalves

The 12-day event kicks off with new leadership at the top in the wake of a damning state audit from earlier in the year.

For the 140th year, the Big Fresno Fair opened its gates Wednesday afternoon, the first of 12 days that are expected to see hundreds of thousands of people descend on the fairgrounds. 

In addition to kicking off the fair Wednesday, the opening ceremonies celebrated two new additions to the Big Fresno Fair Hall of Fame. 


Driving the news: The Big Fresno Fair, which welcomes over 600,000 people annually and contributes around $80 million to the local economy, runs from Oct. 4 to Oct. 15. 

  • All of the typical Big Fresno Fair attractions return, including the popular horse racing, which runs from Oct. 6-9 and Oct. 13-15. Post time is 1:45 each day. 
  • The Table Mountain Concert Series started with WAR and Jimmy JJ Walker on Wednesday night and has a concert every night at the Paul Paul Theater, including The Beach Boys on Oct. 12 and 2 Chainz on Oct. 14. 
  • Livestock auctions are scheduled for Oct. 7 and Oct. 14, and the dairy sale is also set for the seventh. Last year’s livestock auctions brought in $1.4 million. 
  • One of the new attractions from recent years is the Livin’ Local Marketplace, which features nearly 40 local artisans. 

Hall of fame: Former Fair Board President Bennie Gonsalves and former Fresno County Sheriff Steve Magarian were inducted into the fair’s Hall of Fame during Wednesday’s opening ceremonies. 

  • Gonsalves, who was inducted posthumously, was a fixture on the fair board from 1979-1991. 
  • Magarian served as Fresno County Sheriff from 1987-1999 and served in law enforcement for a total of 33 years. 

State of play: This year longtime fair employee Christina Estrada stepped up as the Interim CEO, taking over for Lauri King, who left earlier this year for a role with Fresno State. 

  • King’s departure came after a state audit alleged a pay-to-play scheme with the fair’s nonprofit in 2020 and 2021, although she was not named in the audit. 
  • Friends of The Big Fresno Fair Chairman Brian Tatarian noted during the opening ceremonies that the fair’s leadership has “changed to an incredible extent since last year” as much of the senior leadership has turned over. 

What they’re saying: “When the Big Fresno Fair comes to town it has a tendency to bring people together, not only from the City of Fresno and the County of Fresno, but throughout the Valley, because it really is something that people look forward to each and every day as they come together for family fun over the 12-day period,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer.

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