If the decision had been left up to several performing animals, the Kern County Fair could have opened Tuesday. As humans hustled to stock concessions and finish assembling rides, the exotic birds, turkeys and elephants behaved like pros, strutting their stuff for a media preview.
The birds are part of a new show at the fair, which begins its 12-day run today at the new, and earlier, opening time of 1 p.m. Nancy and Gil Riegler, who have run the turkey stampede at the fair for years, added a Catalina macaw, Amazon parrots and more to the local lineup.
"At 51 years old, I'm like, 'Give me more!'" Nancy Riegler said. "This is like us inviting you into our home."
That home includes a cat, dog, more birds and a "wicked cool" camel-milking farm in San Diego. The Rieglers travel about six months out of the year on the fair circuit through California and Arizona.
Riegler started the exotic show in the late '80s with Koalabi, a chatty cockatoo who's still performing center stage at age 38.
"He's just so likable. Total charisma," Riegler said. "He's our chick magnet. ... Koalabi would like it to be a 20-minute Koalabi show. He's a people guy."
The show, which runs up to 30 minutes and features five to six birds, will be presented three times daily (as will the turkey stampede) in the KC Loop.
Not to be outdone, stunt dogs will perform in a new extreme canines show in the same area, along with the Alaskan racing pigs and Have Trunk Will Travel elephant experience.
New this year is the Wild River Mining Co.'s gemstone and fossil panning. Steven Bennett, who also runs the Battlefield Live laser tag attraction, wanted to provide a fun and different experience for kids.
"I've been to other fairs and was looking for something educational. And how much fun can kids have playing with rocks?"
Bennett has a 28-foot mining sluice that adjusts to various heights to accommodate young miners 2 and up. For $8, kids get a bag of sand that they sift in a box to uncover gemstones or fossils, which can be identified with a classification card.
"Every bag is different, but there is a wide selection in every one."
Speaking of selection, there will be a number of new food items for sale, including a Koolickle (pickle soaked in Kool-Aid), fried pork chop on a stick, maple syrup and bacon funnel cake, and shrimp, octopus and abalone cocktail.
But before you get to the temptations inside, be prepared for a mandatory check of backpacks and larger bags conducted at both public entrance gates.
"We want to ensure the public feels it's a safe environment. It's very high on the sheriff's list," said sheriff's Lt. Tim Melanson. Kern County Fair: It's. Finally. Here!