Even before the fair opened Wednesday, Kern County Fair CEO Mike Olcott had a colorful preview. While Brad's World Reptiles, one of the fair's new attractions, was setting up its display, some feathered friends from the show visited the man in charge.
He said, "I love those animals, especially that macaw (Redbird). ... It was safer for them in the office. Redbird and her spouse stayed overnight."
When working at his desk, he turned their enclosure to face him: "They just stared at me and bobbed back and forth."
Attendees can get their own close encounter with exotic birds as well as Alli, the 34-year-old American alligator in the Creature Feature Extreme exhibit. And Brad's "World" is not limited to reptiles, with fish, amphibians and the aforementioned birds part of the display that also includes turtles, snakes and other cold-blooded creatures.
The attraction is just one of the new draws for the already popular annual event, which drew more than 448,000 during its 12-day run last year.
In tribute to Kern's strong agricultural ties, there is KC's Farm, an edible garden with a trio of raised vegetable garden plots, a greenhouse, multiple raised beds for Kern County crops and a portable kitchen. Some of the plants, like the grapes, had a slower start, Olcott said, as they struggled with the summer heat. But red romaine, chives, bunching onions (aka green onions), Ichiban Japanese eggplant, cantaloupe, okra, pole beans, and a variety of tomatoes, peppers and herbs were all sprouting
While interactive agricultural demonstrations will be held in the area during the fair's run, much of the farm's work will consist of educational experiences for schools including Sequoia Middle, Wayside Elementary and possibly Casa Loma Elementary, Olcott said.
For those fairgoers less keen on farm-to-table than fryer-to-tongue, there will be plenty of new food options, with the addition of three concessions and new items from existing vendors. New concessions include Vai Foodworks, run by Becca Alaniz. The tater tots trader is new both to the county and the fair circuit itself, having focused mostly on music festivals like the Growlers Six at the Port of Los Angeles.
Alaniz's standout snack — and it's more like a meal — is the smoked brisket loaded tater tots, topping fresh-fried Ore-Ida tots with brisket (burnt ends and flat) that is smoked on site behind the trailer, scratch-made cheese sauce, a caper-based barbecue remoulade and green onions. The dish is $15, which may seem steep but Alaniz said there is plenty of brisket.
"We've had husbands try it," she said. "They like the brisket and the wife gets a taste. Then they come back and get another one because they don't want to share."
(Note: Many of the concessions spotted during a media tour Wednesday had signs noting "cash only," so if you plan to chow down, bring those dollars.)
Other updates this year include increased seating in Budweiser Pavilion — up 1,000 seats to accommodate 4,000 fans — and a new drop-off/pickup location for taxis and ride-hailing services on P Street by Gate 26.
Olcott said with the use of Uber and Lyft increasing over the last two years, the fair wanted to make sure there was a designated space that worked for drivers and riders.
"Before (the previous spot) near Belle Terrace was kind of dark," he said. "We wanted to make sure we have a safe place."
The fair runs now through Sept. 30.