Best things about the state fair

Jeff vonKaenel

I had been traveling, so I did not get to the California State Fair this year until the very last day. In my 23 years in Sacramento, the state fair has provided continuity while my life has changed. My first year in Sacramento, I took my 1-year-old son to the fair, and since then, I took my kids again every summer. But this year, I am an empty nester, and so I experienced the state fair in a different way.

This time, without babies or young children or teenagers, the fair seemed the same, and yet different. There was still the chocolate-covered bacon; the leather-faced carnie with the nonregulation basketball hoops; the hot, hot asphalt; and the oversized stuffed animals. And, of course, the young teens boldly yet anxiously moving into adulthood.

Without children, I spent more of my time in the exhibits instead of on the rides. Here, among the animals, the food and the artwork, I sensed the millions of hours that went into caring for the sheep and the chickens, and into creating the woodwork and the paintings.

At the exhibits, I met several people with artwork on display. I felt their excitement about having their art shown at the state fair; something they had created would be seen and admired by thousands of people.

It was a joy. Especially in a time when so many hours are spent sitting in front of a box of flickering light, looking at a screen. A screen demands passivity, while the fair demands our active participation.

While many of the fair’s exhibits were created months before the opening, I met a group of students who were shooting videos of the fair. On Native Ground, a tribally chartered nonprofit, had partnered with students from the Youth Broadcast and Media Association, students from local Sacramento-area tribal communities and the state fair to create the California State Fair Youth Media Productions studio. I spent some time with the Franklin High School students who were among the 40 students making videos.

One student told me that he had been shooting video almost every day at the fair, and then going home each evening to edit his videos. He loved using the professional equipment at the fair, as compared to his “dad’s camera.”

On Native Ground video director Dominick Porras had been working nonstop with the students, helping them create and edit their videos. He seemed tired, but also proud. Proud of his students’ videos. Proud that he had been a part of this impressive project. Check out the student videos at They bring the fair to life.

This 2013 California State Fair is over. But next year’s event is only 11 months away! There are sheep that need to be cared for. Pies to be made. Wood that needs carving. Paintings that need to be painted. And life to be experienced.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.