Marijke Rowland

Rowland: The familiar and the fab mix it up at county fair

With all due respect to the new charging lounges and laser light shows and shark bites on a stick, the best thing about a fair will always be its sameness.

You know what you’re getting when you go to a fair. The salty smell of corn dogs, the dry dust of livestock pens, the crisp white of 4-H uniforms, and smiles – so many smiles. As the Stanislaus County Fair rolls into its final weekend, crowds will pour through its historic gates to catch one last free concert or eat one more VFW hamburger or take one last spin on the Ferris wheel.

Sure, it’s always nice to add new features to the fair each year, because new exhibits and rides and other entertaining offerings only add to the experience. But it’s that familiarity – the certainty that the family can go out and for a few bucks have a fun afternoon and evening – that always will be the county fair’s lifeblood. It’s sweet nostalgia perfumed with concession-stand grease and wrapped up in the warm hug of a carnival game prize teddy bear.

For some, the fair is a tradition year after year. For others, it’s a remnant of the past. But for everyone, a step back into the fair is a reminder that classic pieces of Americana are still very much living history.

My own fair memories growing up weren’t in Stanislaus County, but the Midwest. Still, there are key touchstones at all fairs across the country. Granted, you eat funnel cakes and we had elephant ears, but regional quirks aside, the Stanislaus fair has managed to strike that balance between clinging to its past and embracing its future.

Yes to all the stuff on a stick you can eat (and this year’s winner of the Best Artery Clogger is the funnel cake bacon cheeseburger); yes to interactive fantasy and science exhibits; yes to farm animal petting zoos; yes to those mobile device charging stations.

Whether the fair is your scene or not, you can’t deny it strives to have something for almost everyone. Take your pick from its free live concerts by headliners in multiple genres (see Three Dog Night today, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts on Saturday and Ezequiel Peña on Sunday), to its always popular arena events, the midway and all that outrageous food.

And just as reassuring is the knowledge that even after the last steer is sold and the last cotton candy consumed, there’s always next year.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Well, here’s something I never thought I’d say. I think I want to see a theatrical one-man show starring Mike Tyson.

Former heavyweight champ Iron Mike brings his stage show to Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre on Oct. 2. His show, “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” had a successful run on Broadway and in Las Vegas, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee, in 2013. Last year, he took his production on the road for a nationwide tour, which continues this year.

The show and Tyson’s memoir, released last year, share the same name. It is billed in press material as “a rare, personal look inside the life and mind of one of the most feared men ever to wear the heavyweight crown.”

Tickets are on sale now and run about $61-$218. Find out more at ...

And, finally, movie buffs, get ready.

The Modesto Film Society’s new season kicks off July 27 at the State Theatre. The film group will screen the 1942 classic “Casablanca” and turn the lobby into Rick’s Cafe Americain for the event. Moviegoers are encouraged to do their best Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman – or any of the other characters – for the event.

The Modesto Film Society has partnered with the State to present 22 films in its Classic and Cinema Club series this season. Admission is $8 per film for either series, with discounts for members.

Other films in the Classic series this season include “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “King Kong” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” The Classic series screens mostly the third Sunday of the month July through next June. The Cinema Club, which features more contemporary works, will have a slate including “Airplane,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Pulp Fiction.” Screenings are the fourth Sunday of each month July through next May.

For more, call (209) 527-4697 or visit