Sacramento Fair Books A Diverse Lineup

California State Fair, talent buyer build concert series to appeal to everyone

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 8, 2018

UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey performed on the Golden 1 Stage as part of the Toyota Concert Series at the California State Fair in Sacramento. (Courtesy California State Fair)

When California State Fair CEO Rick Pickering was buying talent for the fair’s Toyota Concert Series, he worked closely with booking agents to make sure the lineup fit the cultural needs of Californians.

The state is 770 miles long and 250 miles wide and encompasses 164,000 square miles, and there’s a lot of diversity, Pickering said.

For this year’s fair, which ran July 13-29 in Sacramento, they booked Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlan from Mexico as a headlining act, catering to Latinos in the state. “We were able to market to an important market in our state,” Pickering said.

The mariachi band filled all 3,500 seats at the Golden 1 Stage, the largest main stage in the center of the fairgrounds. The standing room for an additional 2,000 attendees was also packed.

Pickering and his team worked with California-based talent buyer Wilson Events Inc. not only to book all the concerts for this year’s concert series but to help organize something new.

“We created the first-ever youth-wide mariachi competition in California. We selected 10 teams from throughout the state and tied it into the Mariachi Vargas act,” Pickering said.

The top two teams took the stage with the band and performed for the sellout crowd.

“You want to build a balanced program that caters to everyone that attends the fair,” said Ethan Hirsh, vice president of Wilson Events Inc. “We try to take the fair’s budget and determine what’s possible from there. These are very strategic decisions based upon history. We really do try to build something for the venue itself.”

This year, the California State Fair budgeted $550,000 to purchase talent for Golden 1 Stage and spent another $200,000 on production costs, Pickering said.

The fair pays Wilson Events an annual flat fee for its work, he said.

The fairgrounds has three stages plus a soccer field, Papa Murphy’s Park, where concerts and other events were held. The soccer stadium, home to the Sacramento Republic soccer team of the United Soccer League, seats 11,569 and has a rolling stage attached to one end of the field.

Spectra and the Nederlander Organization partnered with the fair to manage the three shows at the stadium: the S.M.O. Tour, featuring Latin music acts; Kidz Bop Live; and ZZ Top with George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

Tickets for the Papa Murphy’s Park shows were sold through Ticketmaster, but all the other concerts were free for those who paid to attend the fair.

Attendees did have an option to pay $15 or $25 to get front-row seats at Golden 1 Stage shows, which included popular acts such as Trace Adkins, Kool & The Gang, Los Lonely Boys and UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey.

Two large community stages, roughly 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep, featured local bands and entertainers.

“People have to apply and be selected for the community stages,” Pickering said, noting that he and fair staff choose those performers. The community stages had gospel music, country, pop and rock.

Toyota and Golden 1 Credit Union were the two main sponsors of the entire state fair, and they wanted their names specifically tied to the main stage, Pickering said.

“All of our sponsors go to our bottom line,” he said. "We’re always looking at acts that will sell more revenue, more food and alcohol.”

Kaiser Permanente is the main sponsor of the fair’s farm program.

Overall, attendance this year was 572,250, down 65,000 from 2017, and Pickering credits the dip to nine days of extreme heat.

“To have nine of our 17 days over 100 degrees really hurt attendance,” he said.

However, he said that the amusement company, Butler Amusements, logged a record number of riders at the amusement park this year.

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: August 8, 2018