WATSONVILLE — An eager crowd gathered at the main entrance of the fairgrounds Wednesday, ready to attend the first day of the annual Santa Cruz County Fair.
Despite the overcast afternoon with a threat of thunderstorms, attendees, fair workers and volunteers alike seemed excited for the festivities to begin.
“Honestly, we were a bit worried last night,” said Sue King, who was busy preparing Heritage Hall and Rodgers House before the doors opened. “But it mostly passed by, just giving us enough rain to settle the dust.”
Others expressed a similar relief that the weather cooperated.
“It was so hot last weekend,” said Judy Sauve of the Monterey Bay Rose Society. “And then we heard it might rain today. We’re glad it evened out.”
But even with clouds rolling over the fairgrounds and the occasional sprinkle, activities kicked off immediately. 4-H groups began competing, and school groups streamed in from every entrance, heading off to the various buildings and outside displays.
Familiar faces could be seen wandering the festival grounds early on — as well as some new ones.
Walking through the fair leading a giant, multi-colored dragon was a medieval knight named Lenny Likewise of Prehistoric Adventures, a company based in Fountain Valley.
The dragon, named Firestryker, breathes smoke, flaps its wings and undulates its head and tail as it lumbers through the fairgrounds.
So realistic is Firestryker that children variously cringe away from and run toward the beast, which measures eight feet tall and 16 feet long.
But behind the somewhat frightening exterior is Angelo White, who bills himself as an aspiring actor, singer and master puppeteer.
White said he is releasing his album “Feel Alive” for the upcoming holiday season.
“I want to do all genres of entertainment,” he said. “Now I’m living the beginning of my dream.”
White said his show business connections landed him the gig, which he has been doing for a little more than a year.
He said he navigates with the help of a video screen inside the costume, which also includes a ventilation system, which he said helps keep him cool during his 30-minute performances.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s very fun seeing the different expressions on the kids’ faces. I bring the dream to life.”
A couple of new food vendors can also be spotted along the main fair route. One being the Willamette Valley Pie Company, which was already attracting interested customers with its trailer’s colorful, unique appearance.
There were several events special for the fair’s opening day. As per tradition, the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and the Watsonville Firefighters Association hosted the Opening Day Barbecue in Paddy Smith Park. People enjoyed a lunch of tri-tip, salad and garlic bread while South Bay Swing Band performed nearby on the Amphitheater Stage.
At the fair’s opening ceremony, Fair Board President Bill Barton welcomed visitors and expressed his appreciation for event organizers and volunteers.
“Everyone has done extremely good work,” he said. “I know this will be another great year.”
The Santa Cruz County Fair runs through Sunday. For information and to pre-order tickets, visit santacruzcountyfair.com.