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County Fair in full swing
For Bonnie Azevedo and her family, the Stanislaus County Fair has been a mandatory event for nearly 30 years and this year was the culmination for Bonnie.

Joined by nearly a dozen family members and friends, she showed up three hours before the famous Arch Gate opened at 5 p.m. Friday and the group was amongst the first to enter the gate when the fair opened for its 100th anniversary.

"I always look forward to the county fair. I love the dangerous and exciting rides, they are my favorite part of the fair, oh and funnel cake," said Azevedo. "I don't like the weird food, especially things like maggot sandwiches," she added while alluding to the "maggot melt" sandwiches served at the California State Fair in Sacramento.

The Azevedo family wasn't alone in their excitement for the fair. According to fair officials, pre-fair ticket sales were up 15 percent from last year. An hour before the fair opened its gate, hundreds of people waited in line.

One couple, Thomas and Jessica Reed, traveled from the Bay Area to see the opening night musical act - country star Clint Black.

"We wanted to go when he came to Napa but tickets were like $100 bucks so we decided to drive here and see him for free and see a country fair," said Jessica. The couple has never been to Turlock before and they maintain they have never even driven through Turlock. "We got a hotel room and we'll spend some time in Turlock," she added.

With temperatures in the mid 80s crowds were relaxed and ready for a good time. Dan Ludlow and Martha Lane of Escalon put it best: "We are here to eat, drink beer and see Clint Black!"

David Azevedo and his 7-year-old son Donovan drove from Los Banos to see the monster truck rally.

"We came to have a good time together, see some big trucks, ride some crazy rides and eat," said David. David and Donovan went on the famous Super Shot drop ride, which takes the passenger more than 100 feet in the air and drops them down with no warning. "This one is definitely fun, you physically leave your seat and float for a split second," added David.

Entertaining Saturday evening's crowd was the popular Boyz II Men. The 1970s band America performed on Sunday evening. The Christian band MercyMe turned the Budweiser Free Stage area into a worship experience for many in the audience. Last night's headliner was country act Clay Walker.

Performing at the Fair today is Big Time Rush at 8:30 p.m. Thursday's 8:30 p.m. act is Bob & Tom Comedy All-Stars. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts will perform Friday while Joe Nicols and Heidi Newfield will sing on Saturday. The Latino group La Original Banda el Limon de Salvador Lizarraga will close out the Fair on Sunday evening.

Fairgoers may also enjoy new exhibits for 2011. The newest live-entertainment hot spot, the Health Plan of San Joaquin Centennial Stage, was packed opening night. The stage features community music and entertainment acts throughout the fair's 10-day run.

Also new at the fair this year is the Wetlands Exhibit, which features Valley wetlands and grasslands with a habitat education and awareness model and information booths. Fair CEO Chris Borovansky commissioned the exhibit after visiting the Merced County fair and viewing the unique display.

People looking for a blast from the past can visit the Centennial Time Travel Exhibit. The walk down memory lane highlights past Stanislaus County Fairs with historical photos, articles and projects reaching all the way back to 1911.

Returning to the fair is the popular Rainforest exhibit complete with such exotic animals as the alligators, monkeys, lizards, snakes, parrots, scorpions and others.

The fair is open until Sunday. Admission is $12 for adults, $5 for seniors age 65 and up, $5 for children age 7 to 12, and free for age 6 and younger.