A cluster of new performances and attractions will debut at the Santa Barbara County Fair this year, including some with a unique tie to the county.
In addition to new "strolling performances," high-wire walking and a five-person family circus, Colton, California-based amusement park company Helm and Sons Amusements will bring three amusement park rides formerly used at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.
"In talking with people around the community, there's always some kind of connection," said Shelly Cone, fair spokesperson. "Some know people who worked on the ranch. Others may have gone on tours or field trips. With Neverland being in our backyard, it's neat to have rides back here."
Corey Oakley, vice president of Helm and Sons Amusements, said the Zipper, a Ferris wheel-like ride featuring a dozen freely rotating cages; Lolli Swing, a lollipop-themed aerial swing; and Spyder, formerly used at Neverland, will be among the company's 32 rides featured at the five-day fair, which opens July 11.
Though Helm and Sons purchased the rides following Jackson's death in 2009, during his lifetime the company remained responsible for procurement and upkeep of the rides at Neverland. The company now owns six rides from Neverland.
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In addition to the Neverland rides, Helm and Sons will be bringing the Little Dipper, a new children's roller coaster; Krazy Train, which features replica fire trucks and semitrucks; and the Himalaya, a rotating car ride that goes backward and forward, to the fair.
"We’re trying to be a little different and try to create a theme park atmosphere," said Oakley, adding that the company hopes to create a seamless ambiance between the rides and other attractions.
An old-time band organ (also known as a calliope) will be set up in the kids’ area, serenading visitors with traditional fairground music. Cone said "strolling acts" like trick ropers, unicyclists and roving cowboys will help bridge the festival's atmosphere with wandering fairgoers.
"It's just another way of bringing some fun as you're walking around looking at exhibits and vendors," Cone said. "It makes it a real fun time."
New to the fair this year are the Royal Circus, a family of five performers presenting a circus-type show with a high-wire act, comedy and magic and "Dancing Waters," an automated water show synchronized to music.
"We always need to stay a step ahead," said Oakley, adding that Helm and Sons tries to make changes to its attractions each year.
"There are some things that are new and different than what we've had in the past," Cone said. "This is really exciting for us."
Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga