The Fairfax Fair is having a bit of an identity crisis. It's not that its organizers don't know exactly what it is. They're just not sure the community does. So this year, its 18th to be exact, they're trying to get the word out: Fairfax's annual expo isn't your typical county fair.
There are no cows or other livestock for judging, no pie-eating contests, beauty pageants, bake-offs or tractor pulls. This fair prides itself on light shows, a laser maze, virtual reality games and high-tech rides, just to name a few of the attractions scheduled to appear tomorrow through Sunday on the grounds of the Fairfax County Government Center.
There's the Science and Tech Center, which will showcase several interactive exhibits, electric cars, robots and wearable computers. County residents also will be able to reflect on the century's end in a program called "Millennium Moments" that will be broadcast live on the Internet.
Renowned stylist Alexandre de Paris will be on hand to work his magic on fairgoers with the help of computer-simulated make-overs.
And The Magic School Bus--Live, based on the children's TV show, will roll onto the fairgrounds to let youngsters get up close and personal with the popular Ms. Frizzle.
"We're a county fair in name alone," said Mark Riddell, communications director for Celebrate Fairfax, the nonprofit group that organizes the fair and other related activities each year. "We don't have [the agricultural] side to our fair. It's really high-tech; it reflects the community in Fairfax County."
For example, the fair weekend is preceded by a week of activities, including a Get on the Web Day, when students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology built sites for small businesses; Youth Excellence Awards, for several of the unheralded students in county schools; the lord and lady salute, recognizing residents for their contributions to the community; and the High-Tech Career Fair.
"What we're trying to do is showcase what our county is good in," said Linda Bestimt, executive director of Celebrate Fairfax. "Our board president always says yesterday's cows are today's computers in Fairfax County."
Still, there are the traditional fair favorites. Attractions will include a petting zoo, classic dog show, antique vehicles for the Fire and Rescue Department's 50th anniversary, fireworks and a trackless train to give people a tour of the fairgrounds.
County agencies will be on display, "so you can register your kids for camp or [sign up for] day-care services for your elderly parents," Bestimt said. In addition, 400 vendors and exhibitors have signed up to participate.
There will be six stages of entertainment this year, up from three last year. Rhythm and blues artists Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Three Dog Night, country singers Mark Chesnutt and Chad Brock, and a cappella quartet DaVinci's Notebook are among the artists scheduled to appear.
A new attraction at the fair will be the International Cafe stage area, which will feature a mix of country dancers, karate demonstrations and cloggers.
Also, Animal Planet Rescue, a partnership of Discovery Communications and the American Humane Association and an affiliate of the Animal Planet television channel, will be on site in its rescue vehicle. The Animal Planet Rescue exhibit will feature games and displays and some exotic animals, such as a python, monkey and parrots.
Fair organizers expect 140,000 to 150,000 people to attend over the three days, about 75 percent of them county residents, but some traveling all the way from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Preparing for that many people is no easy feat, taking a volunteer army of 2,000 to assist the six paid Celebrate Fairfax employees. This year's fair is costing organizers $750,000 to $800,000.
Mary Beth Coyas, who works for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and who has been a part of the fair planning since 1994, said the sense of community spirit keeps her coming back year after year.
"You have a lot of good people coming together," she said. "It's just fantastic."
Brenda Spratt, a retired teacher and principal, has been volunteering for 10 years and even cut the ribbon when the Science and Tech Center joined the fair. She said she cherishes her role at the center, which "has been on the cutting edge for 10 years, and we are ready for the millennium. . . . It's a great beginning."
Marilyn Buxton, a county worker who oversees the government center and coordinates efforts between county and fair operations, said that she makes sure the government can keep doing business as usual during the days leading up to the fair and that her family has been active in helping at the fair.
"Both of my teenagers have been volunteers" for years, she said, adding that she enjoys all of the attractions.
"My favorite part," she added, "is watching it all come together."
Adults will pay $7 and children 3 to 12 will pay $3 to enter the fair. Carnival rides and games are extra, but all-day ride stamps area available for $10. Other entertainment is included in the price of admission.