During fair week, the Umatilla County fairgrounds are at their liveliest after dark.
Children dart through clusters of parents waiting for their own child to disembark from a spinning spaceship ride. Couples wander hand in hand. Groups of teenagers ebb and flow as they catch up on summer gossip.
On the east end of the grounds the night sky is lit up by floodlights trained on the rodeo grounds, the announcer’s play by play of each ride echoing over the barns and lines for the zip-line. To the west, the sounds of the night’s concert provide a soundtrack for the commercial and food vendors.
On Wednesday night it was only down to 85 degrees by 9 p.m. but people were out enjoying the relative break from the heat.
Sean Griggs of Hermiston was standing outside a ride with his two young sons in a stroller as he waited for his daughter to get off a ride.
“We usually go in the evening when it’s a little cooler for the kids,” he said.
The children had gotten curly fries and corn dogs for dinner when they got there, and he said they would probably get an elephant ear before they went home.
Mallory Mulcare of Hermiston said she had been at the fair all day, but there was “like no one here” from noon to about 3 p.m. when it was well over 100 degrees. She said since she is pregnant she can’t do much rides-wise this year, but she enjoyed walking around and seeing people and eating the fair food.
“My favorite are the fruit cups and elephant ears,” she said.
In the barns several young families were stopped by the various animal pens, allowing the children to pet a sheep or look at the rabbits. Kyla Larson, who shows animals in the small animal barn, said while 4-H and FFA youth are busy washing and caring for their animals throughout the day, they tend to have more of an audience for their animals at night.
“It usually speeds up in the small animal barn,” she said. “A lot of people bring their little kids.”
Some people showing animals head back home for dinner or spend some time in the RV camping area then, but Larson said the ones who stick around sometimes let the kids hold their rabbit.
On the other side of the fairgrounds, behind the event center, country singer Ned Ledoux was on stage. There are reserved seats available for each fair concert, but those who don’t want to pay for a ticket can sit on the bleachers behind the reserved section or stand nearby to catch a song or two before continuing on to other parts of the fair.
Taylor Betz and Bob Coleman of Hermiston were standing near the bleachers watching the performance Wednesday shortly before 10 p.m. as Ledoux finished a ballad and launched into a cover of his father Chris Ledoux’s song “Copenhagen.”
Coleman said he likes the fair better at night, because it’s less hot and the concerts are going. He listens to Ledoux’s music at home, and he and Betz said they were enjoying the show.
“It’s funning being able to hear him on iTunes and on the radio, and then in person,” Betz said.
Parking and traffic were complaints about the fair last year, but at 9 p.m. on Wednesday there was no line at the gate and plenty of open parking. By 10 p.m. traffic was trickling from the rodeo and fair parking but was moving at a steady pace out of the grounds and onto Airport Road, then onto Highway 395, where police had set up cones and vehicles to create a way to turn right onto the road without stopping.