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Everything is fair game in Orange County this year

Despite tough economic times, the Orange County Fair is thinking big -- including a 3D brain exhibit with 'Weird Al' Yankovic.

July 10, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

Workers carefully placed fake flowers in front of the Budweiser vendor. Others painted tables black and glued twine on the edges to give them a western look. Chicken Charlie, purveyor of fried delicacies, prepared to debut deep-fried pizza bites.

But in the last-minute scramble to ready the Orange County Fairgrounds for its biggest event of the year, the 119th annual O.C. Fair that opens today, one attraction was on everyone's mind: Al's Brain, a $2.5-million three-dimensional exhibit in which "Weird Al" Yankovic, the curly-haired parody musician, purports to teach basic facts about the human brain.

The exhibit is a gamble for the fair, whose projected reserves have fallen $5.2 million and whose workers are coping with two furlough days every month.

"Can you really put a price on entertainment?" asked Robin Wachner, the fair's communications director.

Organizers are offering discounts and free admission on some days in an effort to make sure attendance doesn't drop during the economic downturn, but the fair's spirit of abundance is otherwise undiminished. "Think. Big." is the motto -- and the event is about making things oversized, Wachner said. A giant cotton candy, hot dog and ball of string dot the landscape.

The 3-D show is meant to help bring a sense of innovation to the fair, said Chief Executive Steve Beazley.

Lately, fairs have "become a little more retrospective, looking back at heritage more than looking forward at innovation," he said. "Fairs used to be on the cutting edge. They used to be the introducer . . . of new products, cutting-edge ideas."

The film begins with a shot of Weird Al floating through the air and vowing to help the audience "learn absolutely everything there is to know about the brain." The 10-minute show is heavy on jokes and 3D graphics -- with a brief appearance by Fabio -- but light on the science.

Asked why a musician known for singing "Eat It" to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" would make a video about the functions of the brain, Yankovic said simply: "That was an idea my manager came up with. . . . At the time it seemed a little random and arbitrary, but I also thought it was something I could sink my teeth into.

"I'm not a neuroscientist, but I've got a decent working knowledge of brain functions," he said, adding that he hoped that people will come away with a little more knowledge about the brain.

Fair organizers hope the exhibit will eventually be leased by other fairs and plan on sending it to Seattle later this year to showcase it to organizers around the country.

The fair runs through Aug. 9 and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For complete information on fair hours, prices and directions, call (714) 708-1500 or go to http://ocfair.com/2009/

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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