Get Ready to Rock at the Orange County Fair

Larger-than-life concerts return to the Orange County Fairgrounds after a lengthy hiatus.


Get your lighters ready and grab your denim jackets and AquaNet. Almost 20 years after the last rock band hit the main stage at the Orange County Fairgrounds, local fans can sing along to “Sister Christian” and other ’80s favorites this week as the fair brings back arena-size concerts to its upgraded grandstands.

Night Ranger, famous for its 1984 drum-heavy anthem, will appear July 18 with Vince Neil of Motley Crue. It’s the third in a series of concerts at the fairgrounds; the first is July 16, featuring alt-rock’s Manchester Orchestra with Bad Flower. Electro-pop bands AJR and Big Data hit the stage on July 17.

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The speedway stage was THE place to go for concerts way back when. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Santana, Guns N’ Roses, Huey Lewis and the News, Foreigner… if a band was popular in the 1980s, chances are it played at the Orange County Fair as part of the Westwood One and Pepsi Concert Series. In fact, you could call Night Ranger’s appearance this month a return engagement. The band was the special guest of .38 Special during its “Back in the Saddle” tour at the fairgrounds on July 30, 1984. As time wore on, interest in the fairgrounds as a concert venue waned. 

New investments at the speedway section of the fairgrounds, including new bathrooms, a new roof, and new grandstands, spurred interest in reviving arena-size concerts to the venue, which has a capacity of 15,000.

Like it did back then, the fair is offering standing-only general admission right in front of the stage. Other tickets include general-admission bleacher seating in the half-covered grandstand, reserved seating in the fully covered grandstand, and special, elevated VIP seats flanking the standing-only area.

The fairgrounds will be bustling the entire week, with the 178th annual fair running from July 12–21. Besides the concerts, other musical acts will be playing on smaller stages throughout the fair, and there will be special racing events — like a demolition derby and a Monster Truck show — at the speedway.

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Related: Your Guide to Summer’s Fairs, Festivals, and Flea Markets

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