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Our View: A new era for the Black & White Ball starts Saturday night

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Saturday night, the annual Black & White Ball kicks into high gear with renewed purpose and resolve. Auburn’s summer party has returned to its community roots — and the community should turn out and celebrate. The annual ball, hosted by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, makes its debut at the Gold Country Fairgrounds after many years on the streets of Downtown Auburn. Proceeds benefit the chamber’s business development programs, as well as Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice and the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn. The ball is an Auburn institution, but a little less than a year ago, the Black & White was black and blue. Some Downtown merchants, fed up by ball logistics they felt hampered their sales, protested that the ball had worn out its welcome. They petitioned to ban future balls amid the charm of shops and clocktower corner. Others said the ball had become a tale of two parties — a community event until 11 p.m., and an alcohol-fueled bash afterward, which spurred fights and drunken driving arrests. To their credit, chamber leaders were rightfully patient. They listened to the concerns of citizens and the business community. And, knowing the Streetscape project would have prime Downtown real estate torn up at ball time, chamber leaders decided early to move the event to the fairgrounds. A large team of volunteers has been working relentlessly to transform the built-in charm that Downtown brought to the ball. That’s a tall order, given the ambiance of dancing in the street and under the stars — one the ball’s past selling points. But the fairgrounds has some advantages that ball advocates are quick to point out. Summer heat that baked Downtown streets shouldn’t be an issue at the shade-covered fairgrounds, and the hard asphalt and concrete of High Street and Lincoln Ways have given way to cool, soft grass. And the fairgrounds has real bathrooms. By Saturday night, expect the fairgrounds to look and feel far different than it does for the Auburn Home Show or the Gold Country Fair. And expect it to feel different than past balls. Like its “shop local” emphasis for the business community it supports, the chamber has opted to “entertain local” at this year’s ball. Top-notch local musicians Mike Branson and Midnight Sun will anchor stages, six Auburn-area wineries will be pouring wines, and dozens of local restaurants will be serving their specialties. Addressing drunken driving concerns, the chamber is partnering with CALSTAR to host recreational vehicles overnight near the fairgrounds barns, and a camping area has been set up on the fairgrounds for those who want to dance late and not drive home illegally. Chamber officials and event volunteers deserve a hand for taking the ball in a new direction, with the intent of making it an experience people will enjoy. But the real proof comes when the doors open and the amps heat up. If Auburn embraces the concept and supports it like it has in the past, a kinder, somewhat gentler Black & White Ball might emerge as the event that showcases the community — and gives back at the same time. Buy your ticket and plan to be at the fairgrounds Saturday night. You don’t want to miss the new era of the Black & White Ball. --------------------------- Black & White Ball When: 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29 Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, Auburn Tickets: $70 at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce or $60 with discount coupon at Raley’s and Bel Air stores in Placer County RV space: Reservations are $20 Tent space: Free Information: Call the Auburn Chamber at (530) 885-5616