Wade to Go!

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Here’s one last (?) look back at the Wade Shows midway, which we found colorful and gorgeous. The excitement of having some new rides charged up interest and brought out the crowds. We’d have to give the Fair high marks for having the foresight to make the move after decades of partnership with the Strates Shows. Even if you didn’t judge the new midway as better than the old, the fresh start itself was great promotion. Throw in the one dollar ride special on Labor Day and you have to give this move a blue ribbon.

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Riding Into the Sunset

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Now two weeks after Labor Day, it’s time to move on from the 2014 New York State Fair. We’ll still take an occasional look back, but there’s so much to which we can look forward. We’re currently working on a list of topics for Fair discussion and we’d love to have you keep in touch as we move into the official off-season.

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Along the way, look for some great photos from the lens of State Fair Hound photographer Nick LoPresti, like these shots from the Fair’s closing days.

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If you didn’t get enough of the Fair and its home, sometimes called the Empire Expo Center, there will be plenty of events there throughout the year. This fall, you can get another look at some great horses at various horse shows on the grounds. Admission and parking are free. Just enter, usually through gate 2, and tell the security guard you’re there to see horses. He’ll wave you through and provide directions if needed.
If you get hungry while you’re there, the Bosco’s stand on Restaurant Row is usually open for horse shows, serving some food that’s similar to their Fair menu.

See you there.

Taking the Fair home

Some of us left this year’s New York State Fair with something that could be considered a souvenir. Perhaps the most coveted would be a prize snagged on the Wade Show’s midway, won by combining some skill and nerve with a little luck. If there’s an enormous stuffed dog guarding your bedroom right now, you can be proud. It’s not easy to break those plates, swish those free throws or ring those bottles.

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There are, of course, other ways to bring home a special reminder of the Fair. We heard about people who had cans of Coca Cola personalized, which is fun, but doesn’t really say State Fair. Same goes for fossils youngsters could mine from the Discover the Dinosaurs tent, cool, but not really Fair souvenirs.

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There were the usual t-shirts and baseball caps, along with a few assorted toys, mugs, pins, posters and other stuff, but one great souvenir debuted this year in the Grange Building at the State Fair history exhibit. There you could buy a metal Christmas tree ornament in the shape of the Horticulture Building. It’s the first in a planned series of pieces, with other Fair landmarks to follow in future years. We’re hoping this year’s will also be available next Fair as we forgot to get one before leaving on Labor Day. So we have another reason to look forward to State Fair 2015.

Picking a Winner

While the fun of New York State Fair 2014 is still resonating, we can’t help but think about more terrific times to come. A story today on CNY Central (if you can find it on their website, you’re ahead of us) reacquainted us with an old friend who had a moment of glory at the Fair that we’d like to see repeated.

It seems that North Syracuse resident Stan Munro has recently achieved a world’s record for building structures out of toothpicks. His replica of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai was certified the world’s tallest toothpick structure in the 2015 Guinness Book of World Records. It’s 16 feet high.

Munro’s first major project, Toothpick City, drew crowds of amazed onlookers to the Art and Home Center in 2005 to marvel at his scale reproductions of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building, the St. Louis Arch and many other famous buildings, a total of 50 in all.

TOOTHPICK CITY

That original project was sold soon after and is now on permanent display in the House of Katmandu, a museum in Mallorca, Spain. Munro subsequently went back to work, gluing together an even more spectacular collection he called Toothpick City II: Temples and Towers. That collection was displayed at the MOST in downtown Syracuse and is now a traveling exhibit.

Maybe it’s time for a return to the Fair for Munro’s quirky architecture. A steady stream of Fair visitors filed past the display, making it one of that year’s most popular exhibits. Next Fair will be 10 years after and we’ll bet the artist’s newest project would be just as popular. See for yourself at toothpickcity.com.

Worth noting is that that same year, 2005, another traveling exhibit attracted crowds to the Horticulture Building to see a display of Elvis Presley Memorabilia. That type of spectacular collection is another thing that could make a great Fair even better.

Concerted Success

Syracuse.com’s Chris Baker has an article on the website with the concert attendance counts from this year’s grandstand concert series at the New York State Fair. We can’t figure out why the concert numbers weren’t released sooner, but it’s always interesting to get a look.

As expected, not-quite-country rocker Jason Aldean’s sold-out Aug. 30 concert was the big draw with 17,505 fans on hand, while the multi-band Uproar Festival was lowest with 3,487. Overall it looks like a good year with eight concerts averaging 8,641 seats filled. (The photo below of Brad Paisley performing during his Aug. 21 show is from the State Fair website)

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Motorsports events on Labor Day weekend added 6,851 to the attendance numbers. Both concert and motorsports figures are significant increases over the 2013 Fair.
Overall, Grandstand events contributed over 75,000 to the total Fair attendance, a number we contend supports State Fair Hound’s position that a new concert venue belongs on land within or adjoining the Fairgrounds rather than on the lakeshore. More on that was spelled out in our July 11 post, Hold the Shows.

If you look around the edges of the grounds while passing, especially on I-695 (ideally while someone else is driving) there seems to be potential there to either build the amphitheater or to add parking/camping lots in order to make space elsewhere for a concert shell. We don’t know all of the details, nor have we done a study, but we think those in charge should take a look.

While we’re in the neighborhood of the Grandstand, we want to mention that we noticed an absence of attractions on the infield during the 2014 Fair. A number of things have been tried there over the years, but it’s tough to attract Fairgoers to what seems a somewhat remote, off-the-beaten-path location. Thrill-seeker adventures like go-carts or that giant human slingshot have been tried, as well as a circus and petting zoo and some sideshows like pig racing.

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You can take the ramp from the midway or the tram will take you there, but you have to know where you’re going and that creates a barrier for those who prefer to wander the grounds haphazardly. So this year, campers, cars and trucks had it all to themselves. There’s so much land there that there has to be a way to use it. We suspect this is an agenda item for Fair planners and maybe it could fit in with concert venue projections.

Flight of Fancy

State Fair Hound’s wacky idea of the day is inspired by photos published in Empire Showcase, Henry W. Schramm’s 1985 biography of our Fair. The pictures, taken by Al Edison, show a Bell Aerosystems test pilot firing up a jet pack and soaring over the main gate.

Schramm’s book doesn’t date the photos, but we believe they’re from the 70s. One of them was displayed in the Fair history exhibit in the Grange Building. This photo shows a more modern version of a jet pack.

JET PACK

It seems to us that if a pilot could use a jet pack to fly over the Fairgrounds 40 years ago, one could do it now. Wouldn’t that be wild?

Famed daredevil Nik Wallenda walked a wire over the midway of this year’s Erie County Fair, so that’s another idea for the kind of dazzling spectacle that could add to the excitement of the Fair.

Less sensational ideas, such as this year’s very successful Labor Day-Dollar Day promotion are also important, so let’s keep brainstorming to come up with ways to boost our favorite event . We’ve got almost a year to work on it.

Ticket to Rise

State Fair Hound knows that Fair executives and staffers are already thinking about the 2015 version. They have a little extra planning time this off season as the 169th New York State Fair opens on Aug. 27, the latest date the Fair can open under its current configuration.

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Acting Director Troy Waffner has assured us that suggestions from the public are taken seriously and we saw evidence this year with more places to sit and eat, midway improvements and the wine court’s return to the colonnade as the Taste NY Wine, Beer and Spirits Village. So, keep ‘em coming by logging onto nysfair.org to submit your ideas. Meanwhile, we’ll propose a few of our own.

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For starters, we’re going to go out on a limb here and propose a change for next year some Fair fans will think is crazy. We think that ticket prices, both full price and reduced advance-sale admission prices should be raised. Here’s why.

The Hound has never been a fan of attractions that require a separate admission after patrons have pushed through the turnstiles. This year Discover the Dinosaurs charged $5, even for kids. The Ice Museum grabbed people for $8 opening day and, interestingly, it was quickly reduced to $6. There was also a charge for the Monarch Butterfly Garden, though only a buck.

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It seems to us that a convincing claim to fame for the Fair has always been that you pay for admission, but virtually all of the inside attractions are free. This year the Wolves of the World, the Hawk Creek birds of prey, Swifty Swine Racing Pigs, the Harlem Wizards, Shipwrecks of the “Great” Great Lakes and Tractor Town were among the great free features. Then, of course, there’s the Chevrolet Court shows, the History of the
Fair exhibit and grounds performers like Bandolini, the Living Statues and, one of the best free acts the Fair has, Hilby.

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We’re sure you can name a few more shows and exhibits that are free, but you get the idea. We don’t know the details that go into the inclusion of the paid-admission attractions, but we wonder if the Fair could make those free if gate admission was a bit higher.

Here’s our reasoning—A family could really run up its cost by paying charges beyond admission. A couple with two youngsters, for instance would have increased their one-day cost by $40 if they went to both the Dinosaurs and the Ice Museum (the ice sculptors had a family-of-four charge of $20). Some parents would find it aggravating having to take out the wallet repeatedly after having purchased admission and midway wristbands.

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But if the Fair charged everyone a little more for admission by increasing ticket charges from $10, $6 advance sale to, say $12, $8 advance, maybe they could eliminate extra admission charges. Then they could renew the very popular concept of paying essentially one charge and getting all of these acts free.

Is this a good idea? Your opinion is as good as ours. We recognize that some people would howl, but day-of-Fair admission prices haven’t gone up since 2003. Advance prices have gone up $1 since then, we’re not sure what year.

Maybe it’s a lousy idea. Maybe a $2 increase wouldn’t be enough to cover costs. Or maybe, for other reasons, it doesn’t add up logistically for the Fair. But come on, compare it to a movie or sports event, then consider all you would be getting for free. Then you may agree this is worth considering.

Snapshots

Here are a few more bits of new and notes on the 2014 New York State Fair from State Fair Hound:

One Chevy Court show that was a favorite among Hound readers was the Aug. 25 appearance of Herman’s Hermits, featuring Peter Noone. Sure Noone and his mates maintain a generational popularity with the baby boomers set and those fun pop ditties are easy to like. But Noone’s charisma and quick wit gave the show an extra sparkle and his affection for fans was proven by him spending about two hours signing autographs after the show.

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Speaking of Chevy Court, the Hound endorses an idea raised by one Syracuse.com reader who suggested that more space for concert fans could be opened up by moving the cars and trucks from the prime turf they occupy behind the benches. It’s not as simple as it sounds as Chevrolet is surely entitled under the sponsorship agreement to promotional consideration that includes product placement. But if there’s a way to put those cars elsewhere while still giving them a high-visibility spot, that would be a plus for fans.

Over 55,000 baked potatoes were sold in the Horticulture Building over the 12 days, continuing the spud’s traditional spot among Fair favorites. We found long lines there at every pass and, while many people are willing to endure a lengthy wait, we can’t help but wonder if the sales figure would be even higher if they could speed up the process. That’s another tough nut for the Fair, so if you have an idea, pass it along.

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Nearby, maple products, honey and apples occupy a wing full of products brought to you by nature in cooperation with New York producers. It’s both an exhibit and a chance to buy yummy stuff that’s a bit healthier than fried dough. We’d like to see the award-winning wines given a more prominent spot, as they were off the beaten path near the back of the building.

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The sand sculpture may be the most photographed exhibit on the grounds. This year was no exception as the sensational tribute to children’s author Dr. Seuss drew a steady stream of visitors to the Center of Progress, where cameras frequently flashed.

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Hot tubs and spas again occupied a large share of prime space, especially in the Chevy Court area. Acting Director Troy Waffner pointed out that the companies showing the vessels pay a hefty fee for the privilege of marketing to Fairgoers. Such sponsorship helps keep costs to visitors down, so if you’re so inclined, consider buying a hot tub at the Fair.

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Can you think of anywhere other than the Fair that you’ve used a footsie-wootsie machine? They always seem to be there, they feel great and they’re still a quarter. Ahhh.
Photos by Nick LoPresti.

Who’s Hungry?

It’s been nearly a week since we last tasted New York State Fair food and you probably miss it. We sure we do. The good news is, of course, that your cholesterol may have returned to normal levels and you may have lost a pound or two.

But what a great time it was to binge, like no other, really, here in our hometown. There are other great food events, but the variety, the ubiquity and the volume are incredible. And it lasts for 12 days.

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You should be in the midst of your annual Fair review, including a look back at what foods were your favorites, which ones disappointed and how to approach it next year. It’s a real amateur move to head out to Geddes without a well-planned itinerary, which must include at least a tentative idea of what to eat, where to buy it, where to sit while gorging and how to get as much as possible without running out of money.

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Even so, you have to be open to trying new meals because we’d bet there are some great ones you’ve never eaten. You’ve got almost a year to survey your friends and ask what they’ve eaten there and what sounds like something to add to your 2015 list.

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It might be a lobster roll, a portabella wrap, a chocolate banana or a gator kabob. You may be on a quest to find the best of the big sellers from sausage sandwiches to French fries to funnel cakes. Whatever it is, this is research time, while the tastes and aromas are still fresh in your memory.

State Fair Hound offers a few pics to get you salivating while you think. It’s sure to be something we talk about again over the off-season. Or maybe dream about.

Gallery of Stars

One week after a record-breaking mob of 120,617 descended on the New York State Fair, the Hound continues to look back, today contemplating the Fair’s role as a life transition for many of us. Not only is it the bridge between summer and early fall, leaving behind school or job vacations for business-as-usual, it marks the passage of a special season, one that is like no other. Until, that is, next year’s State Fair.

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State Fair Hound worked hard to greatly increase our photo file this year and, thanks largely to the extraordinary talents of award-winning photographer Nick LoPresti, we can now review them and relive some of those people, places and events we enjoyed this year, including many yearly traditions. (Nick shot the first two photos here as well as the last.)

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We offer this collection of photos as proof that there are sights, feelings, thrills and pleasures at our Fair that aren’t seen anywhere else, at least not at the same place, not within 12 days.

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The State Fair website reminds us that these photos and the memories they evoke will have to hold us for 355 days, until the gates open for the 2015 edition.

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