As we reported on Aug. 27, the New York State Fair history exhibit was a sensational addition to the permanent Fair features. The Fair did a great job building it and made use of some underutilized space in the Grange Building.
Better yet, there’s room for more and we envision it being updated, expanded and improved over time. Of course, what makes it so much fun is reliving memories of shows you attended, people you saw, attractions you visited, events you remember. Memories are the Fairgoer’s friends and a major factor in the strong returning patron numbers that are absolutely vital to survival and profitability.
When you attend an exhibit that invites long gazing punctuated by excited comments, that’s a very good thing for the Fair. And new features create pre-Fair buzz that boosts advance ticket sales and ultimately, attendance.
The New York State Fair announced on Oct. 15 that a search committee had been formed to hire a new director. This organized, comprehensive approach sounds like good news as it’s the most likely method to produce a highly-qualified fair professional. We can only hope for one as talented as the late Wayne Gallagher, who had led the Texas State Fair before coming here.
The search team is a predictable mixture of politicians, business leaders, bureaucrats and agriculture organization reps. That’s fine, we need some of those folks. What’s missing is the same thing that’s missing from the Fair advisory board, average Fair fans who spend money there every year, people who, through their patronage, make or break every Fair.
There should be someone in the search group, as well as on the advisory board, who knows what it’s like to approach each year as a Fair patron, going online to buy concert tickets, taking a family to the midway, interacting with staff across the grounds, navigating the traffic and parking, camping in the infield, strolling through the buildings and barns, munching fried food and taking in all of the entertainment and scenery.
Beyond that, should we be concerned with the lack of diversity? There are no women on the committee. Are any of these guys Hispanic, African-American or other ethnic minorities?
Not long after Peter Cappuccilli Jr. took over as director, some members of the local minority community expressed concern over the lack of diversity in the entertainers and exhibitors at the Fair. That’s when Cappuccilli demonstrated the type of classy leader he was, convening meetings with concern individuals, increasing minority participation and developing the Pan African Village. It’s a lesson that shouldn’t be forgotten, that inclusivity is the best way to run an organization that belongs to all New Yorkers.
As we await news on the search for a new director, let’s get back to the 10 Things the Hound Liked About the 2013 New York State Fair.
This year the Fair was criticized for their choices to play the Grandstand, but Chevy Court continues to be a strength. This year, the variety of acts was especially good, with a range of talent appealing to music fans of varying tastes. Attendance was steady, sometimes drawing massive crowds that stretched the boundaries of the court.
Grace Potter, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Styx, Florida Georgia Line, Austin Mahone, Vince Gill, Los Lonely Boys and the Happy Together Tour were popular acts. They were among 24 shows to take the court stage, each with its own appeal, its own fan base. Some didn’t bring in many fans, but they demonstrate an effort to book something for just about everyone.
If you have a wish list of acts you want to see next year, go to the Fair website and submit your suggestion. Even if they can’t get who you want, we’ll bet there will be someone there next year you like, at least enough to risk a $6 ticket.
Some big news came out of the Governor’s office this week, so we’ll hold on continuing our string of “Things We Liked about the Fair” to speculate on the appointment of a new director. If you haven’t heard, Tom Ryan is departing, no reason announced.
The follow-up is the subsequent resignation of Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Darrel Aubertine. Thus the Fair’s two top administrators will be new entering the 2014 edition.
The Hound doesn’t find much reason to be alarmed by this development. Ryan wasn’t around long enough for us to get to know him and he went out of his way to be enigmatic ( See our Sep. 1 post, “The Phantom Director“) and Aubertine reminds us of a classic political appointee.
The Post-Standard reported that Cuomo expressed support for the idea of bringing in an experienced pro to direct. Good idea—what took him so long? Syracuse residents may view the search committee with some skepticism considering it’s being chaired by former mayor Matt Driscoll.
But in the interest of seeing growth and improvement at the Fair, we offer one suggestion. Give serious consideration to promoting from within as current assistant director Troy Waffner has demonstrated vision and leadership. Waffner has been around for a few years now and he knows the ropes.
He has been willing to listen to opinions and ideas from the public, something any director should do. This year he even did some of the media interviews one would expect of a director, while Ryan hid in his office. There will no doubt be other qualified candidates, but at least give Waffner a look, presuming he wants the job.
More on the director search later.
Time for another thing we liked about the New York State Fair just past.
It was a great feeling to come home to the stately buildings and charming grounds we love. Everyone who has been going to the Fair for many years has to feel a certain rush when pushing through the turnstiles. We hope you took our advice and arrived with a plan of where to go first, but there’s always something bidding for your attention from every direction.
It’s the ambience and beauty, but it’s also the kid-in-a-candy-store thrill of being there just for the fun. Beyond that, you eventually had to come face-to-face with the imposing and handsome colonnade, the inimitable glazed-tile entrance of the horticulture building, lovely brick patios, the museums, barns, stands, stages, green spaces and all of the other sights that make the Fairgrounds an iconic Central New York locale. Then there’s the sounds, the smells, everything that makes it our favorite annual party.
We’re all waiting for August 21, 2014 to make that annual pilgrimage again, but in the meantime, take in other special events that take place nearly every weekend and flash back to Fair time.
Back to things we liked about this year’s Fair. Every day you could find numerous terrific acts at several locations around the grounds. Predictably enough, the Hound loves the performing dogs and this year there were two different troupes of shows featuring canine antics, both really fun.
We were less enthusiastic about shows featuring wild animals, even the perennial favorite Sea Lion Splash, as we feel that wild animals should be allowed to live as wild animals. We’ll give the birds of prey presented by Hawk Creek wildlife Center a pass as show staff assure us that all of the birds involved have injuries that prevent them from living in their native habitats.
The Nerveless Nocks, a thrill show featuring cyclists spinning inside a cage, was popular as was a crazy hoop show, really more acrobatics than basketball, that turned out to be an excitement slam-dunk.
Don’t forget the traditional favorites at the Iroquois Village and under the circus tent. Just trying to keep track of all the free entertainment can make you dizzier than the Top Spin and that’s a very good thing.
Today we continue our list of 10 things we liked about this year’s Fair.
Actually, you could say this about every Fair, but it’s still worth mentioning. We’re happy that we can eat that irresistible fair food at establishments owned and operated by some of Central New York’s best restaurateurs. If you’re not from the Syracuse area, you get to taste the first-class chow on the menu at some of our best spots, while if you know them, it’s great to see our local pros serving it up alfresco.
It’s extremely rare to hear of any problem with food safety and freshness and one reason is the folks here know their stuff and do it right. It’s a source of pride and pleasure for locavores. Familiar names from King David’s to Daniella’s to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que tempt hungry patrons to choose them at meal time. Then there’s Tully’s, Bosco’s, Twin Trees, Doug’s, Mountainview, Haddock Paddock and some we’re not remembering. Also on the menu are food products with strong local ties, among them Gianelli, Hoffman, Saranac and Baker’s (Cornell recipe) Chicken.
This trend provides an important counterpoint to local developers who keep bringing dismal chain restaurants to malls and commercial spaces, many of them making no more than a cameo appearance as they make a big opening splash, then fade out. Our New York State Fair is a great place to eat some of the best food served up here in the heart of the Empire State.
The Syracuse Post-Standard published a letter on Sep. 6 from a local man with two complaints about the Fair. First, he said he couldn’t find a vendor to serve him a cup of coffee. Second—a New York State Trooper was rude to him. There has to be a couple of dozen stands that have coffee—they’re not that hard to find. Unfortunately, neither are rude troopers.
But it seems to us that a more comprehensive review is in order and we’ll start today with 10 things to like about the Fair just past, one by one, in no particular order. Logically enough, we’ll follow up with 10 things about the 2013 edition we’d like to see changed or improved. We hope you will follow along and submit comments when you are so inspired.
So here we go–State Fair Hound proudly present Things We Liked About the Fair.
One thing we liked about this year’s Fair—as we mentioned in an earlier post–the prices. People who complain that the Fair’s too expensive aren’t dealing with reality. Even if you pay the full admission price of $10, that’s no more than a movie. If you just watch Hilby perform and catch one animal act, you got your money’s worth. Most of the Chevy Court performers command more than that for a concert. The gate price hasn’t increased since 2003. It seems as if parking has stayed at $5 per car for at least that long.
If you’re going broke on food, you may not be shopping wisely. Hound photographer Nick LoPresti (who took this pic) decided while shooting on the grounds that he wanted a steak sandwich. He decided that one vendor’s version was too pricey at $11. Good call. Within a couple of hundred feet, there was another contender selling for $9 and a third for $7.
You can always shop around to get a good deal (except in the Grandstand, which we’ll address in our 10 Things We’d Like to Change).
So some on, folks. Save up a little, buy advance sale tickets, car pool or take a bus, look for good food deals and you get way more than your money’s worth.
851,157–the attendance total for the 2013 New York State Fair is disappointing. So why didn’t more New Yorkers attend?
Some jaded local folks use a standard line—“it’s the same every year.”
That’s simply not true. Some characteristics are essential to the Fair being what it is and they won’t change. There will always be barns full of farm animals. There will always be a hectic midway of rides and games. Those historic buildings will always be full of exhibits, displays, hucksters, artwork and entertainment. Music and other performances will bring the grounds’ stages to life. New York history and culture will be prominently featured.
And food, that glorious fair food will always entice and delight fairgoers and occasionally cause indigestion.
Honestly, if those things changed most people would feel disappointed. We want to pet a cow, watch the gadget sellers and play I Got It once a year. Tradition is important out there.
But this year proved that there are always a few new wrinkles to keep it fresh and some acts that will draw crowds to the Grandstand and Chevy Court.
If you can’t find something you like, you’re not trying.
The weather was good this year, a bit too hot some days, but not unbearable for the most part.
Too expensive? Really, where can you get close to this much entertainment for 10 bucks, $6 advance sale? Shop around and you can eat pretty well for a reasonable price.
In upcoming posts we’ll review this year in more detail and offer some thoughts on how to boost interests and make next year even better. But we won’t accept excuses from those who skipped it.
Oh—if you have ideas, we’re listening and so is the Fair. You can submit suggestions and comments on the website, nysfair.org. Keep it constructive, OK?
New York State Fair 2013 ended on a weird Labor Day, starting cool, growing hot and humid, getting drenched by afternoon storms and ending on a cool, dry evening. Now State Fair Hound will help you get through the next 50 weeks with discussion, suggestions, reviews and updates. We’ll also be developing and improving our site to help make sure that the 2014 Fair will be a better experience for you.
Today, as we start the review process that we’ll continue over the next few weeks, we’re feeling your pain. The banner at the top of the Fair website says “Gates open in 352 days.” Ouch. It sure seems strange not to be heading out to those bumpy parking lots and beckoning gates.
The initial reaction has to be that it was a great fair that didn’t get the public support it deserved. Yeah, there are ways it could have been better and there’s plenty of time to get into that, but attendance numbers should have been higher. It’s up just a tick from last year and that’s not good enough. Consider that the highest one-day number was the 86,168 that attended on Sep. 1, really low for a single-day best.
Rather than try to summarize this year’s Fair and come up with a list of ideas and suggestions for next year right now–while the packing up, cleaning up and closing down is underway—we’ll keep it going with timely posts as we look forward to Aug. 21, 2014. (Photo by Jude Camwell)