Hot 100

We’ve hit a milestone as there are now only 100 days to go to the Aug. 27 opening of the 2015 New York State Fair. What you do now can make for a better Fair experience. It’s time to start thinking ahead. Enjoy your long-awaited summer, knowing it will end with the biggest party of the year.

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Of course it’s too soon to buy your tickets or plan your itinerary just yet, but you can get some preliminaries out of the way. Maybe you need to arrange for time off from work, especially to allow you to head to Geddes on a weekday when the crowds are lighter. Quite a few Chevy Court acts are already scheduled, so review that list as you plan your days to go.

If your budget is tight it’s never a bad idea to start putting aside a few bucks to spend, especially if you have kids who love the rides and midway. It’s more fun to splurge if you have saved up the cash.

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One especially good idea is to review your last visit to the Fair. Plan to go back to what you liked most, from animal acts to annual exhibits to that special meal you can’t stop reliving. On the other hand, what was unsatisfying or disappointing? Maybe you should skip those stops and go elsewhere next time.

Most of all, resolve to try something new or visit different spots on the grounds. There’s so much to see, do and eat, there are bound to be a few things you’ve never tried, even if you’re a devoted Fair fan. Stray from your comfort zone a bit. Get recommendations and reviews from friends.

Have you been to the rooster crowing contest and the wool center? How about the flower shows and fine arts exhibits? The Pan African Village and historic train cars are among the most underappreciated exhibits on the grounds—certainly worth a look.

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The sausage sandwiches, ice cream and fried dough are great, but how about some of the exotic ethnic cuisine, seafood entries or home style breakfasts? Try one new food among all of your favorites.

Maybe it’s too tiring to walk through every barn, but pick a couple of favorites. Have you seen the goat milking parlor? The llamas are graceful and regal. Everyone loves the horses, so sit down for a shady rest in the Coliseum while they’re kicking up the dirt.

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Some of the smaller music venues are just as enjoyable as Chevy Court, so watch for acts you like at the Midway Music Series or Regional Artists stages.

We find it infuriating to hear a local person complain that the Fair is always “the same old thing.” If you can’t find something there to enjoy, even love, you aren’t really trying. You’ve got under 100 days to think about having a great time this year’s New York State Fair.

Summer Stock

The recent muggy weather brings to mind some steamy days and hot times at the New York State Fair. If you can’t wait until Aug. 27 to visit the Empire Expo Center, you don’t have to.

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The Fair’s website (nysfair.org) boasts plenty of events you can attend over the summer, all listed under “Year-round events calendar.” Our favorite excuse to drive onto the grounds is for a horse show and there are plenty of them on the agenda. There were two this past weekend and the next, the New York State Breeders show, runs May 14-17 and May 21-24.

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More shows follow on virtually every weekend, giving equine enthusiasts a chance to see the horses up close in the barns and rings and to see them put through their paces as they compete for ribbons. Parking and most events are free of charge and each is a relaxing way to enjoy these beautiful animals on your own schedule.

While on the grounds, you may see new construction or improvements being done for the late summer extravaganza. Take your camera and visit soon.

Clearing the Air

With four months to go to opening day, announcements flow regularly from the New York State Fair, including some very welcome news regarding Chevrolet Court decorum. A long-overdue ban on smoking cigarettes on the benches and in the grassy area was announced last week, fulfilling a frequent and emphatic demand from your State Fair Hound.

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It’s a no brainer when you consider the close quarters involved with fans sitting literally hip-to-hip and thousands more standing tightly-bunched for shows in the courtyard. We’ll go on the record as saying that we don’t favor a Fairgrounds-wide ban on puffing as those afflicted would be too severely affected by such a law. But there are places—and Chevy Court is clearly among them—where non-smokers need to have a chance to breathe.

The Chevy Court experience still needs much improvement, but this is a giant leap.

Another change we applaud is the relaxation of beer and wine sales rules to allow vendors to serve until 11 p.m. Last call has come as early as 9:30 in recent years in an effort to control over-imbibing and related behavior issues. But drinkers who are going to cause problems will find a way, regardless of time, and there’s no use punishing everyone for the poor behavior of the few.

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Use some common sense, though. If quaffing a few is part of your Fair fun, plan ahead and take the bus or travel with a designated driver, OK.

Chow Hound

The Hound heartily recommends a television show that never fails to bring to mind the New York State Fair. The Food Network has been running a half-hour series called Carnival Eats. It features lanky Noah Cappe as the personable and enthusiastic host, traveling around the US and Canada visiting fairs and festivals to sample some of the unusual alfresco eats being cooked up by vendors.

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We haven’t seen Cappe visiting our Fair, but some of the food looks familiar, as he has featured blooming onions, deep fried pickles and barbecued ribs. What’s most intriguing is his reveal on foods that haven’t made their way to us yet, some of which look delicious. Maybe we’ll soon get to sample a lobster corn dog, a peanut butter cobbler or a strawberry/arugula pizza. One guy showed him how to make a thanksgiving waffle, pouring stuffing mix into a waffle iron to make the platform for his roast turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce.

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Some of the freakish foods lean toward the revolting as they deep fry everything from butter to gummy bears. Some vendors go for shock value, like the one who puts scorpions on pizza. Yuck!

After learning how to make the various fair treats, the quirky Cappe digs in and gives his reviews, which always come out positive, often glowing. He then interviews patrons for their take on what’s on the menu.

The show is tasty fun for midway connoisseurs, supplemented by camera shots of the rides and action nearby, again looking familiar to local State Fair hounds. The scheduling of Carnival Eats is irregular, so you’ll have to look for it. You can also find recipes and full episodes on the Food Network website. For Fair fans, it’s mouthwatering inspiration.

Holding Court

Did you catch the April 1 television interview with Acting Director Troy Waffner discussing the recent concert bookings for the 2015 New York State Fair?

Troy was explaining that the scheduling of two rap acts for Sep. 2 is part of a strategy to diversify the Chevy Court lineup. No argument here that bringing in a wide range of talent strengthens the attraction of the Fair’s free venue, but we do have a couple of thoughts that we’re hope are being addressed as planning for this year unfolds.

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We’re partial to shows that bring in singers and musicians who can be classified as pioneers or classic examples of their genre. We didn’t see much of that last year, but the Fair has certainly had its share recently from the Temptations to the Buddy Rich Band to the Grand Ole Opry show. It’s a great opportunity for fans of some of these beloved acts, not often featured on local bills.

Meanwhile, nothing has been announced that would lead to a more enjoyable experience in the courtyard but we’re still hoping that a new code of conduct for the notoriously rude fans will pick up on a couple of ideas proposed by the Hound (Four To Go, Aug. 29, 2014).

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We’re not shy about repeating what we think are two great ideas—requiring fans in the bench area to sit during the show and prohibiting smoking during performances. Come on, Fair brass—these should be common sense ways to make a crowded, often-uncomfortable venue more enjoyable.

Pie in the Sky

Your State Fair Hound is alarmed that County Exec Joanie Mahoney has seemingly inserted herself into decisions about the New York State Fair despite having no authority to do so. Sure, she’s one of Cuomo’s political allies and she’s pushed through the ill-advised approval leading to the ongoing construction of an amphitheater on the lakeshore, but now she’s spouting her grandiose and uninformed ideas for changing the grounds.

No doubt Mahoney’s ultimate goals are political and will favor her friends and relatives. That’s what she does. We could even wind up with someone in her circle as director. That way Cuomo could reward her loyalty.

But at a time when there’s supposed to be less cronyism and political dealing in the administration of our favorite event, the sleeze factor behind Joanie’s operations are a step in the wrong direction. It would seem she’s got enough to do, finding jobs for her families, both biological and political, and advancing her own partisan agenda.

One group that should be terrified that Joanie may wield some power over the Fair are employees. Joanie Baloney has taken every opportunity to bash and mistreat county employees, not including those she favors, of course. She pushes for huge raises for political allies while fighting fair treatment of rank and file. The more involvement Mahoney has at the Fair, the worse for openness, fairness and integrity.

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One thing that has been said is that the Grandstand, soon to be supplanted as the venue for paid-admission Fair concerts, is destined to be demolished. We aren’t completely surprised by that revelation and Acting Director Troy Waffner has said that the vacated space now occupied by the seating and track can be utilized in many ways for Fair attractions and events. Sounds promising.

But if the plan has been to tear down the Grandstand, why couldn’t the new amphitheater be built where it belongs—within the friendly confines of the Great New York State Fair?

Apparently it has finally dawned on the Post-Standard that Fair vendors would be adversely affected by the diversion of thousands of concert fans completely avoiding the grounds when they go to a show. Hound readers may recall—and can now review—our analysis on that subject (Hold the Shows, 7/11/14 and Concerted Success, 9/11/14).

Business operators rightfully fear loss of traffic to the new concert shell. That’s not to mention the racing fans who are facing the end of the phenomenally popular Super Dirt Week on the historic dirt track.

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And we sure don’t understand the idea Joanie is promoting to build year-round stores along State Fair Boulevard, opposite the gates. Does she really think people will be strolling along that stretch to shop and eat, especially during the winter when they can drive less than two miles to Destiny and the Inner Harbor? Ridiculous. Plus it would take up acres of prime parking space, making the Fair itself less attractive to visitors.

We wish Mahoney would shut up and butt out. Leave it the Fair pros to plan for improvements, never forgetting that preserving the identity and tradition of the New York State Fair has to be the main focus.

August Dreamin’

As frigid weather lays heavy over Central New York, do what your State Fair Hound does, think about those glorious August days coming up at the New York State Fair, 2015 version.

We appreciate the Fair helping us to focus on the warm embrace of our favorite event with some early announcements of musical acts on the bill. The bookings of Eric Church and Everclear have been supplemented with a recently-released list of sideshow acts returning to entertain around the grounds.

We can’t disagree with Acting Director Troy Waffner’s assertion that fans will be pleased with the return—after a one-year absence—of the Sea Lion Splash (illustration by Nick LoPresti).

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The Hound holds out hope that one day the Fair will become a leader in refusing to book acts that feature wild animals. We don’t believe that the sea lions or the Wolves of the World, also returning this year, are mistreated in any way. But no matter how kindly these creatures are treated, life in captivity, traveling from town to town, can’t satisfy their wild nature and instincts.

Also on the list of acts announced are the Walker Brothers Circus, wandering performers Hilby and Bandolini (Herm Card photo) and Team Sandtastic, builders of the sand sculpture. The complete list is on the Fair’s website, nysfair.org.

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Prime Pick

A new Fair executive was hired back in November to work with, not replace, Acting Director Troy Waffner.

John Kitchen now occupies the newly-created position of chief of staff, to assist the director with the Fair’s business. Kitchen had been an internal control officer for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Fair’s parent agency, and he will continue to do that job as well as his new one.

There’s been no announcement regarding the hiring of a permanent Fair Director, though the Hound and other Fair aficionados have made It clear that the appointment of Waffner (pictured at left in a photo by Nick LoPresti) is obviously warranted.

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Come on, Gov. Take a look at the 2014 edition for proof that our boy Troy is the person for the job. A flawless run with several records set and numerous improvements unveiled.

2015 is now five weeks old and the Fair website tells us that there are 203 days until the gates open for this year’s event, so make Waffner permanent and let’s move on.

Pot O’ Gold

The Governor included in his budget proposal, released Wednesday, $50 million for our New York State Fair. Of course, budgets are always subject to negotiation and legislative approval, but wouldn’t it be great to see our Fair get such a huge financial boost? We at State Fair Hound are already dreaming up ways to spend the money.

Replacement of the Main gate is already on the agenda, but where to go from there? Improvements to Chevy Court could be a big ticket item that pays off in the long run, creating a better experience for fans of that terrific free concert series.

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During this past Fair we mentioned the deterioration of the Horticulture Building’s beautiful masonry and tiles as an urgent need that falls under the heading of infrastructure.

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Even $50 million isn’t a tremendous sum of money when it comes to major improvements, some of which may not be crowd-pleasing , readily- noticeable upgrades. Things like roofing, insulation, electrical work, drainage systems and tightened security could be money well spent. Then there’s parking lots and traffic-related improvements.

It surely doesn’t stop there, but when you’re dealing with a 375 acre property, there are a lot of decisions to made. As we said, the money is by no means a sure thing at this point, but we’ve got to think that Acting Director Troy Waffner and the Fair staff have a wish list to work from. Let’s hope they get the support they deserve to make our Fair better.

Gateway to Excitement

Today we start our winter review of some of the recent newsworthy developments of the past few weeks, beginning with one about which we’re really excited.

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An intriguing piece in the Dec. 21 Post-Standard reports that those entering the New York State Fair through the main gate will be greeted by an entirely new entrance. The write-up doesn’t give details, but we’ll try to get some for you.

The current gate is really nothing more than a span of roofing above chain link fencing and turnstiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but those of us who remember its predecessor know that it can be more elaborate, attractive and memorable, especially considering that it’s a focal point of the grounds.

If you’re lucky enough to have a copy of Henry W. Schramm’s 1985 book Empire Showcase, A History of the New York State Fair, there’s a photo on page 120 of the glorious gate that was in use in 1948. We’re not sure how long that one lasted, but the ornate wrought iron fencing and handsome masonry columns may provide some inspiration for the new design. In any event, planners should try to pick up on the theme of the architecture of the nearby buildings.

The above photo by Nick LoPresti shows the replica of an early carriage gate created for the State Fair history display in the Grange Building.