State Fair Hound

An independent view of the New York State Fair

Poultry in Motion

The main course of many a Thanksgiving meal started out as a beautiful feathered creature, like this blue-ribbon winner BLUE-RIBBON TURKEY 14photographed by State Fair Hound photographer Nick LoPresti at the 2014 New York State Fair.

Be thankful that the Fair gives visitors, especially city folks, a chance to see Empire State livestock as live animals. Ironically, meat is widely eaten at the many Fair food stands. But the barns filled with beautiful animals may cause a few people to consider ethical questions concerning the meat industry.

Back Court

The New York State Fair’s ambitious plan to replace the Chevrolet Court stage includes building a new, larger stage and a two-story backstage building, moving the whole structure back and taking out the grassy area now behind it. OCT 15 023The relocation means more space in front for fans to gather.

Fair Acting Director Troy Waffner told State Fair Hound that even more viewer space will be created by reducing the roadways on adjoining the court by covering half the space with grass. The current projection is for enough area in front of the new, higher stage to accommodate up to 40,000 fans comfortably. That would be quite an accomplishment as you may recall that most of the estimated 36,900 fans present for the Sep. 6 Steve Miller Band concert were decidedly uncomfortable.

Thus, management of the crowds goes beyond creating space. To the end, the plan calls for walkways created within the court area and plenty of video projection screens for those far from the stage.

State Fair Hound wonders how much work can be done during the winter to get this project completed by Syracuse Nationals’ 2016 run. That’s another reason to hope for a mild winter.

Stand Down

A weekend visit to the Fairgrounds revealed that a trio of longstanding eateries behind the Horticulture Building have been demolished as renovations in that area begin. Davoili’s Trackside, Gianelli and the Shamrock are now a part of Fair history.


DavoIi’s, one of the grounds’ larger stands, was known for a huge traditional menu, served morning until night. Gianelli has long been one of the most popular sausage stands, one sought out be hungry patrons as an every-year stop. The Shamrock, sporting a replica of Syracuse’s famous green-on-top traffic light, featured a festive atmosphere with a variety of cold beers and frequent live entertainment. All three benefited from their proximity to the Grandstand, serving concert and motorsports fans, both before and after events.

It’s understandable that the view of the now-vacant area will trigger some melancholy feelings from Fair regulars who will miss these venerable establishments. DAVOLI ROW 15

A second look, however, should lead to genuine optimism. Looking at the fence and track beyond, the area opens up and with it, the Fair’s exciting future. The promise of major improvements grows out of the departure of some old favorites, including these popular stands.

Fair Acting Director Troy Waffner revealed to State Fair Hound that he is working with the owners of the now-missing stands to relocate them to new spots from which they can continue to serve their loyal customers. All three joints had deteriorated over the years and would have required major renovation or replacement to continue.

Don’t expect new buildings, though. Waffner pointed out that building new stands that that meet requirements for functionality and durability is very expensive. Tents or other temporary construction are currently the more desired methods and one that has worked well for such regular vendors as Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Tully’s and the Butcher Boys while keeping the grounds versatile and flexible year round.

Meanwhile, the Fair continues to prepare the site for new structures, an expanded midway, improved RV facilities, landscaping and an equine center. SF2015-KC 9 and 10 044The Grandstand/infield area will have to be ready next summer for the return of Syracuse Nationals several weeks before the Fair. So will the new Chevy Court setup, which The Hound will address in an upcoming post.

If all goes according to plan, the tasty food and fun times, for which so many Fair vendors are famous, will be available, some relocated, while the restructuring of the grounds will make this the most exciting and dynamic New York State Fair in memory.

Andes Dandies


One of the Fairgrounds’ best fall events comes up this Friday through Sunday with the Empire Alpaca Extravaganza in the Dairy Cattle Building. There will be dozens of alpaca pens offering plenty of close-up looks and a few petting opportunities, although these adorable llama cousins tend to be shy around strangers.

The center rings hosts judging events and special events showing off the featured animals, graceful South America natives. ALPACAS 14

A dozen or so vendors will also be on hand with clothing made from alpaca wool, considered among the finest and warmest fibers available. It’s a low-key, but endearing event with free admission and parking.

For more information, see the organization website,


Sunset Strip

With Super Dirt Week having taken its final checkered flag at the Fairgrounds track, the sun is now setting over the Grandstand. SUNSET OVER GRANDSTAND 15The new possibilities and boundless potential that will be created with demolition of the century-old racetrack and the concrete-and-steel stadium must now overtake the sense of loss of the historic facility.

It’s understandable that racing fans are disappointed that their beloved one-mile dirt oval will fade into history. But it came down to the making a decision to use that area for more than Dirt Week and a couple of Fair events. For some fans it’s a tragic loss. For the New York State Fair, it’s a new chapter.

Shoppers’ Fair

You don’t have to log onto a massive internet shopping site or call the number from an infomercial to find unusual items for sale. The 2015 New York State Fair had plenty of them. There were toy items, such as the monkey-on-a-bike TOY VENDOR 15being demonstrated by a vendor and the DRONE 15small drone hovering overhead in the Center of Progress.











Among the more artistic items were wooden animals, carved with a chainsaw.TOTEM 15



Many varieties of home-baked dog treats were being hawked in the Horticulture Building. Something called Scum Off actually sold out before Labor Day, but it probably wouldn’t have been a very appealing photo anyway.


Dog Wild

There was no performing dogs show at the 2015 New York State Fair, but that doesn’t mean there were no canines at the Fair. The 4H dog show always features a variety of both purebreds and mixed breeds, all doing their best to demonstrate the lessons they’ve learned from their young owners. 4H KID WITH DOG 15Obedience training demos require the pups to show their ability to follow basic commands while the agility course is more rigorous and tricky.



BLOODHOUND 15Among the meet and greet favorites are State Police bloodhounds, brought out by their handlers at the Troopers’ exhibit for petting, pictures and chatting.




Four-legged soldiers got a tribute in granite with the addition of the War Dogs Memorial in the Veterans Memorial area. WAR DOG MEMORIAL 15

Jump For Troy

State Fair Hound is glad to see that the Post-Standard has finally come around to endorse appointment of Troy Waffner as director of the New York State Fair. The only question is–What took them so long?

The Hound suggested the same a year ago (Just Rewards, Sep. 2, 2014) and Waffner TROY WITH BEAR 15has continued to provide solid leadership during a period of growth and change. Troy is the obvious choice to graduate from acting director to steer this ship through the coming expansion and into a very exciting future.

An announcement from the Governor is long overdue.

Full Court Pressure

The New York State Fair’s estimate of the Sep. 6 Steve Miller Band concert attendance caught State Fair Hound by surprise. The official count was 36,900, the largest audience to ever gather in Chevy Court.


The Hound was on hand that fateful night and there’s no doubt that the mob filling the courtyard and spilling out into the surrounding streets was massive to the point of being barely navigable, even at its fringes. But it didn’t seem to be a large as some previous shows.

The Fair has a method for estimating crowd size, based upon a grid system that looks at defined areas with previously-determined capacities and adding up the occupied areas. There’s no reason to doubt the Fair’s accuracy in reporting what they saw and, when you come down to it, the actual numbers aren’t as important as other essential questions with an enormous crowd such as that one.

More critical than actually counting the people within earshot of the stage should be estimating how many of them were actually able to have an overall positive experience at the event. COURT CROWD DAY-15We should be thinking about safety and a reasonable expectation that those in attendance can overcome the discomfort and enjoy the music.

Regulating the crowd has proven difficult. Attempts to control the spacing and movement of that many fans with temporary fencing has been largely unsuccessful, in some cases making the situation worse by creating barriers to people spreading out or moving out of overcrowded areas. The rule prohibiting smoking at Chevy Court, instituted this year and heartily endorsed by The Hound, was largely ignored and there is logically nothing that security staff could do about it, COURT RULES 15although it may help to make the signs listing the rules were more prominent.

Having witnessed such chaos, it’s clearly good news that the Chevy Court stage and the adjoining building are being replaced, presuming that will improve conditions. However, the big question remains. Is it possible to keep bringing major acts, perhaps even more popular than ones recently presented, drawing tens of thousands of fans to that area, in a way that is comfortable, safe and enjoyable for the fans? It seems very unlikely.

There could be improvements, no question. The stage could be higher and more visible, enhanced by larger video projection screens. Maybe it could be moved back a bit to create more room to gather in front of the performance. The very popular Dinosaur Bar-B-Que stand could no doubt survive relocation to free up space, unless there are contractual obligations preventing it. Moving some vendor space out of the surrounding streets could help, but vendors provide revenue, so that’s a drawback. And you can’t expect Chevrolet to move its display out of the venue named for it.

Really, you can only create so much space in that area, probably not enough. On the other hand, the option of toning down the popularity of the acts playing there seems counterproductive.

There may be, however, a solution to the problem of hosting large, free concerts at the Fair in a way that makes them more manageable and more enjoyable for fans. The demolition of the Grandstand and the plowing under of the racetrack create opportunities to reconfigure the area freed up. ETHERIDGE RAISED HAND 15Moving the free stage is one option worthy of consideration. Plans have been announced for changes in the Fairgrounds that involve use of some of this newly-available turf, but no ground has been broken, no bricks have been laid, so there’s still time for tweaking. There’s a lot of space back there, so this could work.

If the concert venue moved, the ground that is currently Chevy Court would then be available for new activities, perhaps still involving entertainment from the stage, but more manageable in audience size, allowing the stage to then be preserved as is. More picnic grounds, a better area for wandering entertainers like Hilby to perform and versatile demonstration, performance and exhibit space are among the ideas that could benefit from such a multi-use area.

One big drawback would certainly be that there are few Fair locales as prominent and as pretty as the grassy, tree-lined court area, surrounded by those handsome buildings and close to the wine court, restrooms and food stands. It would be hard to match that ambience, charm and convenience in the Grandstand/infield area, essentially an open field, lacking shade and amenities.

Could such disadvantages be overcome? Maybe, with tents, canopies, pavilions and landscaping. Some permanent infrastructure would be needed as well. It would definitely take significant planning and creativity, but it’s an idea worth a look.

If Chevy Court stays put, it’s going to take major changes to handle crowds better than they have been managed. SF 2015 NL2 036Finding a way to maximize the impact and success of those performances is surely a tough call, especially because the show has to be ready to go on August 25, 2016. It’s a difficult task, but one surely worth taking on, since free concerts have become the biggest draw at the Fair. Good luck, Fair planners.

Sand Stars

If you didn’t see this year’s sand sculpture, you missed a terrific work. Don’t worry, State Fair Hound has a look for you, the first from opening day and the finished product from later in the Fair.SAND SCULPTURE BEFORE 15

SAND SCULPTURE AFTER 15The most amazing part of the 2015 version of this favorite exhibit was the striking likenesses to famous New Yorkers the artists carved out of sand.


What can they do to top this? See you at the 2016 Fair.

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