Peaceful Village

We took a stroll yesterday, getting off the blacktop to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the Iroquois Village. It’s another one-a-year Fair locale we love, but so different from anything else on the grounds.

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Take, for instance the 17th century Longhouse, an authentic portrayal of how the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) lived long before the area was named New York. There’s always a friendly staff person on hand to answer questions about how the structure was built, heated and insulated and how it’s inhabitants lived and cooked. There are examples of early tools and crafts and posters documenting construction of the building.

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Nearby, there are rustic structures exhibiting works of native handiwork including amazing beadwork on pillows, moccasins, quilts, some as fine as you would see in a museum. Iroquois-grown vegetables prove that farming is still a valued skill.
A handmade dugout canoe sits in the yard, near ear of corn obelisk and a peace pipe sculpture, icons of the Six-Nations culture. Amateur archers can try their skill at the rate of five arrows for $2.

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There are six-to-eight shacks with crafts–handmade jewelry, beaded items and dream catchers, many items sold by artists. Indeed, some artists are working on pieces as you watch. Mohawk Wood carver Tracy Thomas, carves and sells intricate canes, walking sticks and plaques with native designs.

Browse all types of jewelry, including turquois, precious metals and rare stones. There are some mass-produced toys, but they’re easy to spot. Handmade moccasins, including adorable baby sizes are hard to find elsewhere.

The Six-Nations Cookhouse features home-cooked meals, such as turkey, chicken and biscuits, spaghetti and mac and cheese, for those who’ve had enough deep-fried everything.
The cookhouse is known for its hearty breakfast.

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Demonstrations of Iroquois dancing and music are staged several times a day, one of the Fair’s great traditions. You can spend money in the village, but you can also have a great time for free. Photos by Nick LoPresti.

Coming and Going

A toast to one of the Fair’s new attractions, the Taste NY Wine, Beer and Spirits Village at the Colonnade. It would be a mistake to say that the wine tent is back. The new setup is far beyond what it was, much larger, a better atmosphere and, as the name indicates, selling beer, cider and liquor, though it’s still mostly wine.

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There are now about 20 vendors pouring drinks among the columns and more space has been opened up, particularly on the side of the Dairy Building where the Anthony’s stand had been located for many years. More area is covered by tents and there’s space to walk around and tables for both sitting and standing. And now, unlike the old wine court days, patrons are free to take their drinks along as they roam the grounds.

A helpful Fair employee at the Agriculture Museum today explained Nick Nichols absence from the tree-shaded spot he has been using to stage his antique tool demonstrations. She said that Nick had intended to be at the Fair this year, but is recovering from surgery that prevented his return. She said he was planning to make this his last year with us as he is cutting back his work schedule. But his health prevented him from making his farewell appearance, so we won’t have a chance to say so long.

Nick is one-of-a-kind, a master of his craft, who delighted in showing it to Fairgoers and did so with humor as he taught us with expertise and unbridled enthusiasm. Many of the woodworking tools his skilled hands manipulated have been replaced by modern technology, but Nick himself is irreplaceable. We miss him already.

The poultry building houses row upon row of domesticated birds (like the beauties shown here in Nick LoPresti photos) making it a mandatory Fair stop for something city folks would never see otherwise. It’s loud and smelly, but fascinating. Rabbits and cavies are also displayed there and the duck pond is great stop for some splashing fun.

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As the Wade Shows brought in some thrilling–or maybe terrifying–new rides, sometimes old favorites had to move out to make space. The only one worth missing is the beautiful and iconic wave swinger, the focal point in Strates Shows’ midway. It’s strange to stroll a midway without it, but it’s memory has been preserved with countless photos, including the one in the State Fair Hound masthead. We think we’ll keep it, at least for now.

Coasting Along

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Now nearing the mid-point of a Fair that has gone very smoothly, aside from unsettled weather at the beginning, you can’t argue, it’s been a great ride. As the slogan says, there’s a nice blend of new attractions and old favorites. That balance is crucial to making customers happy. One woman we encountered on day one, ventured a negative comment, something like, “This fair isn’t as good as before.” That was at 11:55 on opening day. The Fair had been open for under four hours. We’re betting that she’s changed her mind by now.

This would be a good time to review the Fair visitors guide and the website (nysfair.org) to check off everything you’ve done and everywhere you’ve gone and, more importantly, what you have yet to do and where you have yet to go. You don’t want to make your final visit before realizing you missed some great attractions and events. Check ‘em off so you don’t miss anything at the New York State Fair.

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Peter Noone charmed an overflow Chevy Court crowd on Monday afternoon, interspersing good humor with great old songs that brought smiles to the overheated senior day crowd. Between Herman’s Hermits’ hits, Noone and four Hermits played a few numbers by other acts, including a dead-on, only-slightly facetious version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Still youthful and energetic, Noone said he sings the songs just as he did when he was 17, proving it repeatedly with everything from “Wonderful World” to “I’m Henry the Eighth, I am” to “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” He garnered laughs telling the audience the band got lost on the way to the Fairgrounds, but were OK with winding up in Liverpool. His best lines recognized his own senior status and that of the grandparents listening, at one point announcing they had 8-track tapes for sale. Of course they couldn’t compare with his dynamic live show.

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Many Fair visitors push through the turnstiles knowing what they’re going to eat, which sights they plan to see and which game they want to try. Some come armed with an all-day ride pass and coupons to save money on Restaurant Row.

But when it comes to the merchandise being sold from one end of the grounds to the other, vendors court buyer impulse to make a buck. For some reason, people who would never wear a cowboy hat are tempted at one of the western wear shops. Others paw through pet supplies, sunglasses, toys, gadgets, hand-made crafts, stuffed animals and souvenirs.

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Longtime traveling shops like Dancing Bear offer a variety of exotic treasures and sports memorabilia shops zero in on fans who see their favorite team’s logo on a cap, shirt or decoration. It may not be something you really need, but the Fair is the perfect place to overlook need in favor of impulse. Good thing it’s only once a year.

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Into Something Good

It looks like the torch has been passed at Chevy Court as this year’s featured senior day performers are solidly within the baby boom generation. Herman’s Hermits featuring Peter Noone bring their 60s pop memories back on Monday at 2 p.m., while the inimitable Bowser hosts his rock & roll party on Tuesday.

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Gone are the days of Rosemary Clooney and Lawrence Welk. If you are a member of the Elvis/Beatles/Dick Clark generation, you qualify as a senior. At the Fair that means free admission on those two days (age 60 or older) and some court acts that’ll take you back to the days of sock hops and pegged jeans.

One of the Fair’s favorite annual acts, street performer Hilby (seen in a photo by Herm Card) returns for his first shows of this year Monday at 1, 3:30 and 7 p.m. Juggling, unicycle riding and comedy come together for a great show that’s as much fun the 10th time as the first. Hilby usually draws a crowd in front of the Science and Industry Building at Chevy Court.

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Another annual favorite, antique tool aficionado Nick Nichols (captured here by Nick LoPresti) is conspicuous by his absence, his traditional spot in front of the agriculture Museum vacant. State Fair Hound has reached out to the Fair to inquire about Nick and we’ll let you know what we find out.

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For those who are looking for their gyro fix, Middle Eastern food vendor King David, run by Charlie (pictured) and Nadir Hatem, has moved down a bit from their usual location in front of the Grange Building. They’re on the same roadway, but further from the Times Square tower, closer to the Science and Industry Building.

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In and Out, Up and Down

Day four is upon us, a gorgeous Sunday, so get out there. Every day State Fair Hound will offer a few more observations to help you enjoy your time there. Today’s post features new photos by Nick LoPresti.

While the New York State Fair is best known as a place to have fun, some fairgoers are actually finding inspiration for a new career in the Science and Industry Building. At one booth leaders in the field of nursing and several New York colleges are providing a look at the future of nursing and opportunities available to people interested in pursuing a nursing degree. Staff is on hand, distributing printed material and answering questions from visitors as part of their Campaign For Action. Stop by to find out if a nursing career may be right for you.

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Car enthusiasts should hit the brakes when they see a tent behind the Horticulture Building that houses a half-dozen classic rides. Alongside a 1932 Packard that was once owned by Franklin Roosevelt, an Olds 98 and a Lincoln Continental, four Mustangs from different eras are on display, recognizing this year as the 50th anniversary of that beloved Ford coupe. Most impressive is this silver blue ’64 beauty, top down and ready to cruise the coast highway or hit the drive-in.

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Rides were flying on the midway this weekend, including several first-year attractions guaranteed to tousle your hair, churn your stomach and send your pocket change careening onto the pavement. Hairpin turns make the Crazy Mouse jolting, while the Speed is a pendulum ride with seats that spin as the rotating post constantly flips them. The RC-48 roller coaster has lived up to billing with banked curves and a high peak.

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Third Day Themes

Things are heating up at the Fair and we’re not just talking weather.

Hawk Creek Wildlife is back with their impressive birds of prey. Their tent is one site further down from their usual location.

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We always like to see what’s inspiring the youngsters in the youth building. The 4-H kids never fail to impress. This group for instance, is demonstrating robotics.

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Today’s tour of the midway saw everything operating and flowing smoothly. We’ll have photos of some of the newer rides soon. In the meantime, theses furry prize critters have a great view from their perch, surveying Wade Shows’ snazzy game alley.

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Anderson Counts the Memories

Famed country singer John Anderson opened his Aug. 22 set at the New York State Fair’s Midway Music Series with his 1981 hit, “I’m Just An Old Lump of Coal,” a song about dreams and aspirations, promising “I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” That Billy Joe Shaver-penned song proved prophetic as the 59-year-old Anderson has scored 20 top ten singles, won two CMA awards and a 1981 Grammy, will in October be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of fame and certainly merits consideration for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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So what’s he doing playing before an estimated 300 hard-core country fans on the small stage that hosts the daily talent showcase? What he’s always done, proudly carrying the traditional country torch, crooning such redneck classics as “Wild And Blue,” “Straight Tequila Night” and, of course, “Swingin’.”

Despite sounding a little raspy as the summer touring season winds down, the Florida boy is still dance hall dynamite. Ironically, two of the evening’s highlight were instrumentals as Anderson demonstrated his banjo-picking skill, improvising a riff on “Tokyo, Oklahoma” and unleashed fiddler Joe Spivey and steel player Glen Reef on the classic “Orange Blossom Special.” All told, he and his crack combo covered over a dozen songs in about an hour, capping his set with “Seminole Wind,” his moving requiem for the Everglades.

The audience ate it up and it’s likely that Anderson would have drawn several thousand if he had been booked at Chevy Court. Fans who missed this show missed a dandy performance of great old country music that is played far too rarely in these parts. Perhaps they can console themselves by picking up a new John Anderson CD, due out in six weeks.

Of the two young women who played before Anderson, Morgan Frazier was most impressive, demonstrating some real spunk and fine singing playing solo. Logan Brill was too often overwhelmed by her band, though her one blues song stood out in her country-pop repertoire.

Around the Fair on Day Two

It’s day two, so start your weekend at the New York State Fair.

Opening day gave the youngest visitors a chance to try out their farming skills at Tractor Town, where we saw this little guy peddling around. Kids can climb on a miniature International Harvester or John Deere for free in front of the Youth Building.

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While new attractions are exciting, most of the best features fall under the category of classic favorites. One we’ve always felt is underrated is the Pan African Village, which dates back to 1997. Much of the food, music, artwork and artifacts, reflective of African and Caribbean cultures, isn’t seen anywhere else on the grounds.

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We always love chatting with Jerk Hut proprietor Irvin “Bongo” Hanslip, who we regard as the mayor of the Pan Af Village and a champion for those who enjoy unapologetically spicy food. Bongo and his colleagues there represent the diverse backgrounds that make up the Empire State in a colorful and charming way.

A question we’ve heard is whether the Sea Lion Splash is appearing this year. Acting Director Troy Waffner confided to State Fair Hound that scheduling constraints on the part of the sea lion show made it impossible to book them this year. Waffner said he recognizes the popularity of the whiskered ones with Fairgoers and will try to bring them back next Fair.

Thunderous Opening

The New York State Fair opened with a bang today–and some booms accompanied by lightning–and the Hound was on the grounds. We scouted some new stuff, but as always, there’s more that’s familiar than new.

At first look, the new Wade Shows midway seemed to be dishing out the requisite thrills with some rides not previously seen at NYSF. The Get Twisted (pictured) is a smaller, shorter version of the Top Spin, but, as the name implies, with a twist, literally.

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The Crazy Mouse must have run into a wacky cat, as it wasn’t operating when we were there at midday, but it looks like a winner. When that’s running, this will be a landmark Fair for roller coaster fans as the RC-48 is much larger than anything we’ve seen before.

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There were plenty of traditionally popular rides, some with different names. The games of skill were overwhelmingly familiar, so if you liked them before, you’ll still like them. It’ll take a few more looks to get a real feel for the Wades Shows midway, so more on that later.

Elsewhere, we were modestly impressed with the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit. We counted about 20 models of realistic-looking reptiles, about half of them moving. The presentation is impressive, with artistic lighting and the sounds of roaring and growling throughout. Visitors can ride the dinos, dig for fossils, get photos, have your face painted or buy souvenirs, all requiring a fee beyond the $5 admission.

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Now for the pivotal question, is it worth the price? We’ll hedge a little by advising that if you really love dinosaurs and the kids are psyched before entering, you’ll love it. If you are lukewarm to the whole trip back in time scenario, maybe not.

Nearby, the $8 entry fee for the ice museum left us cold. Footage aired on CNY Central during a report by Brandon Roth made was impressive, so we may have to bite the bullet and take a look.

As for real animals, the wolf show was clearly saved by its stars. The free presentation was a little talky, especially the first 10 minutes, which produced no wolf sightings. But when they brought the animals out, their majestic beauty and power gave the overflow crowd what it came for, with five lobos prowling the pen at one point. Overall, it was a pleasurable half-hour minutes of wolf education and advocacy punctuated by a few leaps and some playing.

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Llamas were on hand for the opening of the Fair, their long necks and plush wool gracing the pig and goat barn.

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Please check back tomorrow for more photos and reports on all things Fair from the State Fair Hound.

State Fair Photo Hunt

THE FAIR IS OPEN THURSDAY AT 8 A.M.!

You’ve waited all year, so get out there. Be prepared for a rainy start, but remember there’s so much to do indoors.

As you wander the grounds, try to figure out where the photos below were taken.
We’ll provide the answers around Labor Day.

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