Cinderella Story

The clock has struck midnight on the 2014 New York State Fair. As always, there were highs and lows, but the highs were mountains and the lows merely blips.

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We’re waiting for the final attendance figures, but busting the one-day record on day 10 is a monumental achievement and the overall customer response has been excellent. We’ll have a lot more to say over the next few days, but for now the Hound is tired and exhilarated by this Fair, even as the last few patrons straggle out and the workers begin to take it apart.

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Nick LoPresti worked the late shift to bring us these lovely photos.

Photo Fun

On opening day we posted five photos and challenged readers to pinpoint the location on the Fairgrounds where each was taken. For those who are playing along, we offer the following solution with our thanks.

The first shot is a close-up of the Horticulture Building’s art deco façade.

Number two shows a plaque attached to a tree in Chevy Court, not far from the clock.

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The third is a portrait of a blacksmith who tends his flame in the Carriage Museum.

Fourth is a sign attached to fencing surrounding a sheep pen, outside the goat/swine barn.

Last, this is the door on the Lottery Pavilion. Maybe you remember when it housed Paisano’s Restaurant.

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Plantain Pleasure

When it comes to making the Fair’s most difficult decision—what to eat—sometimes a little change in routine works out just great. Sunday evening, hankering some French fries, an idea popped up. The popular Caribbean treat tostones is essentially a Latino French fry and we’ve enjoyed them before.

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So we sauntered over to the Pan African Village for what turned out to be a great call. The folks at Las Delicias served us some freshly-made tostones—plantain discs mashed flat and twice-fried. Fresh, hot, crisp and $3 for a big basket full. The friendly confines of the village also came into play as we shared a picnic table and some conversation with four other people, including a couple eating ox tails.

Cruisin’ Again

After our July 27 post, Chevy Cruise, we were glad that two acts featuring African-American performers were added to the Chevy Court bill. Overall, we were impressed with not only the diversity, but also the variety at Chevy Court. (Joan Jett is shown here in a Nick LoPresti photo.)

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One of the lesser-known, more lightly-attended acts, an indy band called Young the Giant (check out Chris Baker’s review on Syracuse.com) really impressed us. Some of the bigger names weren’t so hot. You never know—that helps make Chevy Court really intriguing.

Horse Sense

Isn’t it irritating when you’re excited to see some beautiful show horses and the barn is closed as it was in this photo taken Saturday morning?

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Of all the farm animals on hand at the New York State Fair—Public Relations Director Dave Bullard told us there are 10,000 animals there each year—horses are probably the favorite. Some horses, generally of the larger breeds, are on hand in the small barn just up from gate four, near the Iroquois Village.

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But here’s another idea. Designate a place on the grounds where visitors can visit and pet a few friendly steeds any time of the day. Maybe we can even feed them a carrot. It’s a simple thing, but Fair fans, especially city dwellers, would consider such and opportunity a real treat.

Speaking of farm animal treats, the Agriculture extravaganza has become a Labor Day tradition and it’s one we have come to love. On Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. visitors can walk the dirt floor of the Coliseum and go eyeball-to-eyeball with examples of New York’s best livestock.

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Visitors get to see a few of several different types of animal and visit with farmers and staff. The experience is deigned to be interactive and there’s a chance to win prizes. The whole exhibit free.

More Than The Midway

When Labor Day weekend arrives and the Fair winds down, we encourage Fair fans to take stock of what makes them love the Fair. As much as we enjoy the new features–and this year there have been many—It’s the traditions we cherish most. For native Central New Yorkers, Fair memories start in childhood, so make at least one more trip to our beloved annual expo and make sure the kids get more than crazy rides and junk food.

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Stop at the sheep barn to see how much care and hard work goes into raising them, then cross the street to the wool center to see how the wool is processed and woven into yarn. See kids, the clothes don’t just come from a Chinese factory. There are people with dedication and skill who make them in New York.

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Kids seem to love watching the bees at the honey strand in the Horticulture Building. The better, healthier sweetener is made for us by insects and brought to us through the labor and expertise of New York beekeepers.

After gulping a cup of New York milk at the Rainbow Milk Bar (shouldn’t they bring back strawberry or change the name?), cross the street to the dairy barn and watch those youngsters doing the heavy lifting and painstaking care that produces that milk. If you time it right, you can watch the milking being done.

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While there, tell the kids to look into the huge eyes of the heifers and consider the importance of laws and practices that insure humane treatment of dairy animals and livestock in general. New York has organic farms and small family operations that are more likely to meet humanitarian standards.

There’s plenty of diversity in New York, demonstrated at the Fair at the Iroquois (let’s drop the word “Indian”) Village and the Pan African Village. It’s a good time to celebrate the food, artwork, dancing and history of various cultures, all part of our home state’s heritage.

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Skip the petting zoo and instead see the Hawk Creek birds of prey and the Wolves of the World, where kids can see nature’s awe-inspiring predators up close and learn why it’s important that they be protected and preserved. Respect for wildlife is a life lesson that can start young at the Fair.

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There’s little time left, but remember, Labor Day admission is only a dollar. Get the family out there as a summer send-off, before the kids have to face that other “s” word. Sure, eat fried dough and hit the midway, but also explore for the exciting, painless lessons that will create Fair memories that last long after the sugar rush and dizziness subside.

Photos of cows and eagle by Nick LoPresti.

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Major Makeover Time

The view of the Horticulture Building from benches in the memorial area in front is one of equal parts awe and concern. The glorious building with its art deco façade and sturdy stonework is the centerpiece of the Fair, it’s face reflected in the adjoining pool.

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But signs of age are visible from many angles. Weeds protrude from the high on the walls. Signs of leaching can be seen in several spots. Decorative fountains on either side of the main entrance haven’t been operative in years. Loose bricks threaten its integrity and, most disturbing, the intricate and beautiful main entrance archway is chipped and worn.

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A restoration is definitely in order for the grand dame, constructed in 1937. It will take a lot of work and no doubt be very costly, but it has to be done if it is to survive. And it certainly must be preserved. Where else in Central New York or anywhere in the state would you see a building as uniquely spectacular? It wouldn’t be the New York State Fair without it. Time to get to work.

We were glad to see on the grounds a new receptacle for recycling. The navy blue two-sided cans accept paper or bottles. The green drink container barrels are also around and we hope to see an increased emphasis on recycling during the Fair.

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Another method of recycling is creatively demonstrated in the Bucket of Junk competition in the Horticulture Building. Entrants were given an odd and sundry assortment of stuff—a paper cup, a rubber glove, a big paper clip, some nuts and bolts and other things. They then had to create a work of art from what they were given. The result is several wacky, but clever creations. Our favorite was the red ribbon winner, a caricature-ish statue of Liberty.

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Not far away, teams of construction industry pros built structures using donated cans of food. Canstruction, as it’s known may seem like a silly pursuit, but there are hundreds of cans used and all of them will go to the Food Bank of Central New York after the Fair.
Photos by Nick LoPresti.

Four To Go

Labor Day weekend looms and if you haven’t been to the 2014 New York State Fair what are you waiting for? If you have been, go again. And again.

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It’s a great Fair and there are some dandy new features, documented here at State Fair Hound. But we always think that the best thing about the Fair is returning to the annual people, places and things that we love.

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They’re back—Dippin’ Dots, Footsie Wootsie, I Got It, Hilby, Pizza Fritte, sculptures created from sand and butter and barn after barn of great looking animals
Throughout today’s post, we’ll features some new photos from the lens of Hound photographer Nick LoPresti, hoping you’ll enjoy them and they’ll motivate you to head out (or head out again).

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The Eli Young Band’s performance last evening at Chevy Court—poorly covered by our town’s daily paper—was disappointing. Not only because this supposedly country band played primarily light, soulless rock or even because lead singer Mike Eli’s singing—distorted all night long–didn’t approach the quality of their recordings.

Classic Chevy Court rudeness made it even harder to enjoy. The Fair has promised to improve the fan experience there, so the Hound will jump in with some ideas in the form of rules fans should follow, recognizing that enforcement is most attainable through people being more considerate:

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Don’t smoke. It only lasts an hour to 90 minutes and you’re surrounded by people who will appreciate it.

If you’re in the bench area, use the benches. That means sit down most of the time. An occasional standing ovation or quick photo is OK, but many people wait for an hour or more to get a seat for the show, then have their view blocked by some knuckleheads who thinks they have to stand. There’s plenty of space for those who prefer to stand off to the sides and behind the benches.

If you want to talk to your partner or friend, do it somewhere else. People are there to hear the performers, not you.

Texting is OK, but if yakking on the phone isn’t.

Take up only the space you need to be reasonably comfortable and make room for others where possible.

It’s a start and we’re open to more ideas. The first two items (no smoking, sit down), we propose become actual rules, subject to enforcement by staff. Remember, even a free show is no bargain if you can’t see, hear and breathe.

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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.