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I was indoctrinated into the cult of the Minnesota State Fair six years ago. At the time, it was sort of a goof with my then-girlfriend, now-wife: we were dating long distance between San Francisco and New York, so it was an excuse to meet halfway and in her hometown. Twelve hours, two orders of fried cheese curds, several Leinie’s and a live taping of "A Prairie Home Companion" later, I was hooked for good. I've only missed it twice since. (Once, for my wedding, and then last year, because my very-expectant wife was grounded.) Now, the Fair is as much of a Labor Day tradition to me as no longer wearing white shoes. Or switching from gin to brown liquor.
For many, The Great Minnesota Get Together—the second-largest state fair in the country—revolves around food. Fairgoers are greeted with the Miracle of Birth Center upon entering the fairgrounds, where they can witness the live birth of our future food in the form of calves, chicks and ducklings. Other structures are dedicated to prize-winning pumpkins or hogs. Interspersed throughout are concessions that have turned the raw product you just viewed into stunt food like foot-long corn dogs. (Even the Midway is food focused as it encourages you to barf up what you just ate.)
The key to surviving the fair—and yes, “surviving” is a goal—is portion control. Most Fair fare should be shared, with few notable exceptions (three on a corn dog is bad luck). It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so splitting an order of cheese curds between four people will ensure that you are still in fighting form hours later at the Leinie Lodge.
This year, I partook of the following Fair staples, in order:
• Corn dog
• Mini donut
• Fried cheese curds
• Smoked beef stick
• Summit Extra Pale Ale
• Walleye cakes
• Chicken-fried bacon
• Walleye fries
• Leinenkugel Original
• Mini cinnies
• Pork chop on a stick
• Leinenkugel Oktoberfest
• Cheddar stick
• Strawberry shake
I’m not gonna lie. Somewhere around the chicken-fried bacon, things went a little south. One bite would have been enough—a whole strip of the stuff was too much. My first year at the Fair, I was a machine (I guess enthusiasm goes a long way). Now as age, parenthood and inertia have caught up with me, the fair bouillabaisse requires stamina and vigilance. Too much of one thing, a bad combination here or there, and you start scanning the fairgrounds for the Pepto-Bismol-on-a-stick booth. Over the years, I’ve experienced a few clunkers: deep-fried Twinkies are terrible, fried candy bars are overrated, Scotch Egg On A Stick disappointing. While my brother-in-law favors chili dogs, I eschew items that I can get at the ball game. I love the offerings that are unique to the Fair or scream Upper Midwest: Walleye anything, pork chops, cheese curds, corn.
As you eat, throngs of Midwesterners swirl around you, their woodland camo, Minnesota Vikings gear and Chaska Hockey sweatshirts making a rainbow of fruit flavor. Looking around, you can forget that Minnesota was the state of Mondale and Wellstone, but scattered around the fairgrounds are signs that Minnesota remains a liberal populist state: taking a break between adventures in gluttony, I filled out a survey for earnest-looking Al Franken volunteers with comically oversized campaign buttons. Disappointingly, the survey did not include questions concerning whether or not I had visited the Oink Booth or who my preferred cheese-curd purveyor was. Later, I’d see a Michele Bachmann scarecrow in the Agriculture Building and browse Guy Noir t-shirts the Minnesota Public Radio booth.
But yeah, the food. Oof.
Big numbers in the final two days helped the 2011 Minnesota State Fair become the third-best-attended State Fair.
Attendance Monday was 154,532, officials said Tuesday. That was far more than showed up for the final day in 2009 (126,924) or 2010 (120,226).
That followed a record-breaking Sunday, when the fair drew 229,943. It was a record for a final fair Sunday and halted a five-day skid of daily declines vs. the previous year.
The final tally for 2011 came in at 1,769,872. That's down slightly from 1,776,211 last year, and behind the record of 1,790,497 in 2009.
"When you look at the percentage decrease [of 2011 vs. 2010], it's minuscule," fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette said. "We'd love to break records every year, but it's just not possible.
"By all measures, the 2011 fair was an incredible success."
BLACKFOOT — Gena Tuttle has carnival in her blood.
Her great-grandparents, grandparents and parents all worked for circuses and carnivals, and Tuttle was born into the work and lifestyle — and she’s proud of her heritage.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said, adding that her genealogy is full of aerial acrobats and lion tamers who performed on the road and in Hollywood. In fact, her great-grandfather Bob Mathews trained one of the lions MGM Studios used in its films, and her grandfather, Sport Mathews, used to work as a stuntman in “Tarzan” movies.
Tuttle’s job isn’t quite as dangerous as her ancestors’, but it can be just as unpredictable, she said. She is the office manager for Butler Amusements, which organizes the carnival at the Eastern Idaho State Fair each year, and numerous other fairs throughout the West.
She handles ticket sales, accounting records and payroll for between 80 and 200 employees, depending on the size of the fair. Butler Amusements is overseeing 33 rides, four concession booths and 30 game booths at the Eastern Idaho State Fair this year, she said.
Tuttle’s position requires her to work long hours and she is constantly on the move, but she said that makes the job appealing.
“It’s the excitement of what could happen. Unlike normal jobs you go to, you don’t know what to expect,” she said. “It’s always been about the unknown — that’s a lot of fun for me.”
Tuttle said a lot of people don’t understand the lifestyle; in fact, fairgoers used to ask her when she was growing up if she had been kidnapped or if she had run away to join the carnival. But to her, life on the road feels normal.
She tried to settle down once and spent a year working for the Arizona Department of Corrections, but the job didn’t take.
“I had good state benefits, but I was stuck in one place,” she said. “I was raised out here and I am used to traveling so I turned in my badge.”
Tuttle said she loves the excitement of her work and the camaraderie carnival workers share. Even though most of her own family has now retired from the business, Tuttle said the other workers have become like family.
“We live in a fishbowl out here. It’s a little town that travels through other towns so everybody knows each others business whether you like it or not,” she said. “Everybody out here has a story and past — mine is just mostly about carnival.”
The Press asked, "Next year, should the fair allow freak shows?" The vote split this way:
• Yes, it's their right; 298 votes (39 percent)
• No, it's just wrong; 380 votes (49 percent)
• I don't have an opinion; 94 votes (12 percent)
The Los Angeles County Fair is steeped in traditions, from its Ferris wheel to fried everything. But elephant rides are one tradition the fair should do without.
The Humane Society of the U.S., the country's most influential animal welfare organization, is against them, saying that elephants are typically trained for rides and other performance activities through the use of bullhooks and electric prods. The Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums "strongly encourages" its member organizations to discontinue rides in the interest of safety.
The elephants at the fair are supplied by the Perris, Calif.-based outfitter Have Trunk Will Travel, a member in good standing of the association. But its founders, Kari and Gary Johnson, are accustomed to controversy following in their elephants' footsteps. Officials of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who asked the fair to cancel the rides, circulated a video from Animal Defenders International that purportedly shows trainers from Have Trunk Will Travel using bullhooks and electric prods to get elephants to perform.
In a statement, the Johnsons said the video was six years old and heavily edited. "We stand by our care and training methods," said the statement. Kari Johnson confirmed that the trainers use bullhooks — "the pointed end is to push them away, the curved end is to pull them toward you." But she defended the company's care of its six Asian elephants, saying they are well treated on a 10-acre ranch and noting that the outfitter is involved in research on and conservation of the endangered species.
What's more, the company has supplied Asian elephants to the fair off and on for 20 years without incident or evidence of inhumane treatment on the grounds, according to fair spokesperson Leslie Galerne-Smith.
In our view, the video is beside the point here. Zoos, including the L.A. Zoo, are spending millions to create elaborate habitats for elephants, which are the world's largest land mammals. Some zoos have reevaluated whether their facilities can sufficiently accommodate the needs of pachyderms. Some are also instituting a policy of almost no unprotected contact between keepers and elephants, which is considered more humane and safer for all. At a time when the management of captive elephants is focusing on conservation and the animals' well-being, hoisting people onto their backs seems out of step.
The animal welfare groups, the elephant supplier and the fair officials all say they care deeply about elephant conservation. If that's true, there ought to be a way to allow people — including fairgoers — a chance to see and learn about these stately creatures of the wild without riding them.
ELKHORN - Dan and Brenda Murphy, of Delavan, were busy stripping a piece of cotton candy from a large bag for their grandson, Bentley, as they made their way pushing a stroller through one narrow, sparsely populated area of the Walworth County Fair on Sunday.
It was one of the few spots visitors could easily maneuver as large crowds filled seemingly every aisle, some on hand several hours even before the well-known Doobie Brothers band hit the stage.
"That is why we are here," Connie and Bill Draganski of Twin Lakes said, as they basked in the afternoon sun while sitting on a bench in the middle of the carnival area. "We have never seen them before," Bill said, as the two smiled widely.
A day earlier, rain cut by roughly half the usual attendance at the fair, which began its annual run Wednesday and wrapped up Monday.
"We were doing really well until Saturday when the weather was not that great," Sue Pruessing, who handles marketing for the fair, said. "Today (Sunday) the weather is being real cooperative."
So what brings people to the county fair these days?
According to Pruessing, a state survey found the number one draw for people is the food. And at the Walworth County Fair, there was plenty of that.
The thickest, juiciest pork chops you'll ever find, on a stick, Italian beef, huge Italian sausage dripping with cooked onions and peppers, cheese curds, Chinese food, funnel cakes, cream puffs, homemade pretzels, hot wings and much, much more.
The fair's assortment of flavors likely helped push attendance up by 3,000 people the first day alone. Final attendance figures for the fair were not immediately available this morning.
A quick survey of visitors found many came from Delavan, some from Elkhorn and some from as far away as Appleton.
"We try and come every year," Barb Crusan said, as she and her husband, Doug, watched their daughter, Chloe, flip, twirl and swing on the floating harness she was tied to that was suspended above the ground. "We are originally from the area. They have added a few things. It is one of the nicest county fairs."
As the sun began to set, last minute concert-goers tried to find any nook and cranny they could to squeeze in to see the Doobie Brothers.
The temperature dropped quickly sending some scrambling for heavy jackets and others simply shivering as they listened to an array of familiar songs like "China Grove" and "Jesus Is Just Alright with Me."
There was even a prominent South Beloit resident in the audience prior to the concert.
Mark Finnegan of Finnegan's RV was on hand with friends and family gathering donations for his popular VetsRoll program.
Meanwhile, others jumped, clapped and occasionally danced in the aisle, as the Doobie Brothers played.
Pruessing said the tradition of the county fair is indeed alive and well.
"Parents and grandparents always want to see their kids' exhibits and that is always a big draw and important," she said. "But the big thing that seems to drive people in these days is the entertainment. They are looking for good value."
BOONVILLE — The season for fun isn't over for a group of Romans who run renaissance festivals.
The Adirondack Renaissance Fantasy Faire is going to be a weekend of free entertainment and excitement for the entire family.
Thinking about the economic challenges that families are facing these days, Parker Publishing and Entertainment has been putting together free festivals. "It has become so expensive these days that a lot of people who would love the fun and thrills simply can't go, so we looked for sponsors to take care of paying the expenses and it has been working for us," said company owner Tim Parker.
Their latest fair is called the Adirondack Renaissance Fantasy Faire to be held on Sept. 10 and 11 in Erwin Park in Boonville.
Anyone who enjoyed the Mayfaire on the Green in Holland Patent this past spring will have an idea of what to expect, but there is new excitement to be had in this fair.
"We decided to heighten the amount of fantasy, so expect some excitement," said Parker. The presence of a large dragon, and even stranger things have been hinted at. There have also been warnings that the Dread Captain Brad and the scurvy crew of the Raven's Revenge will be on hand.
To top it all off, the entire cast of Rome's own Merely Players of Upstate New York will be a source of nonstop entertainment. Director Kristy Plotkin offered up a brief menu of what the group is bringing to the Faire.
"The Merely Players are doing four plays, including a children's show of an original fairy tale about a dragon who never has any friends because everyone assume he's evil and deadly due to his extraordinary size and skills. The tale has a message of friendship and finding your place at the heart of it. There will also be a swashbuckling, swordfighting show that highlights the feud between two sides of a gang of pirates; a show done in the classic renaissance Italian Commedia Dell'Arte style featuring Il Dottore and his daughter Isabella in an original scenario, and also featuring the usual favorites like El Capitano, Arlecchino, and Brighella; and in a private setting, some rather hilarious stuff."
Attendees will have the opportunity to see fire breathing and fire eating up close, performed by Adamo Ignis, the fire eating group. The group has been featured all along the Eastern Seaboard, and at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire. Also Rome's own Arethusa Group will be providing music nonstop on over 40 exotic instruments. For more information go to: www.adirondackenfaire.com.
Man Stabbed During Fight at the L.A. County Fair
A stabbing on the grounds of the L.A. County Fair in Pomona led to the arrest of three men Sunday night. The incident took place at around 10 p.m., and involved two groups of people who broke into a fight in an area of the fairgrounds where liquor is sold, according to KTLA.
In the amusement park section of the L.A. County Fair, 2010 (Photo by vmiramontes via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
One man was stabbed during the course of the fight. "Officials with the Los Angeles County Fire Department say they responded with a helicopter to transport the victim to a hospital, where he was listed in fair condition and being treated for non-life threatening wounds," explains ABC7.
The motive for the fight remains under investigation.
Saturday marked the opening day for the annual L.A. County Fair, which runs until October 2nd.
The small town of Deepwater, Mo. says it's been swindled. The town's Labor Day festival has been held for 109 years. It's always featured music, games, contest and rides except for this year.
The picnic committee hired someone to bring a carnival to the Deepwater Labor Harvest Picnic. The man never showed up and took the town's $1,500 deposit. Now, their three day celebration won't have any rides.
"They're disappointed," said picnic participant Barb Kuchta. "They're upset. We're trying to find other things to do. We're gonna make the best of it, but it's very disappointing."
Beverly Ward says she contacted Minnesota Magic Midway six weeks ago. He told her had sent pre-sale tickets. They said they never received those. Then she says on September 1, the told her he wasn't coming and that he had sent back the town's deposit. They say they have not received the returned deposit.
FOX 4 also contacted Minnesota Midway and he says he's never heard from anyone in Deepwater after repeated tires. The man says that's why he decided to pull out of the contract and send the deposit back.
A 9-year-old boy was injured Saturday at the Maryland State Fair when he tried get off a small swing ride while it was operating.
The incident was the most serious injury this year at the state fair, which ends Monday, said Michael Huber, coordinator of emergency services at the event in Timonium. Huber said the child's grandmother put him on the ride.
"At some point, he decided he didn't want to be on it and attempted to exit the ride while it was in operation," Huber said.
The child was taken to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, according to Huber. He declined to comment on the nature of the boy's injuries. He said the child was from the Baltimore area but declined to give further information.
Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun