I am leaving Las Vegas this morning, after dropping my daughter off at McCarran airport. Jessica and I spent the last four nights at the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Annual Convention, held here again in 2011 at the Paris Hotel & Casino...The highlights of the four days included seeing so many friends, from the worlds of both fairs and entertaiment. I ran into Kelvin Gordon, aka Majinga, performing on Fremont Street. I haven’t seen Kelvin in years. I got my lifetime friend Magician Jeff McBride into the trade show with one of my badges. I’ve known Jeff since I was a teenager. We both grew up in the Catskill Mountains and he was a regular performer at Pinegrove Ranch & Family Resort. Jeff brainstormed with me briefly about republishing more of my father’s books, tricks and material. He made me realize that it will not be as daunting a task as I had envisioned if I do it in smaller chunks and get help from others who are doing the routines.
The two group/performer meals at all-you-can-eat sushi buffets were fun and the gatherings included:
Tuesday - Hypnotist Susan Rosen, Topper Todd of Jest in Time Circus, Nancy and her husband of the Mitchell Marionettes, and another 8 or more. There were pumpkin carvers, sand sculptors, and one guy who does a really nice adaptation of Cliff Spanger’s Tree on Stilts.
Karen Quest wasn’t with us physically, but she certainly was spiritually since she began this Tuesday night tradition years ago. We all sent Karen text messages at the same time so she knew who was present.
Wednesday I ran out of the convention center to go see Mac King – and that is one show not to miss!!! 5-Star BRILLIANT!!! And I don’t just say that because Mac opens his show with his adaptation of my dad’s rope routines but because he got me laughing, smiling and applauding – and I’m a jaded SOB who doesn’t do that! I was able to see the show with hypnotists Michael Swensen and Joshua Seth, John the DJ and Michael’s tech, and Jessica actually liked the show. I know because I looked and she was smiling.Tuesday morning, November 29th, I moderated a round table discussion on "How to use and recruit local entertainment." It went very well. There were supposed to be two tables on the subject, one for very small and small fairs, a second for medium and large fairs. We ended up combining them.
I opened the discussion telling everyone about the $9.95 Prime Rib at Hooters and the $2 tacos and $1.65 margaritas at the Taquilla Bar in Bally’s Casino. I gave everyone a business card, mentioned my iPad raffle, and talked about my pop top collection. Then I got to business and explained there were four types of local entertainment: free to the fair, supplemented by the fair, sponsored, and professional.
I reminded everyone there are no rules, all fairs are unique, and what works for one never seems to work for another. For example, I keep hearing about small rural fairs in Montana - hundreds of miles from big cities - attempting to do concerts and losing money no matter how cheap the tickets are, but the people in the community will drive hundreds of miles to Billings for a concert at three times the price.
I presented a short list of local sources for entertainment which included:
- Society of American Magicians
- International Brotherhood of Magicians
- Clown clubs and Shriners
- Dance studios
- Community theater groups
- Smokey the Bear, sponsored by the national parks
- Ronald McDonald, sponsored by McDonalds
- Girl’s pageants
- School bands and choirs
- Sporting events with a twist (have rival sports teams play mud football using a basketball or play basketball with a football and trash pails as the baskets in the rodeo arena, volleyball over a tennis net, etc.)
I talked about two web sites that are becoming popular for finding local and regional acts, like GigSalad and GigMasters. I explained how the acts may look local, but are not actually; they are simply advertising in that region like I do all over the nation near my sister’s home so I get to visit them.
We went around the circle telling about the things different fairs have done. Fairs talked about local music academies they can get bands from, battle-of-the-bands talent competitions, and the use of public service organizations and utility companies to do demos, including fire departments, police dogs, and power companies.
Mutton-busting seemed to get a lot of attention, others did lawn mower pulls, a la tractor pulls, a 5-K run, relays, food eating contests, such as hot dogs and pies, hog calling and husband calling, toddler trots and diaper derbies, talent contests, karate demos, school spirit contests, and cheerleader competitions.
As I listened I also remembered a few more I have heard of or witnessed, including cell phone texting contests, getting a local Internet provider to offer a bank of computers.
Here’s one the late Rick Fatland mentioned as being very successful at a number of fairs he produced in California: He had sheets of plywood donated by a hardware store and painted white. The boards are delivered to schools and art is done on the boards by the kids. Then the boards are returned to the fairgrounds and displayed. The kids will drag their parents to the fair see their art, and wear a horse trail/path all along the display.
A great contest I saw Jane Engdahl do at the Sonoma County Fair was the "Holiest Shoes Contest" (as in shoes with holes). It was done on a staircase. The kids walked up to the top of a short staircase and modeled their shoes, then walked down the other side. The winners got gift certificates for new shoes from a local store.
At the state fair in Palmer, Alaska, I was stage manager on the Colony Stage, sponsored by Alaska Airlines. Community performers, like dancers and bands, were given a card they called a "food chit," redeemable at a dozen different food vendors booths on the grounds and worth $6.00 each. This was (mostly) how they enticed dance groups to come and perform. The Alaska State Fair also did a "mom looks like daughter," and similar contests.
A fair in Alabama had a pickup truck donated, and as a pre-fair promotion they had a "hand on truck" contest that lasted for days. People were able to take short breaks to eat, drink or use the facilities, but they had to be there with a hand on the truck when the buzzer sounded.
One fair mentioned their belief that if a town had a celebrity who lived nearby they might get that act for less. I explained that when I tried to do that, I found myself buying a plane ticket to fly back into town to do the show because I wasn't there when it was scheduled, and then afterward I'd have to fly back across the country. So I’ve stopped offering such discounts and make my price the same for all events regardless of when and where.
We discussed stages and the problems some fairs have because they have only one stage, or they rent a stage, and I told them stories of how I have had to build stages and stage extensions when the platforms I am offered are not big enough or are non-existent.
I didn’t get a full list of the people there but some of the diverse groups included:
- Debbie Galle of the Arapahoe County Fair in Colorado
- Wanda Hollier and Shannon Hemby of the Nederland Heritage Festival in Texas, the fair that has moved onto the old Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Lincoln, after the state fair recently moved to Grand Island
- Andrea Tharp from Clay County, FL
- Harvey Landry from Baton Rouge, LA
- Doug Lucason from Kimble County Fair, Field Day of the Past, VA
- and many others whose names I neglected to get (sorry)
2011 December 1 - END