The biggest gathering in our city is worth a long look

Last year at the New York State Fair. A goat and I.

Last year at the New York State Fair. A goat and I.

When I worked for the big daily in the 1990s, I came home pretty dusty every night during a 12-day stretch that started in August and ended on Labor Day.

Part of my beat covering music and entertainment was reviewing concerts. And, yes, the New York State Fair threw a concert or 23 that I would shove a reporter’s pad in my back pocket, make sure I had three working pens and a pencil (in case of rain) in my front pocket) and a backpack full with laptop, folders with band notes, rain poncho, sweatshirt, water bottle, that day’s Post-Standard, that week’s Sports Illustrated and the novel I was reading at the time.

Off I’d go to Geddes, just on the western edge of Syracuse, to park in the media lot with thousands of other cars, trudge across a bridge and State Fair Boulevard and into Gate Four, arrange my work station in the Media Room of the hospitality center, and then hoof it to Chevy Court, to find a seat at the free afternoon show.

Anybody at the fair was welcome at those twice-daily general seating shows with national name acts, and the bleacher seats would fill up fast. I’d get there two hours early for the aisle seat I favored and read stuff until the 4 p.m. start. With a second show at 8, the band usually wouldn’t go much past 5:30, which would leave me time to write my review, send it to the office and eat dinner before the 7:30 p.m. paid ticket general admission show.

Those had reserved seating.

Anyway, for a lot of years in a row, New York State Fair time meant 23 reviews in 12 days for me. (On Labor Day, the fair held a motor sports event at the grandstand instead of a concert.) It was a grind. I loved seeing so many bands, certainly, over so many years. But did I mention how tired I was by the end of the fair?

Times changed. A new fair director started bringing in two different bands for the afternoon and evening free court shows and less paid grandstand shows, and different big daily leadership crafted different coverage strategies for me. Nevertheless, I reviewed many concerts at this time of the year until I was laid off in January of 2013. Last year I went to the fair for two court shows, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals with my great friend Dave Kaspar and Vince Gill with my dear wife Karen.

This year, I waited in line tickets went on sale for Tuesday’s Train concert. And I bought four advance sale tickets because Karen and I plan to go two more times.

I still love the New York State Fair, for more reasons than the music. People watching, for instance. And the goats.

The fair is the topic for this week’s community blog for Syracuse Public Media site If you’d like to read it, click the link below.

What are the attractions you like best about your favorite fair? Have you ever gone to a lot of concerts in a small number of days, and how many? What was the favorite job you ever had, and how long did it last>

39 thoughts on “The biggest gathering in our city is worth a long look

  1. It was such a busy history for you, 23 reviews in 12 days! Wow, Mark! You really did a lot of reporting and giving of your time, for those who were your readers, I will say again, “Thank You” and I appreciate all of your efforts! I think the fairs around the country are always so special, the different areas have their highlights, I enjoy the baby animals area, the petting zoo, the crafts and above all else, the music! I am glad that you posted about what you liked and the goats are so cute, I agree!


    • That busy time was one of the most exciting parts of my job, Robin. I felt like I was providing a service for people who couldn’t get out there to witness the concerts themselves. And I got paid to do it. Pretty sweet deal, it was. Yes, fairs are a good deal all the way around even though now I have to pay to go!!


  2. Mark … This was my favorite part of reporting when I worked at WHEN-AM. I volunteered to provide coverage for our news department during the State Fair and was there every day it ran – except the weekends. What a blast. I was near all that great fair food, the concert acts, the animals, the art exhibits. Wonderful.
    Thanks for this bit of welcome nostalgia. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. I actually love your fair there in Syracuse quite a bit. I have been to a bajillion concerts. Maybe 15 shows in 5 days would be me record? Favorite job? Besides writing and being a photographer which I do now, my favorite jobs of the past were two: One was working admin at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie. I loved that job because of the work I did as well as all of the awesome people I worked with. That would probably be my top favorite. But my close second fave was driving a monorail at Busch Gardens (back when they had a monorail.) I had to memorize a 10 minute spiel about the animals I drove over, and had to mix it up as the animals moved. I got to ride any other ride there for free as often as I liked and if it was a slow day, didn’t have to get off the ride and wait back in line, so that’s why that was a favorite. ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Now a fair here is all fairground rides and cotton candy is candyfloss. The town I grew up near to has an annual fair – 3 days each Oct/Nov (can’t exactly remember). We don’t have any bands playing and definitely no goats. But terrifying rides that leave you feeling dizzy and rather queasy – we have loads of them. I used to love it!


  5. Before I head off to see what my sleeping pill compels me to post on my blog, let me say… A) Guess who turned up in my Google Alerts today. That would be you. I fell out almost dead when I turned up in my own recently.

    B) I’m still mortified you did not get front row seats to see Pat. Mortified. At some point we must chant and pick flowers and contemplate this heinous misstep in seat selection. I would have needed narcotics if someone had told me I had to sit in the boonies. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Oh, but the seats I selected will offer me and my dear wife Karen far more pleasure for the duration that the front row, in our experience, Apple PIe. Dead center, best sound, Only 20 rows back, that one row over everybody standing up.


  6. love the goats, and it sounds like this fair has a huge variety of something for everyone. i’ve never seen train live, but i’d love to, after your hearty endorsement. i once went to a 2 night in a row folk fest here, but it’s really all kinds of music and it was amazing – avett brothers, one of my favs were there and the crowd was really into it both nights. also love going to the county fair up north, still has the baking contests, and there is something timeless about that tradition. favorite job – tie between advertising for creative adventure and teaching kindy for creative adventure with no stress and lots of time.


    • My friend who used to be the fair PR director had the best goat line ever to Karen and I when we told he we were going to the goat building. He said, oh, yes, I love the goats. They’re like confused dogs. And he’s right, exactly.

      The folk fest sound fun, and the Avett Brothers are A1, Beth. Baking is a timeless fair tradition. They have plenty of blue ribbon baking events here, too.

      And I’ve told you how I think your addy movie job was boss and think your kinder job is even more boss because you help change the world one little person at a time. Precious, that is.


  7. I’m not a big fair person….I was at times. Not so much any more.

    And my favorite job? Blogging. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh wait, do I have to get paid? If so, I haven’t had my favorite job yet. ๐Ÿ˜€


  8. Great post Mark – really informative – and turning in 23 reviews in half as many days – wow. Hard work. We have a fair grounds here in Ottwawa called Landsdowne Park. I recall going to fairs there many years ago but they shut it down about 5 years ago. It is located between Bank street (a very busy thoroughfare now part of the most expensive realestate property – the Glebe) and the canal. There was very little parking and the city had grown around it. there was a football stadium there as well. They had to tear down part of the stadium because it was in disrepair and they stopped having fairs. After a great deal of bickering it is being developed with a new stadium with condos, retail, businesses, etc -at a humongous cost . It will be finished next year. About the same time as it shut down, Canada did a sort of city consolidation or “Metro area” creation that greatly increased the physical boundaries of all cities in Canada – the purpose was supposed to move suburbs and such into the “city” to make administration and fund distribution more even and fair. Ottawa became about 100 kms (60 miles)across and about 60 (35 miles) deep or about 2,200 square miles. A big piece of turf. It actually has more working farmland within its borders than any other city in Canada..

    As a result of the loss of the city fair grounds and the expansion, many regional fairs within the now new city boundaries sprung up and/or grew fast. In September now, we have a list of fairs in Carp, Metcalfe, Richmond, etc. They compete for exhibitors and bands and are excellent quality. They do schedule so that there is no overlap and tend to draw many of the same fairgoers on what has become known as the circuit. It is quite fascinating to visit them all but I’m not a big fairgoer, so i only go once every few years. If you’re interested in central Canadian agriculture or music this is the place to be in September. They do draw some big name international acts as well.

    Great post Mark. Thanks.


  9. Goats, schmoats. What about the food? Iโ€™m just back from the Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio and another heaping helping of deep fried gator (succulent white meat) and multiple trips to Grandma Skiโ€™s food truck. Polish delights to tickle your palate. As far as entertainment, nothing, nothing, NOTHING beats the annual demolition derby. Scroll to the bottom and take a look at this film from last yearโ€™s event. Itโ€™s what you PRAY to have happen.


  10. My favourite job lasted 20 years (the last 3 years were hell) I finally left and grieved the loss of that job for several years, still grieve to this day sometimes. I worked at a homeless shelter, held many positions. Ended my career as the Chief Development Officer where I oversaw fundraising, media relations, communications, etc.

    Sounds like NY has a lot of ‘way cool’ events Mark!
    Diana xo


  11. The NY State fair was an annual event for me as child growing up in the Mohawk Valley. While my older brothers would run off to the midway, my parents would take us little ones to see the butter sculpture and get a cup of milk from the big tank with the white, chocolate, and strawberry lines running out. I also saw Chubby Checker do the Twist there. Haven’t been there in years, but lots of great memories.


    • Yes, Chubby Checker was one of the acts I saw at the court. Man can twist, right? Back in the day, I would have picked strawberry milk, because it would have been a treat I didn’t get at home! Thanks for stopping in here, Snoozing.


  12. I lived in Germany as a child and when we transferred to the States, my dad took us to the Iowa State Fair. And we got cotton candy – a completely foreign and amazing treat which left a permanent impression on me obviously!!


  13. The Houston Livestock and Rodeo is an amazing event to attend. I cannot even begin to describe the environment, Chum. Each year the list of bands or artists can be a doozey to comprehend, and I couldn’t imagine sitting through all of them.

    Thanks for the writer’s walk through your experience. I’m once again left in awe. Sounds pretty fantastic… gotta see Train. A great concert, for sure.

    My favorite summer job in college was a being a bartender for the Elks Lodge during the day…fairly quiet days full of business men teaching me how to play poker, make a highball and plan lofty goals. I smile again just thinking about it.


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