Monday, August 22, 2016

Up the Lake: Modern Fair Days

All’s Love at Fairs and Wars
Agricultural Adventures

It’s Duchess County Fair season in Rhinebeck New York.  Normally, we’d plan our vacations and/or Up the Lake stays around it.  This year, however, we aren’t going.  While my family’s absence may not be the largest protest in history, we’re demanding action.

We’d been attending the Fair regularly following an extended lull from our childhood trips from Up the Lake.  Getting there was a straight shot up Route 9 from our cabins, which is why it became a summer tradition for two to three (possibly more) separate stretches.

However, for my sister’s family and mine, the trip had transformed into a singular focus based on concert attendance from the general “Fun at the Fair” reasoning used for earlier days.

The absence of the act that drew us there, Vocal Trash, is the reason for this year’s planned bagging out.

Vocal Trash is an amazingly talented band led by Steve Linder and Kelsey Rae out of Texas that puts on THE most high energy live show I’ve ever seen.  They cover a massive amount of musical styles, all of which they perform astonishingly well.  The main theme of their existence on and off stage is about recycling, reuse and upcycling, but the performance also includes a heavy patriotic element allowing them to connect with both left and right wing audiences.  Actually, a big part of their message is also that the media focuses on the red state/ blue state division, but those with a clue know we’re all one people.

The way they practice what they preach for recycling is that almost all of their instruments are repurposed.  Water bottle and trash can drums, tool box guitars, and a mix of other musical devices that would do Spike Jones proud.

The best part of the act we’ve seen is not the phenomenal stage show, however.

It’s not the outstanding musicality and humor of the performers.

It’s not Steve’s ability to play anything in front of him as a finely tuned instrument, while engaging the crowd and singing all kinds of tunes he arranged for the group and their bizarre collection of reclaimed music making items.

It’s not Kelsey’s theatrical background (Broadway included) allowing her to belt out powerful notes while tap dancing (at speeds that blurred her feet) along with the drumming with the whole group moving around to her choreography.

No it’s their devotion to the fans and their cause.  Steve and Kelsey both took a pay cut in order to bring their show and message to as many schools as possible each year. (Yes, my sister and I have both worked on getting them in contact with our respective PTAs)

More importantly on a personal level: after each show they hung around to chat with the fans and sign autographs. Year after year they took the time to talk to us and other fans, and I’ve seen them interacting with my daughter and my sister’s kids.   That’s where their qualities as human beings outshine even their outstanding abilities as performers.

The Rhinebeck Fair decided, since their ten year contract was up, fair goers would like to see something different and didn’t renew it.

Well these Fair goers, and many others based on after show conversations overheard and read in posts online, certainly do not want anything different.  Well before any other unpleasantness reared its head this year, my wife and I, my sister and her husband and all the kids decided that if the Fair didn’t want Vocal Trash, they must not want us either.

Modern trips to the Fair involved mostly other bits of waiting, along with waiting for the V.T. shows.  Those other bits often transformed into connections to the show.

Waiting on food lines pretty quickly switched from trying to find a picnic table location afterwards to eating in the entertainment tent between Vocal Trash performances.  Given the fried fair food frequency of just about every other possibility, and my dietary and taste bud changes, I think I set a Duchess County record for consecutive years having “grilled chicken in a pita.”

We also waited at the Signature Braids stand. What started as general excitement for the girls to have ultra fancy and flowered hair designs put in shifted up a notch when it became “getting dolled up for the concert.” 
With the number of girls in our group, those of us in the follically challenged department had some extended waits to deal with.   Often there was random wandering through shopping tents, shuttle running kids to the rest room and for airbrush tattoos, or hunting for the Heidi Jo’s Jerky stand.  Not only did Heidi Jo’s specialize in my favorite low fat game meats (bison, turkey and wild boar for example) but they also had a Habenero spiced one that provided outstanding flavor and a free sinus bleaching with every bite.

Some years it didn’t matter where, but escape was required.  There was a marionette “paddle boat” in the area of Signature Braids for many years featuring highly talented performers (with artistically crafted puppets) that could trace a family lineage back to the opening days of Disneyland. Unfortunately, Fair budgetary planners replaced their spot on multiple occasions with an automatic, lowest of the low end animatronic singing fruit and vegetable display. That show was simultaneously dull and horrifying, leading the Signature Braids women to beg for a new location after spending a couple of years across from the monstrosity.

We’d usually honor the kids’ request to walk through the animal barns. Luckily they were much fonder of the small cute and fluffy variety of farm creatures, as opposed to the large and pungent ones, allowing quick dashes through the barns where the young animal handlers wore hip waders to deal with their charges’ productions.

There was also an occasional stop to marvel at Handwriting Analysis "computers" that looked like they weren't quite high tech enough to be used in Adam West's Batcave, and looked only slightly less technologically amazing as the "robot" that wandered the grounds, clad in an undersized t-shirt so he'd fit in with the other fair goers.

I would have liked a little more waiting to see Hilby the Skinny German Juggling Boy, as his technical skills were only second to his crowd handling and patter.  Sadly, the fact that “daddy can juggle” takes away from the entertainment value of anyone else, because, “How hard could it be?”   Therefore I was often being dragged away from his highly engaging shows.

Another act we often caught nearby Hilby’s area was the Peruvian Folk Band.  How long of a catch was dependent on one of the Fair’s greatest performers, the women’s room attendant.  While the answer to the sign in the Men’s Room that said, “What would it look like without the attendant?” was “almost the same but there wouldn’t be a guy in my way,” reports reached my ears of the impressive performance in people moving done in the main Ladies’ rest room.  Not only would she keep the  considerable line moving at an acceptable clip, maintain cleanliness, and insure there was no back up at the sinks,  but she’d do it all while announcing vacant stall locations in rhyme. While only some of us could see that master performer, the rest would wait by the Peruvian band, inevitably giving in to the kids’ desires for some wooden Andean instrument or another.  After the first year, to prevent those of us behind the wheel from attempting to detour the vehicles into the massive stone walls surrounding Hyde Park, any and all native music making devices were exiled to the trunk for the ride home.

The final wait on the fairgrounds was always at the Zeppole vendor, for our friends and relatives who remembered how good they were from past visits when a larger mob of Up the Lake folks descended on the fair.  In the modern, plastic money heavy mindset the world transformed into, spending the day in a cash based environment such as the Fair could be confusing.  My sister and I usually ended up looking like two junkies trying to pool our resources for an unforgiving dealer, before shuffling off with our paper bags full of powdered goods.  

There was one post Fair wait- the wait to be served dinner.  One rain delayed year pretty quickly squashed the tradition of the McDonald’s breakfast on the way up.  Giving the kids and infinitely healthier meal in the cabin had the added bonus of removing the infinitely more argument inducing getting them up early enough that herding them in and out of the cars for soggy over fried breakfast sandwiches and potatoes didn’t reduce our Fair going time.

However, one fair meal a day was more than enough for any human being.  Most of the joints we stopped at as kids closed or became unexciting chains.  The Pizzeria we sometimes stopped at in the transition years was too far down Route 9 to insure everyone would be awake (kids) and not psychotically cranky (adults…OK me) as an option.  We tried a couple other possibilities over the years.  The Pizza Hut won the Zagats Award for most abysmal service in the northern hemisphere, pushing me well past that psychotic point while we watched our order sit on a table on the other side of the empty restaurant getting too cold to eat, after asking the waiter, the manager and anyone else who passed by if it was our order and being incorrectly told it wasn’t. 

Taco Bell lost its spot due to the unrestricted access of the soda machine.  It wasn’t a problem with the kids that time.  My mom had gotten dehydrated at the fair, and kept hitting the diet coke dispenser using the beach pail sized cup that restaurant provided.   We tried to explain soda wasn’t the best way to replenish that, but she misheard “electrolytes” as “Electric Slide” and was close to leaping in to a caffeine fueled wedding dance performance in the parking lot before we got her back in the car. 

The end of the day meal of choice finally settled on the Eveready Diner right across the street from the fair.  Luckily, everyone else was eating at the fair, and it was always empty. We went there until it closed and then kept going there. 

I’m not insane, (this time) there was another identical Eveready Diner down Route 9 a ways.

With bison burgers, disco fries, great buffalo sauce, sweet potato fries and usual diner portions and variety, it turned into the perfect post Fair meal for all of our requirements year after year.

An added bonus was the Kid’s Menu placemats on our first few visits.  My sister had always been incapable of solving word scrambles. She was pointing this out based on the diner environment themed examples on the placemat.  She claimed that even in full knowledge that the letters could be rearranged into an obvious word, she said she could only see its original state.

Actually, what she said…seated at a table with three exhausted little girls, and their parents, all of whom already had a goofy sense of humor when fully awake was:

“No matter how I look at it, I only see ‘butamoolie.’”

Many hours later when everyone stopped laughing (following several spontaneous yells of “butamoolie” from the peanut gallery) we were able to drive home.  For the first time ever, all three girls stayed awake in my car for the whole ride, with no over tired arguments breaking out. 

That’s because any time there was a lull of more than five seconds, or a conflict started to brew, one of them would yell:

And the whole car would descend into hysterics.

That’s why I had to look up “Route 9 diners in New York” on Google to write this, because we always called it “The Butamoolie Diner.” 

We even gave Kim a commemorative shirt, which she wore to the Fair and dinner on several occasions.  It’s a perfect circle of life thing for her giving me the original “Dog Food For Chairs” shirt.

UPDATE: September 12, 2016- Heard from Vocal Trash!  We won! They return to the Fair next year!  Hooray for complaining!

Click Here to find out how we started going again after a prolonged lull after childhood.

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