The prime topic of conversation throughout this year’s New York State Fair was the disappointing attendance figures, which fell below 900,000 for the first time since 1998. The weather was good to excellent until overcast skies broke out to a steady evening rain on day five, Aug. 27. After that, it was clear sailing, the lovely weather sparking a rally on Labor Day weekend with more than 103,000 pushing through the turnstiles on Sunday, to bring the total to a respectable 845,595. Director Dan O‚‘Hara said that the drop in the total count was less than it appeared as a new, more accurate method of counting fairgoers was instituted this year.
Still, attendance slumped noticeably and there were a couple of popular theories for the drop in numbers heard around the grounds, most centered on the dismal economy and a concert lineup with few blockbuster acts on the bill as even Larry the Cable Guy failed to get ‘er done, attendance-wise. Country rocker Jason Aldean accounted for about half of Grandstand tickets purchased in selling out his Aug. 31 show and Aussie powerhouse Keith Urban drew a nice crowd. But the big star this year was former Fair marketing director Joe LaGuardia, for whom the stage was named after a campaign, instigated by the Syracuse New Times, was embraced by friends and colleagues and finally, the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
As always, some Chevrolet Court acts attracted overflow crowds—notably The Band Perry and the J. Geils Band—while other were lightly attended. The planned video screen at Times Square wasn’t erected, maintaining the kiosk’s status as the most underutilized structure on the grounds, but there were more spots than ever broadcasting the court show.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the rounds on opening day, dogged by anti-hydrofracking demonstrators, while fellow Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer, got a mixed reception when he introduced the well-received Happy Together Tour concert.
In terms of attractions, the butterfly tent in the Horticulture Building was a first-time favorite while wild animal acts from sea lions to raptors to a kinkajou—remained crowd-pleasers. The Labor Day Agricultural Extravaganza was a great addition, allowing fairgoers to get personal with cows, goats, llamas and rabbits, one of which put on a great show by hurdling a series of barriers. The Olympics provided the themes for both the sand sculpture and the butter sculpture
The best infrastructure improvement was the patio adjoining the Empire Room, with handsome masonry and an artistic overhang making for a lovely spot to relax with a drink or a meal. More brickwork enhanced a couple of Restaurant Row dining areas.
Foodies of varying styles made cameos with flamboyant chef Guy Fieri playing Chevy Court and gastronomic gulper Takeru Kobayahsi stuffing himself with a record number of hot dogs, but ordinary fairgoers did most of the damage in gobbling sausage, baked potatoes and deep fried you-name-it.
And, once again this year, anyone who wanted to buy a hot tub had plenty of opportunity to do so.