On The Earie
By Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador
March 21, 2019
A note from Lorelei Schoendienst of Luehrs Ideal Rides on Feb. 28 had me a bit concerned about the outcome of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, but it turned out there was nothing to fear, as total attendance for the Feb. 25-March17 extravaganza wound up at a whopping 2,506,263.
That beat last year's total of 2,408,550, and was off the record of 2,611,176 that was set in 2017. Ray Cammack Shows, led by Guy and Charlene Leavitt, had another banner year on the midway. Brad Paisley drew a crowd of 74,929 on the event's closing Saturday, and George Strait set an NRG Stadium record by drawing 80,108 fans in a standalone show on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. Also on the bill were Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Other than the Strait show, concert attendance was 1,337,725, off from 2018's 1,346,388 and the record of 1,377,477 established in 2015.
Schoendienst, an OABA director, had written, “Andy and I just visited the RCS Carnival in Houston. WOW! Even though they were experiencing horrible weather, the show looked fabulous. I was able to visit the RCS Christian Academy with an enrollment of 16. The school is first class. The children have a schedule beneficial to parents and students. I was proud to present them with a check for $2,000 from the OABA’s Duke Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund.” Hub Luehrs, Lorelei's father, an OABA Trustee in 1980. Her husband, Andy, held that role in 2008, and Lorelei's sister, Jean Clair, was the OABA's first female chair in 1996.
Lorelei noted that there are two other carnival schools that receive these benefits from OABA’s scholarship foundation. They are the Deggeller Attractions Academy, and Powers Great American Midways School.
While waiting to hear from Guy, I talked to food concessionaire Jim Swain, whose Pizza on a Stick had a record year at Houston. He confirmed that the show started off with cold and rainy weather and he became a little concerned. “But once the weather got better, business boomed, and we all took off.” Swain and his wife, Janice, have been playing Houston since 2003. “It's our first spot of the year.” His son, Jimmy, is set up in Austin for the March 16-30 Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo. Aaron Watson performed on the opening Saturday, and Swain said his son had a big night, also with Pizza on a Stick.
Swain said RCS had a fundraiser at around 11pm on the busiest Saturday of the Houston event, and funds were raised to help OABA with the H-2B lobbying efforts for seasonal, foreign labor initiatives. “We had all our eight H-2B workers here, and they are terrific.” Interestingly, Swain flew them back to Mexico the day after the rodeo and livestock show finished. “I'll have them come back for when we play the Porter County Fair, Valparaiso, Indiana (July 18-27), even though we won't need them until the Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis (Aug. 2-18), and Illinois State Fair, Springfield (Aug. 8-19).”
Swain said he is then blessed with a good route that includes the State Fair of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City; Tulsa, Oklahoma State Fair; Arkansas State Fair, Little Rock, and State Fair of Louisiana, Shreveport. His next date is the Blueberry Festival, formerly held in Brooksville, Fla., that is set for March 28-31 at the Formosa Garden Events Center, Kissimmee. After that, his next spot is the Marion County Fair, Indianapolis, June 21-30, “and a couple other small fairs.” He said Porter County keeps growing and this year has Brooks & Dunn, Sawyer Brown and Diamond Rio as entertainment.
HLRS President Joel Cawley said the most popular rides were La Grande XL; Skyide Ice Jets, and Crazy Coaster. The most popular game prizes were basketballs, llamas, and alpacas. He added that approximately 376,000 Oreos were battered, fried, and dusted with powdered sugar. An orchard of apples was used for the consumption of candy and caramel apples. “We had another huge success.”
Clark Converse, who has been general manager of the Pasco County Fair, Dade City, Fla., from 1998-2008, and again since 2012, said this year's 72nd annual event, held Feb.18-24, was up slightly in attendance to 43,000, with Wade Shows providing the midway. “They had most of their rides at the Florida State Fair, Tampa, so we had a lot from Matt McDonagh's Big Rock Amusements. Matt became a hero when the transformers blew up and electricity went out on the second day of the fair on the independent food midway. McDonagh's generators saved the day for the rest of the fair.”
Garnering a lot of attention was Stevie Starr, known as The Regurgitator. Converse said he had appeared on TV's America's Got Talent and flew to Dade City from his home in Scotland for his first ever fair appearance. “He packed the houses, coming up with light bulbs, snooker balls, Rubik's cubes, balloons, jewelry, and even a live gold fish, He had been on Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Other entertainment included Trenton Tye's Purgatory Ironworks, Extreme Illusions & Escapes, Fearless Flores Thrill Show, Matt's Family Jam, Cowboy Circus with Danny Grant, Banjo Man Greg Thompson, Robinson's Racing Pigs, Fritzy Brothers One Man Circus, The Plant Guy, Rock-It The Robot, and Tom Umiker’s All About Ag. Wade has two years remaining on its current five-year contract. “Frank (Zaitshik) always does a good job for us,” said Converse.
March 17 was a very busy day, with St. Patrick's Day celebrations including the Hit the Road Barbecue of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Fla. “It was a beautiful day and the food was great. Attendance was a little off since everybody seems to be working,” said David Starkey, who was IISA club president in 1996.
After playing the Lee County Fair in Fort Myers, Reithoffer Shows was set up at the Collier County Fair, Naples. Charles Panacek's Belle City Amusements ended up at the Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, and headed to the Sarasota County Fair. Opening are the Miami-Dade County Fair, with North American Midway Entertainment, and the Central Florida Fair, Orlando, with Wade, not to mention Texas, Arizona, and California fairs. It's a busy time.
Veteran food concessionaires Rene and Judy Piche said opening day for them was very good at Miami. Judy said there was a charge for parking last year and with a new president in place, there is none this year, and that's a good thing. Their son, Mark, had beignets and French Fries at Houston and did great. “He's got new vinyl and marquees from Uni-Glide, and his stands looked super good,” said Swain.
I barely received the good news from my oncologist (she's not just mine) that the surgeon had told her my melanoma cancer had not reached my lymph nodes, that she suggested I take a brain scan and MRI as cautionary measures to ward off future problems. She knows more than I do, so here goes. Hurray!
Needless to say, I can't wait for Opening Day of baseball season, which is March 28. Oddly enough, when I was talking to the nurse at my oncologist's, she asked what my occupation had been. It then hit me that I was operated on March 8, and that was the exact date in 1971 that I sat at ringside before an overflow crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York to cover the heavyweight boxing championship match between Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier. Tempis Fugits! She was overwhelmed that I knew Ali, even more so when I said I knew him first as Cassius Clay.
Have all great days, and God Bless!
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