North American Midway Entertainment headed up by Tony Diaz was off to a hot start in Canada, drawing 203,624 at the June 14-23 Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and 1,275,465 at the 107th Annual Calgary, Alberta, Stampede, July 5-14.
NAME then headed to the 140th annual K-Days, formerly Klondike Days in Edmonton, Alberta, set for July 19-28. “While most people were burning up in the U.S., the temperature here was 57 degrees as we were setting up,” said Diaz. “My Dad (Tony Sr.) used to love to come up here with Royal American and later Bill Dillard Shows. He loved the weather, always calling them mild summers.”
Diaz said Calgary closed with a bang with attendance on the last Sunday being 116,683, up over last year’s 113,415. Final attendance last year was 1,271,241. This year's was the second highest attended Calgary Stampede ever, trailing only the 100th anniversary event in 2012.
Headline entertainers, drawing big crowds in the Saddledome were The Zac Brown Band, Sugarland and Tim McGraw. Acts booked in the Nashville North venue included Kiefer Sutherland, Emerson Drive, Granger Smith, featuring Earl Dibble, Jr., the Recklaws, Tebey, Aaron Goodvin, Chad Brownlee, Jess Moskaluke, Andrew Hyatt, Jay Eagleson and David James. Another big attraction on July 8 was Nik Wallenda, walking on the high wire across the NAME Midway.
“We had marginal weather the first weekend in Calgary, but it got better as we went along,” said Diaz. He added that the carnival employed 250 workers, a combination of those from the U.S. and those who were hired in Canada. NAME had 60 rides set up. Bobby and Wendy Hauser’s West Coast Amusements booked in seven rides. Americans with the show in Canada include Dave and Monica Potopas, Paul and Buni Lombard, Beth Negus Gray and her husband, Rick Gray with food. Potopas and Lombard have games, along with Bobby and Jennifer Miles, and Jeff and Arlene Opdam, representing Bobby and Tony Cassata's Bob's Space Racers.
After Edmonton, NAME heads to Regina for the July 31-August 4 Queen City Expo and plays the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Exhibition, August 6-11, in conjunction with the Hauser's West Coast Amusements. “When we go to Toronto for the Canadian National Exhibition over Labor Day, (Aug. 16-Sept. 2), it's a trip of 1,605 miles from Regina, so we send half our equipment there early,” said Diaz. He pointed out it's great to work with people such as the Hausers. A super baseball fan, Diaz, lamented the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays play in such an outdated venue. “People in Tampa are never going to go to St. Petersburg.” Being a huge baseball fan myself, I can totally relate.
Entertainment at Winnipeg included the Winnipeg Symphony, appearing for the first time at the event, Trooper, the Crash Test Dummies, and a new Dinosaur Park according to Jodie Johnson, Communications and Events Director. Johnson, who has been Assistant to Gary Roberson at Winnipeg for 11 years, said she worked at the Calgary Stampede for 15 years before that. “It was a great year for us and NAME,” said Johnson.
Bill and Mary Johnson of A Fantasy Amusements called to tell me they had a successful OABA Jamboree at the July 15-22 Kane County Fair, St. Charles, Illinois. Bill said the fair was kind enough to provide the beer and ice, and Richey and Judy George took care of the food. “Our show only plays three fairs, but they're all in a row. We're used to festivals where we have better hours.” The other fairs, also in Illinois, are DuPage County, Wheaton, July 24-28, and McLean County, Bloomington, July 31-Aug. 4. Bill, a big Chicago Black Hawk hockey fan, had e-mailed me earlier, saying, “I hope you're feeling better. Tell Joe West (my good friend who is a Major League Baseball umpire) to go easy on Joe Madden (Chicago Cubs Manager). He kicked him out again the other day. At least the Cubs won the game. They have been having troubles lately.” Ironically, West, who was heading to work a game in Seattle, stopped off at John A's Restaurant and Bar in Nashville and called to wish me a Happy 86th Birthday on July 18th. Earlier this year, I had told West that Madden's mother, who is about my age, is still working as a waitress at a diner in Hazleton, PA, near my hometown of Scranton. Cowboy Joe said he couldn't wait to get on him about that, suggesting a lack of interest in helping to support his mom, even though she has made it abundantly clear in local newspaper articles that she loves her job and will never quit. In jest, however, West may have needled Madden again, after the heave ho.
Carey Harveycutter, Director of Tourism and General Manager for the Salem, Virginia, Civic Center, sent me his annual report on this year's July 3-14 fair. “As you know, we are a free gate fair, but attendance was level with last year when we had an extra day due to July 4th. Pre-sale tickets, sold through Kroger, were up 19 percent, and Deggeller Attractions was up four percent. That was amazing because we had some of the worst weather in 32 years at the fair that John Saunders and I created.”
Once again, proving the value of a free gate, Haveycutter said there was rain on six of the 12 days and extreme heat on the final weekend when temperatures topped 93 degrees each day. “We were fortunate that the patrons came late over the weekend and stayed in the adjoining exhibit hall inside the Civic Center to wait out the rain. We have always been proactive when it comes to the weather. We clear the fairgrounds and shut down the rides when lightning is within eight miles. You just cannot risk the welfare of attendees. Some, of course, do not understand, but safety must be paramount. For the same reason, we contracted with Rick Werble as our ride inspector to be on the grounds from opening to the close of our event.”
Entertainment, booked direct, included Glen and Karen Woodey's Menagerie, with a petting zoo and barnyard animal races – pigs, ducks, goats and wiener dogs; Rich and Ellen Knebel's Dairy Farm on Wheels; Jill and Jef Eaton's Kandu Magic Stage, and Deborah Lurie's Butterfly Encounter. Booked via Dave Musselman at Capitol International Productions, Negley, Ohio, were Lawrence Frederick's Disc Connected K-9s and the Team Big Air-Basketball Dunking Show. Todd Bolton of Variety Attractions, Zanesville, Ohio, booked Hilby, the Skinny German Juggle Boy, and Cowboy Circus, with Danny Grant. From Salem, Andy and Jamie Deggeller moved part of the show to the Madison County Fair, Madison, Virginia, and Heidi and Beau Pugh, Kathy and Don Deggeller took the other half to the Cecil County Fair in Elkton, Maryland.
Harveycutter sent a personal note stating he and his wife still go out and eat Sunday with Binki Teitlebaum, whose late husband, Bob, worked with me for 15 years as a sportswriter with the Nashville Tennessean. Bob later became Sports Editor of the Salem paper. “Binki sends her regards. Boy, we have some great memories, don't we?” You're not kidding.
The Salem Fair has always been kind of special for Christine and me. For many years on our vacation trip to Scranton, we would stop and visit there. In the early days, Steve Broetsky, who now owns Frazier Shows, took us around the midway when he was concession manager for Deggeller. We received the same excellent treatment in later years from Dale Negus. They were always very helpful in rounding up people for pictures and stories, especially when I was with Amusement Business.
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Have all Great Days and God Bless!