The 308.8 miles between Perry, Ga., and Pensacola, Fla., probably seemed like a hop, skip and jump for Reithoffer Shows which had traveled 1,250.2 miles not long ago from the Wilson County Fair in Lebanon, Tenn., to the New Mexico State Fair, Albuquerque.
Nevertheless, Rick Reithoffer, head of the carnival's Blue Unit, had a bounce in his voice as he told of record runs at all three spots. The 30th annual Georgia National Fair, Perry, held Oct. 1-13, set a record attendance mark of 565,533, which was a five per cent increase over the previous mark of 536,840 that was established in 2016.
Individual records were set on Thursday, Oct. 10, with 66,314 visitors; Friday, with attendance of 74,199; and the closing Saturday, when attendance was 96,910. I've been to that fair many times, and I can't imagine the traffic backup on Interstate 75.
I was there for the inaugural event when the late Pat Reithoffer and T. Wilson Sparks, the fair's first Executive Director, celebrated what they had been involved in the planning of for two and a half years. Pat always said it would become the premier fair in the Southeast.
With all the good things happening, Reithoffer was still upset about the turnout from independent concessionaires for a Thursday night fundraiser to benefit the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, especially its efforts toward the foreign worker H-2B Visa program.
“We were capped out early and didn't get our supply of workers until July. It actually caused us to cancel some events and not have as much equipment up at some others as we would have preferred. I invited 60 concessionaires and only four showed up.
“I tried to emphasize that if a carnival is set up on one side of a lake and just food vendors are on the other, they are not going to sell as many hot dogs or sausage sandwiches. A man named Taylor, with popcorn, came through, as did Charley Cox, who has concessions there year-round, and the Wisconsin Cheese Man (Randy Reichert). We raised $16,000, but I ain't done yet. Some of those people are going to want to book at Pensacola, and I'm going to go after them. We're nothing if we don't work together. The H-2B thing is a problem for the entire industry, not just us. We were supposed to get 130 workers this year, and we got 90. My brother, Pat's Orange Unit, wanted 100, and got 60.” Reithoffer said Bobby Pugh, his concession manager, and his wife, Debbie, did a terrific job in setting up the fundraiser.
“At Perry, it started raining about two hours before we closed on Sunday and we wound up with a very tough teardown. A lot of workers didn't show up because of the rain and mud and we were hours behind schedule, but I'm on my way now to see Don Frenkel, GM at the Pensacola Interstate Fair.” Dates there are Oct. 17-27.
Perry didn't start off so hot, or to be more specific, the temperatures were too hot with the first two days being 97 degrees, and 105. “Then the weather turned beautiful and we did great. Steve Shipp, who’s in charge, changed some things around and it went very well.” Shipp said there were more discounted days, promotional food offers, and 11 free concerts which all helped.
Reithoffer said the show had its best year ever at the 81st annual Albuquerque fair, held Sept. 5-15, and praised the work of GM Dan Mourning. “Then we played the South Plains Fair, Lubbock, Texas, where Jennifer Wallace finished her third year as manager. Despite losing the first Saturday and another day to rain, we still finished within $5,000 of what we did there last year.”
The concert lineup in New Mexico included Aaron Watson, with PRCA Xtreme Bulls, Jaripeo Sin Fronteras, presented by Pepe Aguilar; Mitchell Tenpenny, the Eli Young Band, Clay Walker, Smash Mouth and Spin Doctors, all with PRCA Rodeo.
Pat Reithoffer's Orange Unit of Reithoffer Shows is now at the Western Carolina State Fair, Aiken, after playing the Piedmont Interstate Fair, Spartanburg, S. C., and Cleveland County Fair, Shelby, N, C., that was managed for years by Joe Goforth.
Christine and I got to meet the Goforths on one of Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy's jaunts to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, along with the late Pat Reithoffer, and his wife, Bette, who is still clicking at 97.
Pat is assisted on that show by his son, Ryan, and Tom Popovich, along with Office Manager Jack Stoorza, whose wife, Jan, is a sister of Pat and Rick. The show had successful runs earlier at the Canfield, Ohio Fair, and State Fair of West Virginia, Lewisburg. Talent at that 95th annual West Virginia event, Aug. 8-17, where Kelly Collins is CEO, included Justin Moore, Ashley McBryde, Cody Jinks, The Steel Woods, Darci Lynne, Cole Swindell, Alabama, and Jeff Foxworthy. It's where Luke Combs, then a virtual unknown, sold out last year and went on to become a big star.
Free shows were performed by Jimmy Fortune, formerly with The Statlers, Lorrie Morgan, Riley Green, Grandpa Cratchet, Scott's World of Magic, Hypnotist Catherine Hickland, High Dive Show, Marc Dobson, One Man Band, and the Swifty Swine Racing Pigs.
As always, Jimmy Jay's Jayson Promotions of Hendersonville, Tenn., booked the talent at Reaves Arena in Perry. When I was hanging around with Jimmy when I was editor of Amusement Business, his main acts were Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Merle Haggard. I kept urging him then to get some younger artists.
Perry artists included The Oak Ridge Boys, Gin Blossoms, George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, Diamond Rio, Confederate Railroad, Grapevine, Rumba Latina, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Great White Lion Snake, Marshall Charloff, and Purple Experience.
Also, the Nervelock Nock's Water Ski and Stunt Show, Leon Jacobs. Tadpole the Clown, The Fritters, Stilt Circus, Nerger's Tigers, Butterfly Experience, Sea Lion Splash, Magician Mike Fuller, Vocal Trash, Karadenni, Ninja Experience, and Tree of Life.
I'm passing along a note from one of the nicest people I've ever worked with, and it's all been by phone. I have never met Sue Gallup, OABA's administration/member services manager, but I liked her immediately when she said she was a Boston Red Sox fan.
She e-mailed me the following: “I felt like I need to explain my reasoning to you as to why your article is so far down in the weekly Xtra. It's because that's what everyone is looking for!!! I have to make them look through everything else to get to you.
“They will read it no matter what, so you don't have to worry about the scrolling to get there. I even asked someone last night if they read it when it comes in their e-mail and he actually told me, 'To be honest, I only read it to see Tom's article.' So there you have it...It's official. Maybe you could put in a plug next week urging everyone to read the whole thing, and encourage other members to do the same. I just can't get over the amount of readership it has. I'm just kidding about the plug. I'm gonna get Greg on that one. Thanks, Tom, for all your articles. They definitely are fascinating to all in the industry.” That's one of the best compliments I've ever received.
And by the way, Rick Reithoffer complained that somebody has left him off the mailing list and he's missing reading my columns. Honest! I told him I'd call Sue Gallup, knowing that will get immediate action. His address is email@example.com. Thanks!
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Have all great days, and God Bless!