Amusements of America had a record run at the Oct. 31-Nov. 10 Coastal Carolina Fair, Ladson, S.C., before ending a long season the next week at the Okefenokee Fair, Waycross, Georgia.
Dale Bush, who was already with the show, is the new concession manager. According to Rob Vivona, an OABA director, the carnival that is owned by the Vivona family, was set for its annual trek to Puerto Rico for dates at Roberto Clemente Stadium in San Juan, Nov. 20-Jan. 7. “We went there for many years, stopped for a while, and have been going back for quite a while since,” said Rob.
In charge of the Puerto Rico booking will be Dominic Vivona Jr., who was OABA chairman in 2012, and Marco Vivona. The New Jersey-based show was founded by five brothers, Morris, Johnny, Dominic Sr., Phil, and Sebastian, who was known as Babe. Only Dominic Sr. and Phil survive. Morris Jr. continues to run the New Jersey-based unit. Rob and Marco are Phil's sons, and if you want to follow that lineage any further, you're looking at the wrong guy.
All I can tell you is they are good people and played a date for many years at RFK Stadium in Washington, D. C., where another buddy of mine, Jim Dalrymple, was manager. In fact, Christine and I, along with Dominic Sr. and his late first wife, Maddalena, were guests for dinner at the home of Dalrymple and his wife, Kathy. Phil, of course, is now married to Jane Baxter, the widow of Billy Baxter from the famed ride tandem of J. D. Floyd and Billy Baxter.
Booking equipment with AOA in San Juan are Steve Lisko of Lisko Family Midway Attractions, Lowellville, Ohio, and Larry and Marion Cushing's Cushing Amusements of Wilmington, Massachusetts. Marion is the granddaughter of Lawrence Carr Sr., who once had a major show that traveled by railroad. “We'll have 25-30 rides set up there at the same location for the entire time,” said Rob. The show moves out of Jacksonville, Fla.
New spots in 2019 included a mall in Staten Island, New York, the Jasper County Fair in Rensselaer, Indiana, and Loudon County Fair in Leesburg, Virginia. Rob said all the fall dates were good, but during the spring, Morris's unit was hurt in New Jersey by cold and wet weather. Highlights included the Bloomsburg, Pa. Fair, which had a very good year, and Al Dorso's Meadowlands, N. J. Fair.
Concerning Ladson, Rob said the opening date was Halloween, which is never good, and to add to that, it rained. “But after that we had great weather and finished with record numbers.”
According to Gary Leonard, chairman of media and public relations for the Exchange Club, which sponsors the fair, attendance was 243,864, second best attendance on record since the fair was founded in 1957. The Vivonas have provided the carnival midway for every fair except the first.
Entertainment at Ladson included Colt Ford, Lauren Alaina, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Comedian Dick Hardwick, who has been managed forever by an old friend of mine, Steve Tolman, who, incidentally, has a beautiful singing voice; Ellie Holcomb, Motown Sound of Touch, Pablo Cruise, Runaway June, and Haley Mae Carmichael, on a cold and windy late afternoon.
Other attractions included Special Head, All American Petting Zoo, Mark Yuziak, hypnotist, pro bull riding for three days, Bulls and Broncs, Rhinestone Roper, a fiddling competition, tractor driving competition, and first beer garden, with local, craft and domestic beers. It's the only fair where Butch Netterfield sets up his antique peanut roasting machine and gives away as many as he sells.
Mark Harvey, in his 15th year as manager of the North Florida Fair, Tallahassee, said the 78th annual fair, held Nov. 7-17, was spectacular despite what he called cold and wet and nasty weather. Attendance of 105,000 was just slightly down from last year. Grosses for Strates Shows actually showed a slight increase. On hand from the carnival were Jimmy and John Strates, with Jay Strates, immediate past chairman of OABA, coming in along with his father, E. James Strates. Mr. Strates was OABA chairman in 1974 and James E. Strates, Jimmy, was OABA chairman in 2003. Asked if they were in the middle of a contract, Harvey laughed and said, “No, they play our fair because they like us. They do a great job.”
Independent concessionaires included Cathy Ross of the National Independent Concessionaires Association, Gentry Miller, and Billy Lauther. Gate admission was $8 for adults and $5 for children. Parking was free. Entertainment included the Anastasini Circus, Robbie Pfunder Mountain Bike Trails, Sandastic Sand Sculpture, a chainsaw artist, and local acts.
I received my annual report from Cliff Barton, chairman of the Greater Baton Rouge, La. Fair, who couldn't be happier that his LSU Tigers happen to be the No. 1 college football team in the nation.
“We closed our 11-day run on Sunday, Nov. 3, and the key word to describe our fair this year was rain. Yes, we were hit and lost three nights because of weather. It started raining our opening night and we lost both Friday and Saturday because of it.”
Barton said they did open Sunday, Oct. 27, but attendance was less than half of what they would normally have drawn.” And then to add insult to injury, a tropical storm pounded us on the night of Oct. 30 after we had closed. The wind was high, and the rain was coming sideways so we lost Halloween night. After that, the sun came out and we had a very good Friday and a great weekend, but our final numbers reflect a 17 per cent decrease in attendance.”
As always, Barton said the good news is there were several positives. “The first is that our children's Lego Build competition was bigger than ever. The project has grown in the four years we have had it. We had the pleasure of having U. S. Senator Bill Cassidy, MD, present our scholarship winners with certificates. We had awarded 29 scholarships and most of the winners were present.”
Barton said that Mitchell Brothers, the midway provider, had a good second weekend. “We are a Pay-One-Price fair and they sold a lot of wristbands. Another highlight was we were visited by three greats of the industry, Ralph Shoptaw, Herb Hicks, and Barney Cosner. All in all, it was a good fair and we can't complain too much. To date, we have donated more than $4.1 million in scholarships and grants to organizations involved with families, children, and quality of life.”
Attractions included the Fearless Flores Thrill Show, Caricature Artist Chris Melton, Magician Tim Spinosa, Noah's Way Exotic Petting Zoo, Swifty Swine Racing Pigs, and Washboard Willy.
Barton ended by wishing me well and saying, “If you get south to Louisiana, please come by and say hello. I'll even get JH to come eat with us somewhere. Geaux Tigers!” His reference was to his predecessor, the great J. H. Martin, who is still a staunch advocate and lifetime member of the Midwest Fairs Association.
Lane Wetherington's Christmas Lane is scheduled on the grounds of the Paul Davis-managed Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, Nov. 29-Dec. 24. Arnold Amusements has eight rides and David and Dee Dee Starkey two rides set up in the livestock barns. They all missed the Sunday Welcome Home Party of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Fla., because of teardown at a date at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Gulfport, Fla. “I heard they had a huge crowd,” said David. Christine and I have attended many of those and always had a lot of fun.
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