Christine and I watched a Tribute to Elvis Presley program on television Sunday night, and every artist on the bill tried really hard and did superb jobs, but what the entire event reiterated for me is that Elvis was, and still is The King, and no imitator has ever come close, one reason being, he didn't have to try.
Longtime members of the Showmen's League of America have fond memories of meeting Colonel Tom Parker and Al Dvorin, who attended the annual meetings in Las Vegas for many years. Parker, who managed Hank Snow and Eddy Arnold before taking over Presley's career, of course, started in the carnival business, and he never loosened his ties to the trade. He donated $500 at every meeting. I once asked Dvorin what his role had been, and he surprised me when he said “I'm the guy who said after every show that “Elvis Has Left The Building.” How about making a career out of something like that!
Ironically, I spent plenty of time with Parker, snapping his picture with hundreds of SLA members over the years, but I never met Elvis, or saw any of his performances. We were both in the Army at the same time and each night after a day of basic training at Fort Dix, N. J., I would go to the PX for a soft drink and listen to “You Ain't Nothin’ But A Hound Dog” that seemed to be the only song on the jukebox.
There were many great stories about Elvis and the Colonel, but one of my favorites involved my friends J. Bruce McKinney, Paul Serff, John Zerbe, Franklin Shearer, Jack Silar, and Bob Payne at Hershey Park, Hershey, Pa. They had tried for years to book Presley and finally, the colonel was on the phone. Payne said try to get him for two nights and McKinney, who had graduated from the Milton Hershey School for Boys to become president and CEO of Hershey Entertainment Co., tried to shush him. “We booked the show, sold the tickets, and never got to see him,” recalls McKinney. “The people who purchased those tickets are holding on to them.” Presley passed away before he got to Hershey. It was to be the next date on his tour.
Instead of doing our usual phone interview after the fair ended, Rick Vymlatil, president and CEO of the South Florida Fair, West Palm Beach, sent me the same information he provided in detail to Carnival Warehouse. This was his last fair as he is retiring and being replaced by Vicki Chouris, who had been the fair's chief operating officer. Rick, one of the best, will be missed. He thanked me for including him in my columns over the many years we have come to know each other.
Attendance was 359,020, down from 427,005 in 2018. “The weather really hurt us. On the middle Sunday, when the forecast was so negative, we decided not to open at all.” Vymlatil added record ride revenues and per caps records for Frank Zaitshik's Wade Shows were recorded on 11 of 16 days. “At the gate, we had record revenues on three days, including our first Tuesday, which was a $2 Tuesday.”
Admission revenue was $2,563,000. Ride revenue was $3.9 million, and food gross was estimated at $4.8 million. The item that garnered the most publicity was a Dilly Dilly Dog, which was a hot dog inserted into a dill pickle and fried in corn dog batter. “It was featured at one of Louie Pacifico's Meatball Factory Corn Dog stands, and it was really good.”
Entertainment included Building 429, Frankie Ballard, Jordan Davis, Pat Travers Band and The Outlaws, Charlie Aponte and The Elvis Extravaganza. Also, the XPOGO Stunt Team, Dennis Lee, Justino and Daniel Zoppe's Illusions Beyond, Matt's Family Jam, Renata, Zaji Acrobats of China, Tyzen's Comedy Hypnotist Show, Hambone Express 3 Racing Pigs, Hitchiti Dancers, and Ron Davis.
In conclusion, Vymlatil said, ”Judging by our per cap spending results, I'd have to say that our area has recovered greatly since the recession. The public is not backing off spending their discretionary income on events like the South Florida Fair or other special events in this area. I believe this bodes well for all of us in this business as we move into the spring of 2019.” That's what people want to hear.
From West Palm Beach, Wade Shows moved into the Florida State Fair, Tampa, which ended Monday.
I asked Dave Cavallaro, a veteran exhibitor at the trade show of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Fla., how he did this year. Besides selling cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, where he does booming business, Cavallaro sells lemonade stands, his main concern in Gibtown, besides soaking up the sun instead of enduring Minnesota’s deep freeze.
I'm pausing here because I feel as though I just received a reprieve from either the governor of Tennessee, Minnesota, Florida, or Pennsylvania. It doesn't matter which one. Thank God, the warden, Christine, was here to accept the call. To explain what I say in jest involves a serious concern. I learned recently from a dermatologist that two ugly marks on my forehead are malignant, and for the second time in my life, I have cancer. Luckily, I came through the first which involved the rectum. Anyway, the dermatologist, seemed very concerned, stating it could kill me, and he sent me to the oncologist. She, in turn, referred me to this 62-year-old female surgeon. It has been an elephant in the room as we anxiously awaited the phone to ring to find out how we'll proceed. The answer is I have a 3 p.m. appointment next Monday, and surgery will probably occur within a week or two after that. I have kidded my wife, four children, and friends that I have time for a lot more last meals. It will be pork chops, corn on the cob, baked potato, ice cold Pepsi Cola, and Breyer's ice cream tonight.
Back to Cavallaro, who knew about this and said, “Hope all is well with you, especially after your heart Ablation procedure. If I saw you, I was going to ask about that because 22 years ago I had the same thing done. It was the best thing I ever did, and I haven't had a problem since. You're going to be fine with this new challenge. We missed you and Christine at the trade show.”
Continuing, he said, “It was my best show in years, maybe ever! I know people may find that difficult to understand because I would say the traffic seemed to be slightly off from last year. But the guests I spoke to were buying and optimistic about the upcoming season. Obviously, the major topic of discussion was the H-2B seasonal, foreign labor situation. The uncertainty of their work force is frustrating and undoubtedly limits future purchasing plans.”
Cavallaro conceded that due to his bigger than life, Lemonade Stand product, at $35,000, being quite a bit less than the average concession trailer, “a purchase from me isn't that much of a gamble. I'm also noticing a new generation of buyers who are discovering my product. Many have realized that when you FEATURE the lemonade concession in a standalone unit such as mine, the sales really validate the decision.
“We sold the unit we brought down and two more since returning to the Minnesota tundra. We need to sell these lemonade stands fast this time of year in Minnesota. Lemonade doesn't fare well in 50 below zero actual temperatures as we experienced the week prior to the show.” Try hot chocolate, Dave.
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Have all great days, and God Bless!