It has aged for 176 years. And, like a barrel of bourbon, it is ready.
But the Erie County Fair can be overwhelming. It’s not just remembering where you parked the car. (The new Erie County Fair app, which we’ll get to in a second, can help you with that.) It’s the wealth of activities that go on each day, every day, morning to night on the Hamburg Fairgrounds.
Where do you begin?
First things first. Choose a day. You might base your choice on a free show, such as Blue Oyster Cult at 8 p.m. Aug. 18 and the Spinners at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19, both on the Gusto Grandstand. The Ultimate Night of Destruction, a demolition derby, is at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 ($16, free for kids 12 and younger). Visit ecfair.org for details.
Now, orient yourself. When you arrive at the fair, you will be given a colorful schedule for the day. Meanwhile, it pays to prioritize. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
• That app we just mentioned? Get it. Not only can it help you find your car, but it directs you to the food at the fair and allows you to vote for the Best New Food at the fair. Voting closes Aug. 18. The winner will be announced Aug. 20. The Buffalo News will give readers a rundown on all the food at the Fair via buffalonews.com and buffalo.com and follow us on Twitter (#ecfare). Our 10 favorite foods will be revealed in our Taste section on Aug. 19.
• As long as you have your phone out, text ILOVECOWS to 88588 so you will be notified when a cow is going to calve at the fair. “Alerts will be sent between 9 a.m.-10 p.m. only!” the fair announces. Wish you could be notified even if it’s in the middle of the night? Don’t have a cow. Leave that to them.
• Two money-saving measures: Bring a bottle of water. Also get on the fair website, ecfair.org, and download coupons. Fifty cents off a hot dog, 50 cents off a Charlap’s ice cream cone, two free toppings on a personal size pizza from Pizza Amore, $2 off Gator Mac and Cheese – those savings add up, allowing you to save your money for the Erie County Fair Craft Beer, and the delicacies listed below.
• The foodie’s fair challenge: Eat at least one thing that’s new and one thing that’s outrageous. Two suggestions of foods that are both. First, the deep fried chicken wing dip, a Eureka! moment of Diventuri Concession. To quote the advance hoopla, it “utilizes Frank’s Red Hot sauce, chicken, cream cheese wrapped in a shell and deep fried until golden brown.” And consider the deep fried pizza cone from Pizza Amore on Grand Island: “The concoction includes traditional pizza ingredients inside a deep fried dough cone for an easy grab and go Fair experience.”
• Words fail us, so we will just quote the publicists: The bacon funnel cake on a stick, from Taylor’s Doughboy, is “a strip of bacon on a stick dipped into funnel cake batter, fried, and topped with homemade maple icing and powder sugar.”
• Remember that text you got saying that a calf was born? He’s hungry. At noon and 5 p.m. most days (check your schedule) the Agriculture Discovery Center welcomes you for “Help Feed a Calf.” How sweet is that? Prepare to swear off red meat for life.
• Which one are you rooting for? The Swifty Swine Racing Pigs strut their stuff multiple times a day, next to the Agriculture Discovery Center. Get a load of the cheers, the carnival barker language and the pigs’ unpredictable antics and you will see why the pigs always hog so much attention. P.S. Check out the swine barn, where you will inevitably find on display a big pig with all her piglets. Its sheer size will make you feel better after wallowing in all that deep fried chicken wing dip.
• Giant, graceful draft horses tug at our hearts. Think of those weepy Budweiser commercials. New this year, the Bee Tree Trail Draft Horses will be starring in daily shows of strength, joining forces in what are described as spectacular formations. Chief among them is “the amazing suicide hitch.” It involves six horses lined up single file, with the horseman riding behind in a tippy two-wheel carriage. Fair organizers say, “The ability to maneuver these horses around the ring takes decades of experience to master.” Demonstrations take place at 4 p.m. through Aug. 20 and 3 p.m. Aug. 21 to 23, at the Horse Show Arena.
• Rabbit hopping demonstration. Need we say more? At 6 p.m. at Barn 9 on Aug. 20, 21 and 22. Hop to it.
• People are hopping, too. This year, at Gate 5, the fair welcomes the XPOGO Stunt Team. They make pogo sticks as streetwise as skateboards, with pogo-ers doing somersaults and flips, hopping in sync and otherwise defying gravity and endangering their persons. Not for nothing does Marcus Romanowski, M.D., Knee and Hip Surgeon, place his ad on the program right beneath this listing. Times vary; check your schedule.
• You 4H kids have been awfully quiet. Stop by the 4H display and see what they have been up to. They do more than raise calves and pigs, impressive though that be. They sew impressive outfits. They paint and carve and their handiwork can be awe-inspiring. View it and regret your own misspent youth.
• The Ramblin’ Lou Family Band is part of the fabric of the Niagara Frontier and the living, breathing soundtrack of the fair. A living legend, Ramblin’ Lou once presented Hank Williams Sr. and now presides over WXRL 1300 AM, Western New York’s bastion of old-time country music. Few towns can boast a station like that, so stop by and tell him how much obliged you are. He and his large and versatile family play the Tops Avenue of Flags Stage most days – check your schedules – at 4:30 p.m.
• New this year, the Dueling Pirates High Dive Show features pirate kings entertaining the kiddies, walking the plank and diving off 80-foot masts into a pool. Arrr, that is some impressive derring-do. They take the plunge multiple times daily at the Outside Showplace.
• What category will it be? Antique farm machinery? Heirloom cabbage varieties? Holstein cows? Interactive Agriculture Jeopardy takes place at the Agriculture Discovery Center Harvest Theater most days from 2 to 2:30 p.m.
• Collegiate a capella singing is a kind of physical feat in itself. Get a good group, and you can hardly believe that what the singers do is possible. Explore this stylish art form at the A Capella Showcase, 6 p.m. most days through Aug. 19 at the Evans Bank Family Entertainment Complex. Groups include the University at Buffalo’s Buffalo Chips and Royal Pitches; as well as other ensembles like Bufftown Funk, Bella Capella and the Crescendont’s.
• Woodcarvers Building: Woodworkers showcase their handiwork in the Woodcarvers Building, located on 42nd Street. Demonstrations take place throughout the day to show fairgoers what it takes to turn a piece of wood into a work of art.
• “Ausgezeichnet” (Owss-geh-TSYch-net) means “excellent” in German. Be ready to utter it to Hilby, the Skinny German Juggler Boy, should he deserve it, and the fair promises that he will. His act, which you may catch multiple times a day, features stunts and balancing feats. Quoth his handlers: “He is guaranteed to have the whole family laughing – but don’t stand too close or you might end up a part of the show!” Achtung!
• It’s hard to pinpoint the soul of the fair. But a good guess would be that it resides at the Nya:Weh Indian Village. There, you may find members of the original Six Nations who now refer to themselves as the Haudensaunee. The village offers native crafts, foods, demonstrations and shows. Every day at various times you may watch traditional dances. You may even wish to join in.
What are you waiting for?
Erie County Fair
When: Through Aug. 23
Where: Hamburg Fairgrounds
Admission: $10 adults, $7 seniors, free for ages 12 and younger
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Aug. 12 and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 13-23