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July 11, 2014     Post-Gazette
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POST-GAZETTE, JULY 11,2014 Page 13 ,.:V'a, & Babb onno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance Socially Scene (Continued from Page 9) This is the time of year when Dad played the county fairs throughout the north- east. When I was a kid, county fairs were (and I think still are} quite popular in rural areas in the coun- try. Some were state fairs, others were county or local fairs,, but all were events that most of the inhabitants of the area became involved. This was the biggest event of the year for many rural folks. Fair grounds are large open spaces fenced off usu- ally by white painted wooden encltosures. Most have sev- eral large buildings where displays or events take place. In the open outdoor spaces a carnival atmosphere was quite evident as organiza- tions that specialized in catering to fairs would set up amusements for people to ride: on or in. Games of chance would be located on the impromptu streets set up to resemble the main thor- ouglh fair at a public beach like Revere Beach in the old days. A reveler could try his or her hand at throwing a baseball at metal milk bottles, or throw darts at bal- loons, try their sharpshoot- ing abilities with a rifle fired at moving targets, or try to ring a bell by hitting a block of wood with a large mallet and sending it skyward to reach the bell. Beyond the amusements and games of chmlce were the food stands. You could treat yourself to cotton candy, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, fried dough, French fries, and if this was a Midwestern fair, a fresh ear of corn smothered in but- ter ~md salt. Dozens of flavors of ice cream or slush could be purchased at a stand that specialized in frozen delights as well as soft drinks. Under a large tent with a portable kitchen and tables and chairs, you could actually sit down restaurant style and enjoy a dinner that was more to your leisure. Most if not all of the fair- grotmds had a race track and stables. One of the main fea- tures of the county fairs was sulky racing. This is the type of race where a horse pulls a two wheeled vehicle with a jockey sitting atop the con- traption and the horses trot at high speeds attempting to win. If the horse began to gallop, it was disqualified. The nickname for these horses was trotters, as they were trained to trot. Let's see, the track was oval and had a grandstand on one side. Across from the grandstand was a stage. This is where Dad came in. Between races during the day, they had acts of entertainment or featured selections from the house band. At night they would have the equivalent of a variety show with Dad and the boys supplying the back- ground music for their per- formances. During the day, the horse players would show up and bet on their favorite trotters. At night, the grandstand was filled with families who came to see the shows, as well as track events like car racing and daredevil auto performances. The local fire department would give dem- onstrations as to how quickly they could put out a car f'tre that was staged. Dad's band, the Johnny Christie Orchestra, consisted of about eight musicians or more, and included saxes, trumpets, trombones, a key- board, drums and tuba. (Dad played the tuba.) Each act would have its own music that corresponded to what- ever they were doing. Most fairs hired, a high wire act or trapeze act, a dog or chim- panzees act, a comedy act usually in pantomime, cho- rus girls singing a pop song or two and someone who was popular locally, or if they could afford it, nationally, to MC the evening's events. Tents would be set up on the inside of the track area and were used as dressing rooms for the entertainers. Another tent might be the commissary where the enter- tainers could eat or rehearse their acts. I believe it was the summer of 1950 and Dad had booked in four fairs in up- state New York. The first was the Boonville County fair which took place around the 4th of July. Mom, Nanna, Babbononno and I piled into Dad's new '49 Chevy and headed westward to New York. We checked into a motel that Dad had booked in advance for us and the rest of the band. From there we headed for the fair grounds and were issued passes. Dad and the boys set up their instruments on the stage and rehearsed the acts of entertainment that would be featured for the next few days. I was just standing around observing everything when a man chewing on a cigar butt yelled out, "Hey kid, want a job?" I walked over to him and said, "Sure, I'd like to work." Dad yelled out to the man, "Hey Louie, that's my -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 son." The man introduced himself as Louie from Southie. He was a scenery man who supplied the back- drops for the entertainment. He, from that point on, pro- ceeded to teach me how to put up scenery for the agreed upon salary of $35.00 for the week. I was in my glory. That first afternoon, Dad's band played several selections of music Dixieland style be- tween the horse races. That evening, I helped Louie with the scenery, bolting each piece into the wooden stage, and after an interlude of mu- sic, several acts of enter- tainment followed each other and captured the crowd's attention. At the end of the performances, Louie and I would take down the scenery just in case a storm might have strong enough winds to do some damage. We would stack them up, cover and secure them, just in case and were done for the night. On that first night, most of the entertainers congregated in the food tent getting ac- quainted with one another. I thought Nanna and Babbo- nonno were going to feel like outsiders until the leaders of a dog act came over and in- troduced themselves. They were originally from Avellino and from that point on, they and my grandparents could communicate in their native dialect. As the week continued, we seemed to become one giant extended family. The wife of the man who starred in the dog act and Nanna started to cook some Italian specialties and the smell of Italian cook- ing lured all of the enter- tainers to our table to see what smelled so good. The cooks who were hired to feed the entertainers were locals and I think the most exotic dish they knew was macaroni and cheese. They watched as Mrs. Laddie and Nanna took over the stoves and began to cook Italian dishes. Johnny Laddie, the husband, reveled in the fact that his wife was such a great cook. Once he tasted Nanna's dishes, he compared her offerings to those of his wife and didn't know which were the best. The rest of the entertainers tried to find which dishes were the best, but it came out as a tie. Mrs. Laddie was happy ... Nanna was happy. There were many acts of entertainment that I would meet over the next few years, most from other parts of the world where they had worked as circus performers. A pantomime duo called The Bryants, were survivors from. a Nazi concentration camp and made it to the U.S. after WWII. They became friendly with Mom and Dad and would appear at several fairs with Dad. I'm out of space, but will tell a few more stories about trav- eling with folks like these as time goes on. In the mean time, may GOD BLESS AMERICA. The Tony Award winning production of Guys and Dolls will hit the Ocean State Theater Company stage through July 27th. (Photo by instatntnewswestu.com) Through it all, the club's pro- prietor will have to make deals with bootlegging gang- sters, keep away from the fuzz, and manage one sassy diva. "This is just the beginning of our collaboration with the Boston Circus Guild, and we are thrilled they are one of our OBERON Artists in Resi- dence," said Ari Barbanell, Director of Special Projects at American Repertory Theater. Speakeasy Circus is at the famous OBERON located at 2 Arrow Street, Cam- bridge. The shows are on July 25th and August 22"d. There are two shows each night with an early show at 7:00 pm and a late-night show and dance party that Starts at 10:00 pm. Themed attire is encouraged and tickets are available at: http: / / americanrepertory theater.org / events / s how / speakeasy-circus. Ocean State Theatre Company... Ocean State Theatre Company, which recently completed its first full season in its new state-of-the-art theatre in Warwick, Rhode Island, is proud to continue its sum- mer season with one of America's most popular and successful Broadway musi- cals, Guys and Dolls, spon- sored by Residence Inn by Marriott. This Tony Award-winning musical based on the stories of Damon Runyon, soars with the spirit of classic Broadway when gangsters, showgirls, cops and mission- aries all collide in Frank Loesser's masterpiece -- each character in search of salvation, true love and, of course, the perfect craps gamel Join Nathan, Sky, Sarah and Miss Adelaide in what is considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy. Songs include: "I'll Know," "Fugue for Tin Horns," "Adelaide's Lament," "If I Were a Bell," "Bushel and a Peck," "Luck Be a Lady," and "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." Ocean State Theatre Com- pany is thrilled to welcome back Director/Choreogra- pher Russell Garrett, who was , the helm for OSTC productions of Legally, Blonde: The Musical, 9 to 5: The Musical, Hairspray and The Full Monty. He will be joined by Justin P. Cowan, who music directed OSTC productions of Legally, Blonde: The Musical and How to Succeed in Business with- out Really IYytng. Guys and Dolls will be pre- sented at Ocean State The- atre through July 27th. All performances will be held Wednesday, Thursday, Fri- day and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. A special matinee is scheduled for Saturday, July 19th. Conducting Con- versations Live, a free post- show discussion hosted by WCRI's Mike Maino, will fol- low the 2:00 pm perfor- mance on Sunday, July 13~. The post show Piano Bar Series, will continue with "Broadway Music and Com- edy," and will be held follow- ing Friday and Saturday evening performances (be- ginning at approximately 10:15 pm} in the theatre's lobby on July 18~, 19~, 25~ and 26TM. The theatre is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Friday from 12 noon -- 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon - 4:00 pm, and from 12 noon until curtain time on perfor- mance days. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanState Theatre.org and during nor- mal box office hours by call- ing 401-921-6800. A Tasty Treat to Compli- ment Your Time in the City ... PARK is the neighborhood restaurant and bar of today: a vibrant destination for friends, family and acquain- tances to linger over lively conversation, playful plates and thoughtful drinks. With a menu full of spir- ited interpretations on New American classics and an inspired selection of inter- national spirits, wine and beer, guests feel at home in PARK's rustic-meets-luxe subterranean space ac- cented by soft leather couches and armchairs, bookshelves stocked with vintage titles, reclaimed wood tables, and an impres- sive collection of artwork and photography from the '60s and '70s. ~ - ...... ! Chef Mark Goldberg's menu of playfully reinvented classics like the Meat Pie of the Day and the PARK Patty Melt are served late into the night, providing a welcomed atmosphere for lingering and relaxation. To complement Chef Goldberg's menu, bar man- ager Chris Balchum curates a worldly selection of beer (draft, bottle, cask, and can from as local as Cambridge, MA to as international as Sri Lanka), wine and spirits, and offers a number of clas- sic and modern craft cock- tails using homemade syr- ups, infusions, sodas, and bitters. PARK is located at 59 JFK Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge and can be reached at 617-491-9851 for reservation or visit www.parkcambridge, com.