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September 6, 2013     Post-Gazette
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September 6, 2013

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POST-GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 6, 2013 Page 13 aTtna Babb nonno by John Christoforo I i iiii A few weeks ago, I was talking about the days that I spent as a child traveling with Dad when he played the county fairs throughout the northeast. I left off at a fair grounds in upstate New York where most of the contrac- tors were from New York City, including the scenery people. I had, as a kid, worked for a guy from South Boston named, Louie. He taught me the ropes about handling scenery, but to work for any of the New York crowd, you had to be in the union. Seeing I was just a kid, I didn't have a job. The carnival concession was the King Reid Company and I was too young to operate any of the concessions. I found a concession owner who spe- cialized in the same junk that someone might win in games of chance on the fair- way. Per chance someone didn't win anything, they could buy it from the novelty stand and tell their friends how they won the dust col- lector beating a game of chance. It was the Labor Day week- end and the forecast was for good weather. As I wandered the fairway, this concession- aire spotted me and asked if I would like a job, It didn't seem like it was ,going to be as excitiEg~as working as a stage hand, but it was this or nothing. I sold little stat- ues, shiny plastic necklaces and bracelets, Cupie dolls, toy whips, toy guns, rubber knives and anything else that you might find in a low- end toy store or junk shop. Norman, the owner of the concession, did so well on that Labor Day weekend; my commissions caused me to make more than my father who co-conducted the band. As a matter of fact, there was a concession next to us where people pitched nickels and dimes into dishes. If the coins stayed in, the lucky thrower won the dish or some similar piece of table ware. On Labor Day of 1950, they made $8,000, a lot of money in those days. Behind the stage was a common tent. It was the mess hall for the band, the entertainers and the workers who were behind the scenes. One afternoon, that weekend, the band had to move into the tent as it started to sPrinkle. The horse races would run with- out the musical interludes between races if the rain continued. The weather would clear within an hour, A Nostalgic Remembrance but while they were in the tent, Babbononno, a re- tired drummer, asked if he could try his hand playing the drums. He set down a beat and one of the horn players began playing a tar- antella. Soon, most of the musicians had joined in and were playing choruses of the Italian dance. They were playing the Tarantella Napol- itana for a few choruses, until a Sicilian trombonist from Brazil modulated into another key and began play- ing the Sicilian Tarantella. As the band continued, they covered most of the music of southern Italy that was in the same tempo. Nanna, Mom and a few other wives of musicians began to dance the steps that had been per- formed in the Old Country since time began (almost). As a kid, I didn't realize that a good percentage of the entertainers and most of the musicians were Italian. They were. There were several TV personalities that headlined the shows at the county fairs. This particular fair had Frank Parker from the Arthur Godfrey show as a head-liner. On the last night of the shows, his boss and much of the staff dropped by and joined in with the gang in ,the big~.tent. Arthur Godfrey was one of the most popular talents on early TV. The members of his show joined in and entertained the rest of the entertainers and the back stage crowd. There was a chorus line of dancers at just about every fair. Most of them were booked by a woman from Roxbury named Gertrude Dolan. She had a dance stu- dio near Dudley Street when there was an Irish neighbor- hood in that part of the city. Most of her girls were in their teens and early twen- ties and even though I was almost twelve years old, I think I fell in love with each and every one of them. On that Labor Day night, after I was paid off by Norman, the man who owned the concession stand where I worked, I ran to the big tent in back of the stage. The tail end of the show was happen- ing and I wanted to say goodbye to the friends I had made. Now, you know what it is like when you eat a holi- day dinner at your parents' or grandparents' home and all the relatives are there. When it's time to leave, it takes about an hour to say goodbye to everyone. Well, -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST-- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 this departure episode was reminiscent of the end of a family get together. Nanna and Babbononno hugged and kissed the'Ital- ians they had befriended dur- ing the week. Dad and Mom said goodbye to the musi- cians and performers they might not see until the first county fair the following spring and I said goodbye to the kids of those same folks. There were a few my age and we had become pals during the course of the fair week. The show ended at about 10:30 PM, but the electrician put out the lights in the tent at about midnight, the point in time when all of the performers, musicians and workers had exited. It was a show business family saying goodbye to one another. I was usually saddened at the end of each county fair, knowing that I had made some friends whom I would never see again. The one consolation factor was due to the thought of the new kids I would meet at the next fair we were heading to. This particular upstate New York fair was one of the last of the season, as very few contin- ued after Labor Day. What perked me up was the knowl- edge that we were heading for our cottage in Maine for the rest of the weekend and: I would be able to see my Maine friends before it was time to go home and begin another school year. I don't know what the county fairs are like today. I don't know if they have shows at night and whether they have live music any- more. Much of that seems to be part of the past. Dad con- tinued to play the fairs in the northeast through the 1960s. I had long since stopped traveling with him and my mother. My departure came when I was entering the tail end of my high school career. I did join them in Maine in August, right up through my four years in college. After that, most of the kids I had grown up with during the summers were on their own and Maine wasn't the same. As I look back now, just about all of the people from the county fairs are gone, musicians, entertain- ers, Louie the scenery man, etc. Dad passed away in 91 and Mom in 2007. Until the end, she, on occasion, would reminisce about those good old days, and when I pass a church that is sponsoring a carnival week and see a Ferris wheel, I begin to think back to a simpler day and how the events of those years helped shape an Ital- ian kid from East Boston. GOD BLESS AMERICA Socially Scene (Continued from Page 9) Marthas-Vineyard- Songwriting -Festival. Currently at the Mu- seum of Fine Arts .... Audubon's Birds, Audubon's Words through May iith, 2014 at the Edward and Nancy Roberts Family Gal- lery (Gallery LG26). Life-sized prints from The Birds of America paired with Audubon's words author and illustrator of The Birds of America, John James Audubon (1785-1851). He traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Canada to seek out and draw North American birds in their natural habitats. In the book's enormous pages -- each more than three feet high -- Audubon cap- tured the full range of avian life in North America, in- cluding many exotic crea- tures. Produced in England and issued in a limited edition between 1827 and 1838, only about 120 com- plete copies exist today. This exhibition features prints from the MFA's copy of The Birds of America and some smaller works by Audubon. The artist was also a gifted writer and the exhi- bition pairs his birds with his words, offering insight into Audubon's methods, obsessions, and the trials associated with his giant project, You can find this majestic display at the Museum of Fine Arts located at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston. You can visit their website or call ~ 617-267-9300-for ,general informatiOn. Funny or Die .... Presents The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle, Flight of the Conchords, with A1 Madrigal, Chris D'Elia, Demetri Mar- tin, Hannibal Buress, Jim Jefferies, John Mulaney, and Kristen Schaal, at the Comcast Center in Mans- field on September 8t~. "It took the extraordinary talents of Dave Chappelle and Flight of The Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement to create such an amazing night for comedy fans in such incredible summertime venues," said Geof Wills, President of Live Nation Comedy. "We have an amazing supporting cast of comedians on two stages, and lots of extras that will make this a night to remember for comedy fans everywhere." Dave Chappelle is without a doubt one of the most dis- tinctive voices working in comedy today. A comedian, screenwriter, television and film producer, actor and art- ist, Mr. Chappelle has been working in the entertain- ment industry since the age of 14. His 2003, boundary- bashing television series, "Chappelle's Show," cata- pulted the comic into inter- national stardom. Since leaving the show, Chappelle Dave Chappelle will be headlining the Funny or Die comedy festival this Sunday at the Comcast Center in Mansfield. (Photo courtesy of has continued to work rooms from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between, often dropping in unannounced to the delight of comedy fans. In a buoyant career span- ning almost 15 years, Flight of the Conchords has become one of the world's favorite comedy and musical acts. After getting their start in standup, Bret and Jemaine were launched onto the global stage with their ~ac- claimed HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords. The series spanned two seasons and earned them a massive 10 Emmy Nominations and a WGA nomination for Best Comedy series. The duo has also made an impact in the film world, Bret recently took on the role of Music Super- visor for The Muppets movie and won the Best Original Song Oscar for his composi- tion Man or Muppet. His part- ner, in crime, Jemaine;, was featured in the hit movie Men in Black III. The duo's infectious live performances of well-known songs like "Business Time," "Too Many Dicks on the Dance floor," and "Fashion of Danger," have made them a favorite of concert audiences all over the world. The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival takes place this Sunday and tickets are going fastl I recommend it as it is one of the last outdoor events to laugh the night away. Tickets are on sale now and are available at, by phone at 800-745-3000 or at the Comcast Center Box Office. A Tasty Treat to Compli- ment You Time in the City. ... The Union Bar and Grille is already a great choice but through the month of September will be featuring a pre-fix menu. To start a choice is a Chilled Local Sweet Corn Soup with Crab Meat Salad. To follow up with a Ricotta Gnocchi with Heir- loom Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan dish. Those are just a few that caught my eye but the options are end- less. To view the menu visit, located at 1357 Washington Street, Boston and can be reached at 617-423-0555. P