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Hurricane Harvey poses challenges for Great Allentown Fair


By Mary Weber

Photo courtesy of Allentown Fair

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The 2017 Great Allentown Fair saw many successes despite challenges from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. This year, The Great Allentown Fair celebrated the 165th anniversary of its founding. In addition, the fair commemorated the 100 anniversary of the years 1917-1919 when the fair ceased operation to turn the Allentown Fairgrounds into a World War I training facility for the US Army Ambulance Service.

This year's Great Allentown Fair ran from Tuesday, August 29th through Monday, September 5th. Overall attendance was 303,000: down 23% from the 2016 total. Overall Grandstand show attendance was 39,777 which was up 12% from 2016, a bright spot for the event. The fair's theme was "The Pick Of The Season."

The fair offered several admission promotions throughout the duration of the fairPhoto By Allentown Fair. However, perhaps one of their most popular specials: Preview Night Dollapalooza, was negatively affected by Hurricane Harvey. Dollapalooza offers $1 specials on rides, games, and food. Additionally, the fair partners with the Second Harvest Food Bank drive to allow fairgoers into the fair for just $1 with a non-perishable item. The weather discouraged fairgoers/donators from attending so the collection numbers were down to a little over 3,000 pounds from last year's 9,000 pounds. 

Other admission promotions included "Early birds under the wire:" those who attended the fair on Wednesday, August 31st, Thursday, September 1st, or Friday, September 2nd were given free admission into the fair from 12pm-2pm. On Wednesday, August 30th, seniors with identification were admitted for $4 after 2pm for American Bank Senior Citizens Day. Red, White & Thank You Military Day took place on August 31st and gave free admission to active military and veterans with ID. 

The 2017 Great Allentown Fair Grandstand lineup included Thomas Rett with Dan+Shay, Keith Urban with Lindsay Ell, John Mellencamp with Carlene Carter, Rascal Flatts with Lauren Alaina, Pentatonix with Us The Duo, a Latin radio station sponsored a show with Tito Nieves, Ivy Queen, and Jose Alberto, and there was a J&J Demolition Derby on Labor Day. The last bit of Harvey's wrath poured down on Pentatonix fans at the sold-out Grandstand concert on Saturday, September 3rd. 10,536 fans braved the weather to watch Pentatonix perform.

Ground act entertainment at the 2017 was also a huge hit according to Bonnie Brosious, fair spokesperson. New shows this year included America's Got Talent Season 6 quarter-finalist, Dan Mink: the Rhinestone Roper. Mink gave three shows per day which featured horse stunts, roping tricks, knife throwing, and more. This year's fairgoers also saw the return of the Nerveless Nocks who performed thrill acts such as the dual Sway Poe, WHeel of Destiny, and Wheel of Steel motor dome. Other ground acts included The Marvelous Mutts, Robinson's Racing Pigs and Paddling Porkers, Scott's Future of Magic, and New Odyssey featuring "3 guys, 30 instruments." 

In addition to grandstand acts, the fair featured other musical performers such as Grammy award winning King of Polka: Jimmy Sturr, regional tribute band: The Blues Brotherhood, and many other local bands and acoustic players. 

Powers' Great American Midways provides the carnival rides, food, and games for the Great Allentown Fair. According to Brosious, they experienced negative consequences from Hurricane Harvey. Powers' Great American Midways featured two new kiddie rides this year as part of the 41 rides and 43 games they had at the fair. Advance sale unlimited ride wristbands were available for $15 online and at the fair box office prior to opening day.

The fair's Agri-Plex featured 12 competitive exhibits this year and they each followed the fair's theme: "The Pick of the Season." Each area represented one of the 12 months of the year. Competitive exhibit participation rose 22%; 8,450 items were on display to be judged and a total of 950 animals were exhibited. Proceeds from the Lehigh County 4-H Livestock Sale were up 19%. 
In order to honor the fair's participation in WWI, two men: George King III and Jeffrey Klinger of Massachusetts wore WWI uniforms and brought their Ambulance 255 Project to the fair on its Red, White, & Thank You Military Day. On Friday, fairgoers could observe the vehicle as it made runs around the grounds or attend one of the 5 presentations given in front of the WWI display. 

Food is a huge part of the Great Allentown Fair as evidenced by its many food competitions and demonstrations. The fair features a Farm to Table series of chef demonstrations and culinary tips. This year, they offered Grain to Glass presentations from local distillers, giving fairgoers the chance to observe the distilling process. The fair's Iron Chef Competition is certainly a crowd favorite; it is a two day competition between 4 contenders who compete to cook against the previous year's champion. East Executive Chef Abe Lopez beat last year's champion by creating a dish from the following secret ingredients: double smoked ham shanks, roasted chestnuts, kale puree, farm kimchi, Louisiana alligator, dragon fruit, and "blue wave" kettle corn. 

Fair concessionaires competed to win over fairgoers and the loving cup with fun and creative food recipes. This year, Maddalena's Cheesecake stand made a vanilla ice cream dish topped with cinnamon-spiced apple pie which took home the trophy. 

While the fair was hit with some nasty weather, Brosious remained positive when reflecting on how the weather affected the fair; "We always hope for perfect weather to bolster our year-long efforts, but when you see what has taken people lifetimes to build destroyed or damaged by nature's fury, you deal with what we experienced without a wince," says Brosius. "Numbers were up in our competitive exhibit and livestock entries and the activities associated with the commemoration of Camp Crane (the WWI ambulance training base) were fabulous," she says.

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