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South Texas State Fair: It does a body good

4/26/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

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One thing about the South Texas State Fair - it's got plenty of food for body, mind and spirit. 

There was lots to be had of the usual gustatory delights:  Funnel cakes, corn dogs, candy apples, fried oreos and twinkies were all available in abundance. In addition to these "regulars," exotic fare such as fried alligator was on the menu.  Other Cajun offerings included boiled crawfish and stuffed pistolettes.  Mexican selections abounded, including tamales, enchiladas and quesadillas.

Have you ever seen an onion blossom?  They did at this year's fair.  These treats are deep-fried and breaded and lip-smacking good (calories aren't spared).  For the first time, Cuban foods were available to South Texas fairgoers.  Guests just loved the pork and empanadas.

As important as this kind of food is there was also plenty of excitement to feast upon.  Minds and senses were enthralled by such events as the Rodeo and its encore, Mutton Bustin'.

Whereas the Rodeo used to be held in the spring and the State Fair in the fall, they have been Running simultaneously since 2009.  This schedule change is a big boon for fairgoers, who now get the Rodeo included with their fair admission on those special days.

This PRCA Rodeo action is no small deal in and of itself, but patrons refuse to leave until the very last Mutton is Busted.  Jessie Gonzales, 2013 South Texas Fair Coordinator, detailed what Mutton Bustin' consists of:  "After the rodeo is over, we do a Mutton Bustin' for the kids.  We'll get kids from 5 to 7, less than 55 pounds.  We'll get a release form, and they get on a sheep and see how long they can ride.  It's lots of fun.  My granddaughter, when she was six (she's a city slicker) - she rode it about halfway down the arena...  There's 20 kids each time.  The kids, parents and grandparents look forward to this."

Mutton Bustin' is far from the only kid-friendly excitement at the fair.  Gonzales went on to describe some of the educational venues:   "During the day we had a milk show before the fair opened...  The schools signed up to attend.  Busloads came - nearly 5,000 kids...  It was in an amphitheater with a stage and benches.  Each show was 15 to 20 minutes long.  While the kids were waiting in line, a one-armed juggler and a farming show kept them entertained."

There was, of course, mind-blowing merriment for folks of all ages over at the Carnival Americana midway.  Based in Fort Worth, Texas, the company provides "clean, safe, family fun to a wide variety of events of all sizes throughout the Central United States."  Gonzales estimated that there were "about 40 rides" at this year's fair.  He mentioned one "called The Mouse that's like a roller coaster, and it spins as it goes up and down." 

2013 South Texas Fair Midway

Those who survived The Mouse were able to hear some great musical acts.  Grammy Award winner Wayne Toups (aka "The Cajun Springsteen" and "Le Boss") and his ZyDeCajun band was a headliner at this year's fair.  Wondering what "ZyDeCajun" is?  It's described on Toups' website as a fusion of the "French-language traditional material of his Cajun ancestors" and "the unmistakable r&b textures of Zydeco music."  Bonus:  Toups sometimes sings in a sweet and sultry French.  Tres romantique!

Those seeking a musical "dessert" had the opportunity to sink their ears into a Bag of Donuts.

This New Orleans based quartet is widely known for its "wild stage antics, outlandish costumes [reminiscent of KISS and the Joker] and strange renditions of popular songs."  The BOD website warns that anyone with a beating heart is sure to be intensely affected.
  
Orchestrating a multitude of venues into one smooth operation is a year-round undertaking. 

Gonzales explained that The South Texas State Fair is the "largest project" of the Young Men's Business League (YMBL), which he described as a "private nonprofit."  YMBL's "Mission and History" page tells us that this league has been going strong since 1917.   Today's membership is "quickly approaching 1,000."

YMBL's mission is a visionary one.  It not only encompasses mind and body, but also spirit.  Its website states the following:  "YMBL takes part in projects which will benefit the youth as well as the elderly and is ever mindful of the needs of the community in fields of health and welfare, public works and civic improvement, governmental leadership and spiritual guidance." 

The Rodeo and South Texas State Fair are major funding sources for YMBL's charitable endeavors.  In fact, Gonzales reported that "86% of our total budget goes back into the community."  Agencies that YMBL have assisted include the American Cancer Society, the ARC of Greater Beaumont, Family Services of Southeast Texas, the Gulf Coast Marrow Donor Program, the Neches River Festival, the Salvation Army, the Symphony of Southeast Texas, the Vietnam Veterans of America SETX Chapter, and the YMCA Port Arthur.

Communication is key with such a large network of partners.  Gonzales explained that YMBL Accomplishes this through its four major committees:  entertainment, personnel, exhibits/concessions,and livestock/poultry.  There is also "a twenty-one member Board of Directors" and a small group of Executive Officers.  Fair and Rodeo marketing is distributed using a media mix of TV (69%), radio (7%), billboards (8%), and print (16%).  

Although attendance was down this year (as much as 15% on the midway) due to the weather (rainy, cold, and so unpredictable that the fair had to close early one Sunday), spirits remained high.  And how could they not, given the lofty goals of the YMBL?  One of its organizational initiatives involves a mobile medical lab that "is open to anyone who wants to come by and get tested."  Two individuals who were tested turned out to have potentially-lethal forms of cancer. The fair hopes the early detections will help save lives.

Proceeds from the fair, as distributed by the YMBL have a significant impact on the community.

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