Back in the heyday, it seemed as though music from the Orange County Fairgrounds could be heard clear down to New York City. Some even said that the Statue of Liberty shook her hips
just a bit.
Those who weren't lucky enough to make the one hour pilgrimage north from the Big Apple to Middletown, New York certainly missed out on a whole bunch of excitement. Wikipedia reports that "through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, the Orange County Fairgrounds hosted the Westwood One & Pepsi Concert Series, featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry every summer."
We're talking names that most Baby Boomers (and even their children and parents) would easily recognize. The overall music roster reads like a "Who's Who of Hipsters" and includes such icons as The Beach Boys, Aerosmith, Santana, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Peter Frampton, Bryan Adams, Heart, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Guns N' Roses, Poison, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Chicago, Kiss, Motley Crue, The Allman Brothers, Van Halen, Phish, The Marshall Tucker Band, and Yes.
Although "those were the days, my friends" and this is now - the legacy lives on. This year's Orange County Fair continued to pay homage to some 20th-century greats via a series of Golden Oldies and Tribute Artist concerts. With eyes closed and imagination soaring, it must have felt as though the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pat Benatar, the Eagles, and (of course) Elvis had returned for one last curtain call.
Another Fairgrounds legacy is the Orange County Speedway, which Wikipedia describes as "the oldest continuously operating dirt track in the United States." Since this track is in full swing during the summer months, fairgoers are also able to experience its thrills. The 305 Sprints, Sportsman ESW Qualifier, Dr. RV & Escape RV Small Block Modified Elimination, and Monster Truck Madness were all held at the Speedway during the 2013 Orange County Fair
Mike Gurda, IV currently manages both the fair and the track. He, too, carries on a legacy that is hard to match. His grandfather, Mike Gurda, Jr., had been a well-known attorney who devoted a great deal of time to the fair's development. His father, Mike Gurda, III, has also played a significant part in the fair's leadership throughout the years. For three generations, the Gurdas have certainly contributed hugely to the Orange County Fair's many special traditions.
In speaking with Mike Gurda IV about this year's fair, it became quickly evident that the weather had not been the best. Gurda said that temperatures had been "almost 100 degrees for about five days." Nevertheless, attendance was "pretty much average" - which led Gurda to conclude, "If we didn't have that stretch of tough weather, we would have been substantially up this year."
Gate fees were the same as last year's: $8 for adults and $5 for children. Website promotions included free tickets for kids under 12, and $1 Thursday admissions. On Wednesdays, entire carloads of up to eight people could get in for a total flat rate of $60. This special rate included admission, all rides, and parking.
Gurda reported that these carload promotions had been "extremely successful." He also explained that this year's advertising budget was mostly allocated to cable TV and radio. Social media also "did quite well," even though "the weather might have affected the [overall] results a bit."
The weather, however, did not slow the midway down one bit. In fact, Gurda reported that the "carnival was actually substantially up from previous years." Strates Shows, which has been partnering with the Orange County Fair for seven years now, provided a wonderful assortment of rides that could be easily accessed via the Strates Shows Fun Card. The website explains that customers were able to "add additional rides or money in any dollar amount" to this card.
Even with all of this technological advancement, the fair has remained true to its hands-on agricultural roots (which go back over 173 years). Fairgoers who may have previously thought that milk originated in supermarkets were in for an udderly delightful surprise. After following the hay wagons over to "Cow Town," inquisitive souls were invited to squirt some milk from a real live cow into a pail.
Those who craved animals that have sharper teeth than a cow were also able to satisfy their curiosity. There were lions and tigers and wolves for the many who sought them out at the Jungle Habitat Indoor Safari and the Sandlofer Family's Wolf Pack exhibits. Those who preferred fine-feathered friends were able to commune with exotic birds.
Mechanical wonders complemented the biological ones. Gurda explained that "a local club in Orange County collects antique fire trucks, and had about 18 of them in the Arena Building this year." The Monster Trucks, Stockcar Races and Demo Derbies also packed a wallop. Despite
the hot weather, the crowds responded favorably to these events.
From its early hey days as a mostly agricultural fair, to its later heyday as a prime music venue, to its current mix of family-friendly events - the Orange County Fair has demonstrated a terrific ability to change with the times.
When big-name concerts became financially unsustainable, a greater emphasis upon grounds entertainment and oldies groups began to fill that void. When the many camps in the area began to cut back on trips to the fair due to rising fuel costs, the concept of "Camp Days" broadened to accommodate current needs. Gurda stated, "We will now always entertain a camp during any hours that we're open."
When families began to be too busy on weekdays to get to the fair, the schedule shifted to three weekends instead of two. The fair is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays in order to better mirror current attendance trends.
Because of its flexibility and ingenuity, the Orange County Fair shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.