‘17 days of absolute craziness’

State Fair returns to Meadowlands with concerts, candy, camels, and fried worms

Whether you want to ride a camel, get hypnotized, eat deep-fried larvae with cream cheese, or fly in the Batcopter, you’ll have your chance next week when the State Fair rolls into the Meadowlands for “17 days of absolute craziness,” in the words of Entertainment Organizer John Patterson.
Many of the most popular attractions from last year are back, including the pig races – returning for their 27th year – the petting zoo, the Sky Ride, the daredevil acrobats and aerialists, and the various concerts for young and old.
Joining them will be the new Lipizzaner Stallions Show with performing horses, and a new selection of exciting stunts in the open-air circus, as daredevils perform dangerous feats on the high wire, sway pole, wheels of death, and more.
“It’s extremely family friendly,” said Patterson of the 35-acre fair. “We don’t have anything that’s not family oriented.”
That includes more than 75 rides ranging from slow and safe for the toddlers to whirling, upside-down thrill rides for the more bold.
Also appearing will be the New Jersey Hall of Fame mobile museum, featuring artifacts, trinkets, and mementos once owned by NJ residents from Springsteen to Einstein.

A world of music

Music fans are bound to find something to enjoy in the free concerts held almost nightly.
Returning from last year is “Cousin Brucie’s Palisades Park Reunion” for its third edition, to please the nostalgia fans. Legendary radio personality Cousin Bruce Morrow will host a performance featuring many of the acts he introduced in the 1960s at the famed Palisade Amusement Park, including Tony Orlando, Tommy James, Gary U.S. Bonds, The Capris, and more. The show will be broadcast live on SiriusXM.

The fair features more than 75 rides and 50 food vendors, selling more than 185,000 zeppoles, 50,000 corn dogs, and 17,000 bags of cotton candy annually.
Also back for the second year is Heffron Drive, a favorite with the younger crowd. Led by Kendall Schmidt from the hit Nickelodeon show Big Time Rush, the band is making the fair the first stop on their East Coast tour.
“People from all over the world come for this guy,” said Patterson. “Last year a girl flew in from Belgium.”
Appealing to yet another variety of music fan are music duo Locash, in a show presented by country music station NASH FM. “They have one of the top songs in the country right now, ‘I Love This Life,’” said Patterson.
Other musicians will be playing everything from hip hop to soul to hard rock, with not one but two separate ‘80s tribute bands: Max Headroom and Ridgemont High.
A complete schedule of bands is available at njfair.com.

A universe of food

Food is among the biggest draws at the annual event, and this year is no exception with more than 50 vendors from across the country.
“Brian Shenkman is coming back with the world’s largest candy store: 60,000 pounds of candy,” said Patterson. “He will deep fry literally anything: Twinkies, Yodels, Snickers, peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese with larvets (yes, that’s crunchy worm larvae), which is actually one of the biggest sellers at the fair.”
Hungry patrons can chow down on alligator mac and cheese at Chester’s Gators and Taters, pizza on a stick at Spaghetti Eddie’s, a PBJ sundae at the Ice Cream Mill, and much, much more, from a donut burger to a shark kebab.
For those keeping track, the fair’s website lists calorie counts for some of the more popular items. Fried Oreos clock in at 98 calories. A slice of cheese pizza is 350 and curly fries 620.
Each year the fair sells more than 185,000 zeppoles, 50,000 corn dogs, and 17,000 bags of cotton candy.
And yes, for the health conscious there are Greek salads or the Traveling Nuts booth.

A city within a city

The State Fair is a family-run business that has been owned and operated by the Dorso family for four generations. “They’ve been in the carnival and fair business about 60, 70 years,” said Patterson. “They would go to town carnivals and little festivals, travel all over.”
The first fair at the Meadowlands opened in 1986 as a six-day event encompassing 10 acres offering a dozen rides and games. Al Dorso Sr. was involved in bringing attractions to the event.
The Dorso family also owns Skylands Park Stadium in Sussex County, a minor league baseball team, and a haunted house that they run in the fall. But the State Fair is their biggest enterprise.
“About 1,000 people work the fair,” said Patterson. “We’ve got a police department, a mobile hospital staffed by doctors, nurses, EMTs. They can do anything they need to do with the exception of surgery.”
One of the parking lots near the racetrack is converted in a huge trailer park for the vendors, complete with electricity and plumbing. The Fair generates about eight tons of garbage daily, much of which is sorted for recycling.
Last year’s fair attendance topped 400,000. The event generates almost one million dollars in New Jersey state tax revenue.

How to attend

This year the fair will run from June 19 through July 5. Fireworks will feature on July 3 and 4. Other attractions include “kids go free” night and “cheap, cheap night.”
Full information and scheduling is available at njfair.com. Discount tickets can be purchased online until June 18 or at Walgreens.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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