Widen your world: Altamont Fair 2013
ALTAMONT — Marie McMillen got a different perspective on the Altamont Fair — her life’s work — when she saw it on the big screen.
The fair’s manager, she went this spring to see the premier of The Place Beyond the Pines. The critically acclaimed crime drama takes its name from the Mohawk for “Schenectady,” the city where it was set.
“It was exciting,” said McMillen, now in the midst of organizing the 2013 edition of the 120-year-old fair. “It was strange to see the entertainment playing back to you when you’re always behind this book.”
She hefted a loose-leaf binder, one of a dozen she keeps, this one with 120 contracts for musicians.
“I went to the after party and got to meet Bradley Cooper,” she said with a wide smile.
Hobnobbing with Hollywood stars was a first for McMillen, who has spent decades working at the fair, beginning when she was a girl in 4-H.
She loves to put on a show and used to show off her sewing and cooking skills as a youth at the fair. In 1979, when her oldest daughter was in the horse and pony shows, McMillen became even more involved.
“It doesn’t get old,” she has said. “I love the fair.”
She is so devoted to the fair that last year, despite the death of her husband just before Fair Week, she continued to manage the fair.
“It’s always been constant in my life,” said McMillen. “The fair is a very wholesome entertainment. It takes us back in time in some ways, and is progressive in others.”
McMillen said she’s long loved planning parties. “I like creating activity,” she said.
Still, the activity around the filming of The Place Beyond the Pines was of a different order. And, through it, McMillen, forever looking out for the fair, ended up booking a new circus, the Coronas of Hollywood Circus.
Few people knew that pivotal scenes of The Place Beyond the Pines were filmed during Fair Week.
“They thought with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper being such Hollywood heartthrobs, they would have been deluged,” she said. “So we had to keep it quiet.”
Also, she said, “Eva Mendez was concerned about stalkers and wanted protection.”
Gosling’s character, a daredevil motorcycle rider, had met the Mendez character while playing the fair. He doesn’t find out that she is pregnant with his child until he returns to the fair the following year. The multi-generational story unfolds from there.
McMillen recalled of the filming of Gosling during Fair Week, “They taped him coming through the midway from the 1954 trailer they brought on the grounds. People stood there till three o’clock in the morning, hoping to be in the film.”
She said this week that the cast “had a ball” at the fairgrounds.
McMillen was asked if she wanted to be a stand-in. Her response? “Doing a movie is like watching paint dry. I had work to do. I do my work behind the scenes.”
Part of her behind-the-scenes work came in answering a call from Las Vegas. The moviemakers had contacted the Hollywood Circus to use its motorcycles-in-the-globe act. When McMillen took the call, she remembered, “I said, ‘If you’re up this way, stop by my office.’”
Serge Coronas did just that.
“I told him, ‘I’m looking for a good circus,’” McMillen recalled. “He said, ‘Let’s look around.’ We paced out the space he needs — it takes a large foot print.”
The space was adequate — the Hollywood Circus tent is 150 by 150 feet, holding 1,200 people — and the venue turned out to be more than adequate. “The tent was packed at every show,” said McMillen of last August’s circus, the first for Coronas in Altamont.
“It’s a dying breed. There are not many circuses out there anymore,” McMillen said. “Elephants and tigers are being phased out everywhere.” Society “frowns on” displaying them, she said.
The Hollywood Circus has an 80-foot square petting-zoo tent, which includes zebras, wallabies, sheep, zebu, and kangaroos, and a giraffe (pictured on our front cover). The circus also features clowning, acrobatics, and motorcycle stunts, as well as hosting the ever-popular racing pigs.
“He’s bringing in seven semis,” said McMillen of Coronas. “They’re truly animal lovers. They treat them like babies.”
“We work for the crowd,” Serge Coronas told The Enterprise last August. He is a fourth-generation entertainer of the Coronas family, which came from Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. “We have to make the crowd like the show….It’s the last entertainment left for the entire family because we still have the menagerie.”
His son and namesake is carrying on the family tradition as one of the Globe of Death riders. Coronas Jr., who said falling in a steel cage is like falling on concrete, concluded, “Thrilling people is the best part. They’re holding on to their seats.”
Motorcycles will appear in other forms at the fair, too. (See related story.) Satan Cycles of Ravena will build a tricked-out motorcycle on site during Fair Week. FMX driver Tim Dyson will perform, and there will be a motorcycle safety display.
Some of the thrills at the fair are of a more traditional nature, rooted in agriculture. For more than a century, crowds have come to the fair to see farm animals compete.
“We’re bringing back the oxen pull and the horse pulls this year,” McMillen said. “People love them.”
Farmers and 4-H youth from Albany, Schenectady, and Greene counties will be displaying their ponies, cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, and horses throughout Fair Week.
For the third year, Sanchia Callender and Julie Husek will be hosting a Meet the Animals Tent so visitors can get an up-close look at farm animals and learn about them. (See related story.)
For example, they’ll be able to feel the warmth of freshly laid eggs or try to milk a goat.
“I’ve observed people sticking their heads in the cow barn and they don’t know whether they should come in,” said McMillen. “Or, in the riding ring, unless you understand the judging, it just looks like horses going around.”
Featured in the tent, at various times, will be bees and honey, a draft horse, oxen, goats, chickens, and cows. Little prizes will be given out for good answers to questions about animals.
The Dis-Connected K9’s, dogs trained in the acrobatics of catching Frisbees, will perform again at this year’s fair. And the Two By Two Zoo is also returning with its menagerie of unusual animals, including a hare that confounds the fable by hanging out with a tortoise.
Rural roots are literally evident in the fruits, vegetables, and other farm produce that will be on display.
There are also competitions for flower arrangements and fine arts as well as creative arts and crafts and cooking
The Blue Ribbon Cooking Center will offer a new competition for all things chocolate as well as the old standbys like canning and cooking competitions. (See related story.)
The Miss Altamont Fair pageant takes place on opening day and the winners will be on hand, wearing their tiaras and sashes throughout Fair Week.
Variety worth noting
“We have a real mixture of music this year,” said McMillen.
The line-up opening day includes Bobby Stillwell hosting karaoke in the beer hall, and Jonny Hirsch from New York City.
“We’re all jazz-based guys,” Hirsch told The Enterprise last August. He describes the band’s repertoire as new-age blues-rock.
Wednesday, Aug. 14, is Senior Day, when people over 65 are admitted for free until 4 p.m., and courtesy carts are provided with drivers for those who want a lift. It is also Grange Day and Grange members are admitted for free, too.
McMillen has chosen the music accordingly with Squeeze Play, featuring Peggy Hart on the accordion; Cryin’ Out Loud with Gregg Simmons; and Nick Coluccio singing Frank Sinatra songs. “You’d really think it was him,” said McMillen.
Thursday is Armed Services Day when military personnel are admitted for free. The opening ceremony at noon on the Grove Stage will kick off with Patriot Guard Riders, on motorcycles bearing flags.
The keynote speaker is John J. McKenna III, whose son, Captain John J. McKenna IV, a Marine Corps platoon commander from Clifton Park, was killed in Iraq on Aug. 16, 2006. He was 30.
Local armed-service organizations and government officials will participate. And a re-creation of a World War II era broadcast, “Until It’s Over Over There: The Road to Victory,” will be played, featuring Glenn Miller music.
“Then we’ll liven it up in the afternoon,” said McMillen, with the Fulton Chain Gang playing 1980s music. In the evening, Grand Central Station will play rock-and-roll and country music.
On Friday, Scott Apicelli will play jazz, and Hair of the Dog, a Celtic folk-rock band, will perform.
Joey Pucci, a Voorheesville resident, will play with The American Longboards on Saturday. “He plays all over the world and is a fantastic drummer,” said McMillen.
The Jonathan Newell Band from Hudson Falls will play 1980s covers and the Nite Train Band, with Ken Briggs, will sound “high-voltage horns,” said McMillen.
Sunday will bring the Pro Tones, paying tribute to the Everly Brothers, to the fairgrounds, followed by J Collins performing country rock.
Finally, the popular local country band, Skeeter Creek, will perform, followed by the grand finale — fireworks.
Labors of love
Away from the stage, visitors can enjoy rides and games on the Reithoffer midway or learn from the many free museums.
The Firemen’s Museum will feature safety and police demonstrations. The Farmhouse Museum has displays from various historical societies, and fair-goers can go back in time by visiting a chapel on site or a one-room schoolhouse.
The Farm Machinery Building this year will have a windmill, once used for farm irrigation, and a shingle-maker. (See related story.) Fairgoers can watch the process from log to roof-ready, and take home a free shingle.
New this year, an Adirondack museum will be housed in the Dutch barn. “Stuffed wildlife will be on display and there will be DEC people, too,” said McMillan of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
The 1890s Carriage Museum has a new roof and entrance, inspired by a challenge from Donald Miller and his wife, Bette, in honor of his father, Walt Miller, a long-time treasurer for the fair. “Don made the first donation and challenged others to do the same. A bunch of members followed suit,” said McMillen, estimating the total project cost $40,000.
The fair has 62 members who have risen from the ranks of a few hundred associates, who volunteer in the various barns and buildings. “Then you qualify to be a director,” said McMillen; there are 14 such officers.
There are also junior associates, children volunteers who get free passes in exchange for their work.
Besides McMillen, there is only one paid post, for a part-time bookkeeper, which is new this year. Martha Nock, a retired math teacher, had volunteered as a bookkeeper, serving for 20 years.
The fair staff is in new offices on the grounds, and property on Brandle Road has been purchased, bordering the fair’s entrance, to house a grounds superintendent. “We’ll improve that land for additional parking,” said McMillen.
The superintendent oversees 130 acres year-round, said McMillen, with events going on from April through October, including some large events like the Old Songs Festival and the upcoming Freedompalooza, as well as smaller events like pony and goat shows, the Color Me Rad 5K Run, or weddings.
Last year, 85,000 people attended the fair over its six-day run.
While attendance is up at the fair, some of the traditional mainstays like the Grange and 4-H are waning in membership, McMillen said.
“There’s less farming in our communities, “ said McMillen. “All of these groups are suffering. It’s a shame; a lot of the programs have lost attendance. It’s all video games or sports now.”
Still, the Grange Building has posted a full schedule of events for Fair Week. Daily craft demonstrations feature such disappearing arts as making soap or bee skeps, quilting, and weaving.
And baking demonstrations, at 11 a.m. each day, will feature the fine art of creating treats from cinnamon buns to chocolate-chip cookies. The culinary fare, along with crafts, may be purchased at the building.
“You can’t beat their strawberry shortcake,” said McMillen of the Grange bakers.
The Altamont Fair runs from Aug. 13 to 18 at the fairgrounds off of Route 146 in Guilderland.
Tickets for Tuesday through Thursday will cost $15 and for Friday through Sunday will cost $17 at the gate. Tickets purchased online at the fair’s website cost $15 for any day. The single admission fee covers parking, midway rides, the circus, and all the exhibits.
Children under 36 inches tall are admitted to the fair for free but are not permitted on the rides.
Gate 2 opens at 7 a.m. every day; the other gates open at 10 a.m. Exhibits and vendors open at 11 a.m., and the midway opens at noon each day during Fair Week.