About the Colony

A glimpse of George Burns and other Mid-State Fair memories

Fair-goers ride the Oktoberfest Wave Swinger ride at the 2014 California Mid-State Fair.
Fair-goers ride the Oktoberfest Wave Swinger ride at the 2014 California Mid-State Fair. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Our county fair opens Wednesday.

Originally it was the 16th Agricultural District Fair, but in the ’70s, it became the California Mid-State Fair.

The fair traces its beginnings to 1945. It was an Atascadero man, Gordon Davis, who put on the first rodeo for the event.

Michael Bradley, the new CEO for the fair, wrote in the program that the fairs “are about memories”: “They provide a glimpse of yesterday’s traditions, today’s popular culture and tomorrow’s dreams.”

Fellow journalist Brad Humphrey covered a lot of fairs. Brad, a musician himself, interviewed a lot of the performers who came to this fair.

In those days, there was usually a press conference over in the banquet room at the Black Oak Restaurant across the street from the fairgrounds.

Red Skelton greeted each reporter/photographer in the room. Bob Hope and his troupe rehearsed all day in a classroom here in Atascadero.

The only backstage pass I ever got in covering 35 fairs was to meet George Burns after his show. I missed him, however, because the people manning the backstage gate accused me of counterfeiting the pass and wouldn’t let me in.

A director with the fair board who knew me took me in and I saw Burns heading to his trailer to rest.

I remember asking Crystal Gayle if there was any song she was sick of singing, but she didn’t answer me.

And speaking of entertainment, the first well-known musician to perform at the fair as an “experiment” to see if live entertainment was a good mix for an agricultural fair was Buck Owens.

A favorite memory is sitting with my late wife and listening to Sons of the Pioneers in one of the little performance venues that don’t even exist anymore.

When we journalists were told we could only take a picture of a performer in the first 10 minutes of a show, both Brad and I quit taking their pictures at all. We didn’t care anymore.

Judging from the lineup of performers both in the grandstands and on the free stage, people my age aren’t the intended audience anymore.

One thing that has never changed is the extreme loudness of the music at every venue, including that music coming from the speakers up and down the midway.

On a positive note, the ag kids are still great as they show off their award-winning animals. I like to take in the shop projects created for the fair by local teens and see the quilts stitched by my adult friends.

And a brand-new memory for me for this year’s fair will be working in the Kiwanis Club food booth with my granddaughter on Wednesday morning.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.