Jul 05, 2020

Small stages, big talent

Marina Gaytan / The Collegian

While acts like the Barenaked Ladies and The Game drew in crowds at The Big Fresno Fair, many find something extra in the wide variety of grounds entertainment offered.

Amidst the Deep Fried Zucchini Weenie and the butter-basted cinnamon rolls are two bite-sized cowboys who roamed the fairgrounds with a knapsack full of jokes. “Fables of the West,” with the cowboy poetry of “Slim Chickens” and the wisecracking of “Dusty Bottoms,” is performing at the Big Fresno Fair for its 10th year.

‘Band of Bobs’
Dressed in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts and overalls is the twosome of Charles Hurley and Jerry Stonebraker, also known as “The Amazing Harmonatras.” Performing four to five times daily, the duo build a band on stage with kids from the audience and affectionately rename them all “Bob.”

Along with the smiles of fairgoers, Hurley said he also loves meeting a variety of great entertainers that share his same passion.
“The fair entertainer is a unique person,” Hurley said. “This is somebody who’s taken something that they know how to do and turned it into a show.”

However, it’s not all cotton candy and corn dogs for fair entertainers. “The Amazing Harmonatras” perform 70 to 90 days a year away from home, Hurley said and managing everyday obligations can be especially challenging.

“It’s keeping your bills paid, your mail collected, staying up with the phone calls and the people,” Hurley said. “Your life is on the road, so you find ways to adapt and make sure your credit cards get paid on time. I missed a few birthdays of my kids. I was gone on some important dates. You still try to be there for the real important stuff and I was.”

Marina Gaytan / The Collegian

‘Slim & Dusty’
Between the occasional roles as a walking information booth and opening for fair headliners such as Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire, Bob McMeans (Slim) and Eric Holmquist (Dusty) perform the bulk of their duty, engaging the crowd. The unpredictability of the audience, McMeans said, is one of his favorite aspects of the job. This facet led to his favorite memory.

While performing at a Southern California fair, McMeans’ brother, who is also part of “Fables of the West,” revealed a secret of an audience member.

“My brother was asking these little kids ‘What does your dad do for a living,’” McMeans said. “This one little girl said ‘my dad, he works for the city, and after he goes to work Tony comes over.’ The mom got all embarrassed and they left the fairgrounds.”

Marina Gaytan / The Collegian

‘Juggling Joyce’
New to fair is the Ag Magic Show, a combination of jokes, magic and information all used to educate the audience of the importance of agriculture. Between the random sheep bleats, host Joyce Rice traces the origins of the contents in a McDonald’s Happy Meal and makes ketchup bottles disappear.

The act was created by Rice’s daughter, Rhonda Renee, in hopes the audience will have a clearer understanding of where our food, clothes and houses come from and want to learn more about agriculture, Rice said.

As a former national champion of baton twirling, Rice is no stranger to the spotlight.

While these acts may not be the headliners, Rice said, they are just as important to the fair atmosphere.

“There’s the cake – the fair itself with all the displays,” Rice said. “There’s the frosting – the stars, but then the frosting in between the layers that’s not necessarily seen, that’s us. And sometimes that’s as good or better than the top.”

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