More than a dozen Lebanon Area Fairs had passed by since its founding in 1957 with its focus firmly on animal exhibitions. It wasn’t until the early 1970s – and the insights of board member Lorraine Royer – that the agricultural event added musical entertainment to its offerings.
It’s a tradition that’s lasted a half-century, and one entertainment chairman Dana Lape is proud to continue.
“A fair is like America,” Lape says. “The people who come out to a fair are America. Some people like the animals. Some people like the rides. Some people like the entertainment. Some people like the food. And some people like the weird stuff – you know, stuff you don’t usually get to see.
“But there’s something for everyone. You can’t go wrong.”
And, for those who enjoy the music, he adds, the fair “is pretty doggone cheap for a night of entertainment. … Music makes the fair more special.”
The fair this year runs July 22-29 at the fairgrounds at 80 Rocherty Road, Lebanon.
Admission is free from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., after which there’s a $5 daily admission charge to enter the grounds. The cost of admission covers myriad offerings once you’re inside. (Children under 10 years old are admitted free all day, every day.)
Listen to the music
Organizing entertainment for a week-long agricultural fair is not quick work. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” Lape says. The planning is done by a committee of nine volunteers, headed by Lape, co-chair Russell Wolfe and their unofficial third co-chairman, Tom Jones. (“He’s our guru,” Lape says. “He helps out a lot.”)
Setup for the fair started in early July, Lape notes.
Fair week this year features about two dozen musical acts, he says, along with other midway entertainments and special events such as the fair queen competition and talent show.
A big change for the fair queen this year is its location. For years, Lape says, the contest was held indoors at North Hall, where few members of the public can see it. This year, he says, it will be moved to the fairgrounds’ new pavilion, and he predicts a much larger crowd.
The coronation of the new queen and announcement of scholarship recipients is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, July 22.
Bands will be featured nightly on the main stage, with shows starting at 7 p.m. Main stage performers this year are Pentagon on July 22, Clockwork Band on July 23, Uptown Band on July 24, the Josh Squared Band on July 25, Grant Bryan on July 26, Sapphire on July 27, the Jess Zimmerman Band on July 28, and Flamin’ Dick & the Hot Rods on July 29.
“We have the best bands in central Pennsylvania,” Lape boasts.
Some of the entertainment is homegrown. Lape says four singers on the schedule this year – Crystal Bomgardner, Addi Grace, Hope Wagner and Jess Zimmerman – got their start in the talent show at previous Lebanon fairs.
Bomgardner, who was originally scheduled to perform on July 22, had to bow out after she was elected president of the Pennsylvania State FFA. Those duties, Lape explains, require her to be elsewhere that evening, so Hope Wagner and Wendy Horning are taking her place. Lape says he’s not sure what, if any, part Bomgardner will be able to play at the fair this year.
“That’s an example, when you’re putting on an event as big as the Lebanon fair, of the kinds of things that can happen,” Lape says.
A future crop of musical stars might get their first chance on the Lebanon stage on Monday, July 24. The talent show begins at 6:30 p.m. in the pavilion.
Another local performer is Myerstown’s own Al Shade who, at 95, is “the oldest performer ever to perform at a Pennsylvania state fair,” Lape says. He was also the first performer to perform in Lebanon when music was added to the itinerary.
“That is so cool,” Lape says.
Shade will perform with his daughter Debbie on Tuesday, July 25, beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the pavilion.
Enjoy the attractions
There’s more to entertainment than just music, Lape notes. There are also plenty of attractions and amusements on the midway besides the games and rides.
“Theres so much new this year,” Lape says. “Like the world’s largest bologna sandwich on Community Night. … Even Community Night is going to be really big.”
Community Night begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, in North Hall and provides patrons an opportunity to learn about organizations and businesses in the Lebanon area. A highlight of the evening, from 5 to 7 p.m., is the world’s largest Lebanon bologna sandwich, organized by Visit Lebanon Valley and local businesses.
Also, there’s the ever-popular petting zoo. Last year, the Lebanon fair had to do without a petting zoo, Lape explains, because their usual contractor had a scheduling conflict and their replacement vendor got into an accident en route. This year, he says, Eudora Farms – “the No. 1 petting zoo in the country,” he says – will be back with a variety of cute critters.
Circus Incredible, which Lape says last year was the midways biggest attraction, returns this year for more aerial and acrobatic stunts. Lape says the family troupe comes from a long line of circus performers and was brought back this year because of a huge number of requests from fair patrons.
When a truck accident knocked pig racing off the schedule this year, the committee found Captain Jim is Magic, an illusion show, to take its place on the midway.
Lape is especially happy to bring the Mobile Dairy Classroom, a presentation by Southwest Dairy Farmers, to the fair this year. He discovered the national touring classroom at an international fair convention in Indianapolis last fall, but said the price tag to bring them here was discouraging.
“But they wanted to come to Pennsylvania so bad, they picked the Lebanon fair … and got a sponsor for themselves to come here. It worked out perfect,” he says.
The classroom will offer demonstrations throughout the day all week long.
“You don’t think people would be entertained by milking cows, but this will be great, especially for the city kids,” Lape says. “They’ll learn that chocolate milk does not come from a brown cow.”
The annual car show, beginning on Saturday morning, July 22, raises money for the fair’s six $1,000 scholarships as well as providing funds for the Special Olympics. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s new demonstration team will perform at the fair at 6 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, July 27 and 29, on the track.
For the full schedule of entertainments this year, visit the fair’s website at lebanonareafair.com/events.
Lend a hand
Lape has been active with the Lebanon Area Fair since the late 1960s, when his father ran a dog show. He started showing chickens in the 1970s.
In 1998, he joined the fair board and immediately got involved with the entertainment committee, where he worked with Lorraine Royer to plan the music and midway activities. “I’m not sure anymore when Russ and I took over,” Lape muses.
Lape also chairs the poultry show. “I do a little of everything,” he says. “That’s how we all are – once you start helping out, you come up with an idea and it’s like, OK, take care of it.”
For more information on volunteering at the fair, visit their website and learn how you can help out by flipping burgers, answering phones, giving directions, setting up, taking out the trash and more. More details on the fair are available on their home page.
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