Monday, July 30, 2007

Music on the Library Steps

Monday nights in the summer mean “Music on the Steps” of the downtown library. Local bands play crowd-pleasing music to the small audience that gathers on the grass and walkways in front of the building. The concert is short—just an hour—but it gives me something to look forward to at the otherwise occasionally depressing start of the workweek. I always see a few familiar faces, and there is usually a toddler or two entertaining the crowd with funny dance moves. It really doesn’t matter who the group is, I just enjoy relaxing outside in my comfy lawn chair, and usually nodding off by the third song.

Last week’s performers were the Believers, a local bluegrass band (shown in the photo) that plays regularly at the Rec Center on William St. Tonight it was Jim Canty & Friends, a jazz combo playing oldies and very oldies to a crowd made up largely of oldies and very oldies. If, like tonight, there have been thunderstorms anytime during the day, or if there is a slight chance of rain, or if the distant rumble of thunder can be heard miles away despite the sky above the library being perfectly clear, the organizers will set up the show inside in the theater, which is always a disappointment for me, because I have to sit upright in my chair without dozing off. Next week, local guitarist Pete Fields will be playing. Check out the rest of the summer schedule here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Miss Fredericksburg Fair

The Miss Fredericksburg Fair pageant is the real reason my husband and I continue going to the fair year after year. And while this year’s exhibits may have been a letdown, we’ve decided that the pageant is better than ever. When we first started going years ago, it was to get a mocking chuckle out of the hokiness of it all, with the high school girls whose ambitions always included following two wildly divergent career paths simultaneously, one always geared toward selfless community service, and the other to insure celebrity. “I want to be a nurse and an actress” or “I want to be a special education teacher and a television spokesmodel.” It was all cheesy smiles and cliched answers to trite questions...typical pageant stuff. Don’t get me wrong—there’s still plenty of that. Just like always, the opening act and emcee is Bob Williams, a lounge singer in a loud suit and a long, gray ponytail who sings pop standards to taped music (but who seems like the sweetest of guys, really, and who I will miss if he ever retires). The girls still change clothes three times, to include at least one outfit that none of these girls would actually ever wear in public. And there is still the awkward walk up the runway in too-high heels and an overly sparkly prom dress.

But several years ago, just like in the big leagues, pageant organizers added a “personal platform” component, where the girls had to come up with issues they wanted to publicize. Most of the girls choose pretty tame stuff—advocating for research into a cure for whatever their grandmother/best friend/favorite teacher died of, saying no to drugs or drunk driving, anything involving children. But last night, one of the contestants talked about the genocide in Darfur. Yikes! And trust me, the demographic that the fair attracts is not your sensitive-to-global-atrocities type. So kudos to her. The average contestant was more likely to be in college or college-bound (or at least making a go of it at the community college), and some of the girls were fuller-figured. Well, of course we’re not ready for a fuller figured fair queen yet, and the winner was chosen more for her ability to walk well in heels and look good in photos than for a cutting edge platform, but clearly, the pageant is giving a nod to a future where contestants will be in it more for the scholarship money than the tiara, where they will be (reasonably) educated young women with interests beyond this little burg, and where not a single one will express the ambition to be a celebrity anything.

Next year, it may be time to broaden our horizons and check out the Tiny Miss, the Little Miss, the Pre-Teen Miss, and the Junior Miss Fredericksburg Fair pageants. Because you can never have too many pageants, can you?

Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair

Friday was opening night of the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair, and as has become a tradition for my husband and me, we went. The fair is one of those things that is a throwback to Fredericksburg’s more rural roots, and when we first moved here, its appeal was that it was completely different from anything we had grown up with up north. Admittedly, with fewer farms in the Fredericksburg area each year, the agricultural aspect of the fair is definitely on the wane. Most years, there have been three large buildings for the animals, one filled with chickens and rabbits, one devoted to sheep and goats, and one that has a petting area with a variety of young farm animals. Then of course there is the cow barn, where all the 4-H’ers display the cows they raised from birth. Another big building is filled with domestic arts like knitting and sewing and crafts, plus homegrown veggies and preserves. Then a commercial building filled with booths hawking things like replacement windows and hot tubs. Top this off with a midway filled with carny characters running sketchy looking amusement park rides. And on top of THAT, the highlight of a trip to the fair for us, the Miss Fredericksburg Fair pageant.

Now, this year’s fair was missing some of the key ingredients that used to make this such a satisfying trip. The handicrafts were lame or non-existent, there was a meager showing of home-grown produce, the commercial building was half empty, and we couldn’t care less about the midway. But much worse, all of the poultry, the dozens of chickens and roosters from the mundane to the flamboyant, were missing. Don’t ask me what the attraction of this had always been for us. The place was exceedingly smelly, and we’re talking about rows and rows of animals in very small cages not unlike a low-budget roadside zoo. Nonetheless, the exhibit was always more appealing than appalling. But the head of such things for the state of Virginia put a moratorium on displaying live poultry this month (this sounds vaguely ominous, no?). As for the rabbits, what used to be dozens of animals on display was now down to a handful (still cute as can be). And NO sheep or goats. I have no idea why not. Are country folk just not raising sheep and goats anymore? Or are they just not trucking them to the Fair for display? Or was it just opening night of the fair, so they hadn’t gotten there yet? That’s my hope, but if anyone knows what’s up with that, I’d love to know. We did enjoy the cows (well, I enjoy them from a reasonable distance, and my husband strokes them lovingly on the head, leading me to believe that he probably would have loved 4-H as a kid if we had been raised in a place that had 4-H). And most importantly, the Miss Fredericksburg Fair pageant did not disappoint (more on that later).

Here are a few photos so you can get the flavor of the fair:

I have an increasing aversion to amusement park rides, and will only go on a merry-go-round if I can sit on the immovable swan bench. Note the "Funnel Cake Factory" in the background, including fried oreos.

Needless to say, I don't do anything that could in any way be described as "extreme."

Here is some award-winning produce, including the first and second prize "beet pickle" (which were also the only two jars of beet pickle in the fair), and some mighty large pumpkins (the 8.5 x 11" sign on front of the table gives you an idea of the scale).

An antique tractor. There was a whole building of these...hmm, maybe the tractors displaced the sheep? Now that would be a tragedy.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

My Kind of Town

This blog is my homage to my adopted hometown. I was born in New York, went to college in Virginia, got married and settled in Fredericksburg almost 30 years ago. Except for the first few years, when a swinging twenty-something needed more to do on a Friday night than listening to the country band at Shakey’s Pizza (though the Mojos were good), the place has had an undeniable appeal. It’s the small-towniness that I love. Yes, I know that with a population of 20,000, and a total population of over a quarter million in the Greater Fredericksburg Metropolitan Area (Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties), it’s not really a small town. But from the vantage point of someone who grew up in a relatively urban environment (or at least aggressively suburban), it still retains a lot of small town charm.

Now the locals will complain that the area is being overdeveloped (absolutely true), that the traffic congestion is miserable (it is), there’s a Wawa on every corner (but that’s America, isn’t it?), and we’re well on our way to becoming just another indistinguishable D.C. suburb, filled with big box stores and plastic menu restaurants. But on the other hand, you’re never more than a couple of months away from a cheesy, yet earnest, parade, there are outdoor concerts in the park all summer, people stroll around downtown and sit for hours at the local coffee shop like Europeans (though you’re on your own in the crosswalks, American-style), and if there are six degrees of separation between me and anyone else on the planet, there are only two degrees of separation between me and most Fredericksburgers.

So to start, I give you a photo of the Purina tower, an iconic image of Fredericksburg. It was built in 1919 as a grain elevator (a term I first heard from my college roommate from Delphos, Ohio, but to this day still don’t fully understand), but I have no idea what it’s being used for now, other than not grain. Not all of my photos will be goofily photoshopped like this one, but it’s such an over-photographed building that I couldn’t resist.