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It's Fair to Say Corn Dogs This County Still

July 29, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. T. Jefferson Parker's column resumes in this spot next week.

I recently found myself with my class of '73 Corona del Mar High School yearbook in one hand and, in the other, a faxed list of names such as Ali Farka Toure, Black Umfolosi and the Klezmatics.

I was facing a bit of a quandary, since whoever decides such things had booked my 20-year high school reunion smack in the middle of the Labor Day weekend, when the Bumbershoot Festival, Seattle's elevated idea of a county fair, also takes place.

Most of my old school friends and I had blown off going to our 10-year reunion because it had been scheduled for some dude-ranchy locale where the requisite attire, they declared, was to be "formal cowboy and cowgirl." That's just the sort of puke my friends and I hated in school, and we decided the only way we'd even consider attending was with tomahawks and war paint.

We didn't go. So now, with 20 years under the belt, I'd like to see how my old classmates ended up. And, of course, I'd like to see how they respond to me being a rock writer for a major newspaper, though I imagine it would be something like: "Ha ha, wanna move up to a job washing my Ferrari?"

The faxed sheet of paper I've been weighing against this choice experience lists the performers for the Bumbershoot Festival this year, where, in the shadow of the Space Needle, African tribal blues guitarist Farka Toure is being joined by such names as the Kinks, Ray Charles, Mudhoney, Dwight Yoakam, Los Lobos, Cab Calloway, UB40 and Chet Atkins.

Considering that for about twice the cost of attending my reunion I can catch a plane to Seattle, I suspect the Class of '73 will somehow be making do without me again. Of course, this quandary wouldn't even exist for me if our own county fair--which just concluded its latest annual stint--was trying a little harder.

Don't get me wrong, I like our fair, especially the goats. And I like the way the fair has a different cute mascot every year, with a matching slogan.

Past years have seen sheep, cows, bees, chickens and other swell animals honored. The mascot this year, as best I can figure, was corn .

"Dad, can we pet the mascot?"

"Sure kids, here's your butter."

I'm mighty proud that Orange County, of all the fine fairs across the country, is the only one with a mascot that gets stuck between your teeth. In fairness to the other vegetables, I guess I should mention that it isn't just corn that was celebrated this year, but the entirety of the vegetable kingdom. Which may explain why this year's big-name entertainment featured Christopher Cross, Air Supply and the Marshall Tucker Band.

Beginning with last year's fair, the entertainment roster has been getting less embarrassing, with substantial performers such as Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers, the Texas Tornadoes and Gladys Knight appearing. Before that, the lineups were almost wholly devoted to musical corn dogs such as Cross, Donny Osmond, et al.

Even with this year's relatively spiffy lineup, one concert industry insider told me that only perhaps four of the acts were a "hard ticket," meaning an act that people would be willing to pay to see.

Meanwhile, with a ticket price and entertainment budget not far from the O.C. Fair's, Seattle's Bumbershoot has presented Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, the Neville Brothers, Randy Newman, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, the Spin Doctors, Soundgarden, Al Green, Richard Thompson, Chris Isaak, Nanci Griffith, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Arturo Sandoval, King Sunny Ade, Branford Marsalis, Crowded House, poet Allen Ginsberg, humorist Stan Freberg and hosts of other worthies.

International acts featured there run from Japanese Kabuki theater to Caribbean dance hall music, while its coverage of the area's local music has ranged from the Seattle Symphony to local grunge heroes to Native American performers.

It also hosts drama and poetry readings, a book fair and gallery-grade art exhibits.

On the down-side, Bumbershoot doesn't have any goats.

The food at Bumbershoot is likewise excellent and diverse. There are health-food burritos, fresh wild berry tarts and the blackened salmon burger, the very pinnacle of human achievement, with onions.

Now, one of my favorite attractions at the O.C. Fair is the blood-sugar roller-coaster precipitated by sticky cinnamon buns, but otherwise I have yet to find anything at our deep-fried fest that I would dignify with the word food.

This may sound like a bunch of negative grousing, mostly because it is. But it also is a matter of being earnestly honked off that our fair, which has a lot of fine things to commend it--especially in the areas of critters and crafts--does such a sloppy job in other areas. There's a whole lot of good in Orange County that isn't being celebrated at the fair, and remedies wouldn't be that hard to effect.

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