Tucked in a corner of the N.C. State Fair, under some trees and away from the hawkers and whizzing rides, there are stage shows for kids that help make the fair more than just any old carnival.
Every hour on the hour while the sun is up, a new show begins, and with each one come the squeals and laughs from children (and bigger folks, too) who watch the live entertainment in delight and awe.
These arent the big-name acts that bring people in. This is what a grandmother, after watching her granddaughter in a fit of giggles up on a small stage, said is a part of the fair that made her feel absolutely grateful.
Its tremendous, said Gunda Taylor of Youngsville. Its really great the fair has something like this here for the kids.
In one act, a man plays spoons.
In another, Hubba Bubba the clown pulls tricks, spins plates and, yes, juggles a cat. (Dont grab the phone its a plastic cat.)
The largest of the three shows is an agriculture-themed magic show that involves tricks with a live chicken and a rabbit and then ends with Brad Matchetts head stuffed into a huge blueberry-colored balloon. Thats after he points a leaf blower at his face. While its on.
Moms, dads and grandparents shake their heads and cant help but smile. The kids cant get enough.
They just have to see me and the pig races, Matchett said during a break between shows Sunday. Thats my goal: Me and pig races.
This is his eighth year at the fair and, for some, his Agricadabra show has become as much a part of the fair as, well, fill in your own tradition here. On Friday, a number of families who recalled his regular show schedule from years past showed up promptly at 1 p.m. to see him go on. But his show times are changed this year and they had to return later.
One of the great things about how this is set up is that its right next to the kid rides and next to the Education Building, Matchett said. This little corner is more than you get in most county fairs.
A new schedule is not the only wrinkle for this years Kiddieland entertainment shows that hard to believe have only been in place for the past decade.
The newest act is Jim Krzewski, known as Jim Cruise on stage or, to most, just The Spoon Man.
He has played his kitchen spoons for Russian leaders, Mister Rogers, a range of corporate executives and, this year for the first time, North Carolinians.
Krzewski, who is from Michigan, travels the country and cant believe how lucky he is to make a living by banging spoons against his leg.
He said its rare for a fair to offer the level of entertainment for families and children as the N.C. State Fair does. All the shows are free. The state Department of Agriculture spends about $25,000 to bring in the performances for the fairs 11-day run. The fair packs up on Sunday night.
Last year, a magical poodle show was in the mix, but its in South Carolina this year, opening the door for Krzewskis appearance.
All of this is what I call unplugged entertainment. Good, clean, fun.
If you are lucky, and the wind is light, hell play the spoons while they are on fire. Otherwise, its a mix between oldies and some heavy metal with a sprinkling of spooning that requires audience participation, even from a dad or two.
Hubba Bubba the clown is really Kevie Penny, who lives in Raleigh. His shows involve a range of gags and tricks that elicit constant screams from the kids down front.
Penny also travels the nations fair circuit. The October date in his hometown is a welcome one, he said, especially because of its little corner away from all the buzz.
What we do over here is try to have a little fun for a little while, he said. And you know what? We do have fun. A lot of fun.
Curliss: (919) 829-4840