Second annual Winter Fair features variety of cultural vendors and entertainers

NYS Winter Fair features variety of vendors, entertainment

With more than 100 vendors and an array of entertainment and activities, the New York State Winter Fair is back.
Published: February 10, 2020
Hilby the juggler at Winter Fair 2020 at NY State Fairgrounds
A crowd gathers to watch Michael Hilby perform during the fair.

The second annual New York State Winter Fair brought more than 100 vendors to the New York State Fairgrounds this weekend, featuring a variety of food, music, entertainment, ice sculptures and at least 16 carnival rides.

Last year, the fair served more than 25,000 attendees, and this year, organizers added a 20-minute firework show on Friday and Saturday sponsored by Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon.

Saturday’s entertainment included the Six Nations Native American Dancers, who are a part of the Six Nations Agricultural Society, which oversees the Six Nations in Central New York called Haudenosaunee, “People of the Longhouse,” most commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy. They had their own booth which sold different accessories and baskets handmade by women in the society.

Jordan Smith, who sang and MC’ed during the performance said he had been dancing in the fair’s Indian Village since he was a kid and passed the tradition down to his children. He said that they came to the fair not only display their crafts, but also to inform people about Native American culture.

“We’re here to educate. It is part of our natural forms of wealth, educational performance,” he said. “You’re not only are you watching people dance to all this old music, but we’re going to explain to you what the significance is of that.”

He added that the performance on Saturday is unlike how television portrays Native American dances.

“People think of Native Americans and we think of a lot of war bonnet and riding horses, and living in teepees,” he said. “But here in New York state we’re a little different than that. We live in longhouses and all of our families would live together in one household. We would all have a specific job and a duty to make sure that the house is taken care of respectfully.”

On Friday, Menage A Soul, The Barndogs featuring Miss E and the nine-piece funk, pop and R&B band Atlas performed on the main stage. Saturday featured Just Joe, Brownskin Band with Joe Driscoll and Hard Promises. Lastly, Country Swagg and the band Undefeated performed on Sunday, as well as a Gospel Sunday program presented by the NAACP.

Michael Hilby, “Hilby,” who performed on Saturday and Sunday, is ‘the summer state fair’s most popular performer,’ according to the state fair website. He juggled, performed unicycle tricks and walked around on stilts for a majority of the day, all the while teasing attendants.

Hilby, a former social worker from Germany, said he has performed at the fair for more than 20 years and calls it his “home turf.” His favorite part of his job, he said, is the people.

“It’s one of those jobs where if I choose, this job can be different every time. It’s not like other jobs where you know how it starts and how it ends,” he said.

Winter Fair 2020 at NY State Fairgrounds
Six Nations Native American dancers, led by Jordan Smith, perform during the NYS winter fair.

The Winter Fair also included numerous fundraisers, including Winter Hoops which fundraised Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse, an after-school program that offers kids a safe environment to go to everyday. People paid five dollars for five shots, and if they made three, they got a prize.

Tracy DiGenova, director of marketing and fund development, said she encourages people to participate because it is important to help one’s community and contribute to a worthy cause.

“Taking care of the kids is very important to us. Being there they know they have a safe place to go,” she said.

Their goal was to raise $5000, according to the fair’s website. Other fundraisers included Music for the Mission, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless in Central New York, and the NAACP Coat Check.

Corey Kinsella, a Trump impersonator since 2016 who attended last year’s state fair, helped advertise merchandise at the Donald Trump booth.

While many people have been giving him high-fives or taking pictures with him, he said people should have the freedom to purchase from the Trump booth without any guilt.

“Represent what you want to represent. Don’t feel any shame. I understand if you hate the guy, and I understand if you buy something,” he said.

The fair featured numerous food vendors such as Pickleman’s, whose Sweet Horseradish Chip Pickles have been named one of the top three in the state and whose clients include the Governor of New York State, according to the booth’s vendor Bob, who declined to disclose his last name.

“People come to us and they say, ‘you’ve spoiled us, we don’t want to eat anyone else’s pickles,’” he said.

Hugo Acosta, publisher of CNY Latino, the first Hispanic-oriented newspaper in Central New York, attended the winter fair to advertise the publication on its 16th anniversary. CNY Latino has been a state fair participant for the past 12 years in the fall as a part of the Latino Village, which debuted at the Winter Fair this year. He described the newspaper as “the most direct way to connect with Latinos in New York.”

“The Latino population is growing and growing. We are also not only trying to represent the culture, but also trying to change the image,” he said, adding that sometimes the people in his community are perceived negatively like criminals, which isn’t true.

“We’re trying to change that,” he said.

Beth Mac, a Watertown resident, said her favorite part of the day was the Native American dancer and she was impressed by the variety of cultural food at the fair.

“It’s important to expose people to different cultures and find something different,” she said. “It might also be something that you’re familiar within your family’s history.”