Stories from backstage at The Bloomsburg Fair
BLOOMSBURG - To the audience, the big-name musical acts that grace the stage at the Bloomsburg Fair each year are suddenly there, under the bright lights. When the concert is over, they're gone, in a flash, into the darkness of "backstage."
But it's not as quick and simple as it looks. In fact, that backstage area is a mini-village of sheds, RVs, tents and campers, all designed to help put the shows together and bring the comforts of home to the entertainers.
William Barratt, Bloomsburg Fair's superintendent of police and parking, gave The News-Item a tour of the area Tuesday and introduced some of the people who help make the shows happen.
Inside a shed near the grandstand stage is the office of Production Manager John Barratt, William's brother, and Stage Manager Kelly Saxton. The double-wide shed not only doubles as their office, but serves as base of operations for tour managers.
"During the afternoon, there's not much going on, but it's a flurry of activity come showtime," John Barratt said.
John is also in charge of transporting the artists, getting them from the hotel to the stage and everywhere in between.
"Wherever they need to go, we can get them there," Barratt said. "We have the connections that if they want to relax by golfing or get somewhere on time, we can do it."
Saxton spends her days making sure everything is in place for the show and that everything called for in the entertainers' contracts is present.
"We haven't had any really strange requests, such as a bowl of M&Ms with one color removed," she said. But even simple things like water require some planning.
"Switching water (brands) can create stomach problems. Singers want warm water for their throat, things like that," Saxton said.
There were some oddities this year, however.
"One group wanted two black SUVs that could fit six to eight passengers each at the ready, while another one wanted two brown leather recliners backstage. We do our best to accommodate them," she said.
Saxton and the Barratts said some artists are quirky, others downright rude. They told some stories on the condition the artist's names be omitted.
"There was one artist who got hit with a button on stage and stormed off, canceling the rest of the show. They got heated with us backstage, wanting us to find the person that threw it - in a crowd of thousands. There was no way that was happening," William Barratt said. "The next day, I see our crew washing a car with black rags. I asked them where they got the black rags and they showed me - it was the T-shirts that the artist's manager gave them," he said.
"One of my favorite stories was about a very famous performer who came to Bloomsburg and was as gracious as can be," John Barratt said. "We are driving away and the person informs me that they have to go to the bathroom. So we pull into this convenience store and when he walks in, all jaws just drop."
When the performer left, I see people running to the bathroom and coming out with the toilet seat. I asked him what was so important about the seat, and the person laughed when they told me that they autographed it."
'Live TV show'
During the off-times in the grandstand infield, Don Barley, a director for RCTV Productions in Lititz, edits a special video package that will be played for the crew following the Bloomsburg Fair.
During each grandstand show, Barley and a crew of five videographers record the stage action which is immediately shown on big screens to either side of the stage so all attendees can see.
"We basically are shooting a live TV show every night here," Barley said. "Through the control room, I put together the images that the fans will see. We have cameras on the stage, behind the scenes and in the stands, completely covering the show."
It's a job that Barley and RCTV has had for the past 21 years, and William Barratt said the fair is very happy with them.
"They are some of the best in the business, and anyone who has come to a show here knows their work is top-notch."
The shows are also visually and audibly appealing thanks to the work of Illusion Sound and the lighting company that works to put the shows together on the fair's new stage, complete with a security barrier that protects artists and equipment.
"We go all around the country, but love coming here to Bloomsburg," said sound engineer Bruce Pendleton, of Sturgis, Mich. "They have always treated us kindly."
"Everyone from the crews to the artists love coming here," Barratt said. "If someone wants to go fishing, golfing, we even had one guy that wanted to hunt boar, and we were able to accommodate them. Bloomsburg really bends over backwards for their guests."
In the midst of the campers used as dressing rooms and motorcoaches that transport artists and truckloads of equipment sits a tent filled with tables, chairs and a fully equipped kitchen. Bloomsburg is one of the few fairs that offers catering to artists and their crews.
Denise Banyes, of the Aramark corporation, is in charge of preparing the menu each day.
"Today's supper will be London broil with mashed potatoes, two vegetables, Caesar salad, homemade cherry pie and Boston Cream pie," she said Tuesday. "For those that don't want to eat that heavy, we also have a pasta dish available with spinach in a cream sauce."
Much like the stage managers, some artists have special dietary requests as well.
"We are seeing more and more artists who are either vegetarian or vegan, so we have to accommodate that, and we get a number of requests for gluten-free items. The days of musicians not caring about their health is starting to go away, so we work with that to make them happy," she said.
Barratt, who works with fairs all across the country, said catering and a full dining area are rare.
"There are a number of fairs that will just pick something up off the fairgrounds for the acts to eat," he said. "We love going the extra mile for those who perform here, and the artists appreciate it and want to come back again and again."