As NYS Fair kicks off, Hennessey takes over on permanent basis
The New York State Fair begins this week and runs through September 4th in Syracuse, with competitions, concerts and, of course, everything from locally grown produce to deep-fried snacks. And it comes just after Sean Hennessey was named by Governor Kathy Hochul as the full-time fair director, after he served in the role on an interim basis in 2022. For a preview of this year’s fair, Hennessey spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus.
Every fair is a little bit different. What are the key highlights this year as you see it?
Oh, boy, a lot of new at the State Fair this year. We have 48 national touring acts on two stages. Ludicrous, Slick Rick, Laney Wilson, Salt-N-Pepa. I can go on and on and on. But there's that, there's just a showcase of amazing talent that causes a number of different genres here that there will be at the state fair with us. It’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, so we're tying that in with our new sand sculpture that will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Taste New York, a great program run through our agency, which is Ag and Markets. We're also celebrating as I mentioned, the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and the 150th anniversary of the Grange, which is a great organization that's dedicated to promoting agriculture, and has been for some time across this amazing state. So, those are a couple of things. Peppa Pig is going to be coming. There’s a Disney dance party. We have a new Asian village that has never been on the grounds before. That's going to be the first four days of the fair. Micron's coming. We've got a dinosaur exhibit, which we've really never had before at the state fair and that'll inhabit the expo building for all 13 days of the fair. So, there is that and much, much more new things are at the state fair. And we're just happy that folks are going to turn out. The weather, I'm knocking on my head now; knock on wood. The weather gods seem to be on our side. So, lots of new.
How many visitors are you expecting this year? I should note that last year it was about 900,000.
Yeah, we're really focused on quality, not quantity. It's really important. Governor Hochul has given us an edict to say, 'Hey, listen, make this the best experience that you can have for families. Make it economical.' And so, that's really our focus. If the weather is on our side, our hope is to maximize the facility as much as we humanly can, and if we can go over that 900,000 mark, that would make me ecstatic.
Now, people come from all over New York state to go to the fairgrounds. If people are planning a trip from a few hours away, what should they know?
Well, it is a wonderful place to visit and there's just so much free to do here on the grounds. I'd mentioned the various exhibits that we have. The food is fantastic. One thing that people really focus on, and we've seen this in our surveys that we do, when they come to the fair, the one thing they want to visit right off is agriculture, and we've got a number of returning pieces of agriculture here. We have six new horror shows, reining and barrel and those types of shows are going to be back. We have a new 0–3-month-old goat competition that we’ll have here in our new brand newly constructed goat pavilion. So, there's items like that, plus the food, plus the entertainment, plus one of the best midways you'll find in North America is located right here on the grounds.
A lot of farms were affected by the severe rain and flooding in July. Is there anything planned to highlight the experience of those local farmers, especially in places like Orange County?
Yeah, it's really been a struggle this year for our agricultural families that are tied in with the state in terms of weather. We really like to make sure that our families are here. they stay on the ground. So, folks coming on to the fairgrounds and will engage with them one on one and talk about the experience of being a modern-day farmer and dealing with these natural disasters like we've seen across the state and across the country. So, the one thing I would say to folks as they enter the fairgrounds, they want to hear from a real farmer, what it's like to be working on a farm day after day. Take the time, go to our exhibit building, talk to our friends and in dairy and find out what it is, as I said, what it's like to be a farmer. It's a very difficult industry and we're very blessed to have a robust agricultural experience here across the states and for the 13 days of the fair.
So, just one more thing. I mentioned in the introduction that you were just named to be the fair director full-time. What's your vision for the future of the New York State Fair?
Well, you know, we're taking it day by day here. I just first off want to thank the governor. I want to thank all of our employees here at the fair. They embraced me as I came in the door, and they made this experience as positive and experience as it possibly can. It's just a lovely place to work and there are wonderful people here that work diligently, not just in the planning, but on the 365 days that this is an event center. So, I'm blessed there. My focus going forward is really to get our house in order and make sure that the state fair is a stable organization moving into the future, in terms of fiscal and finance. And leaving a legacy, making sure that these facilities are here, not just for the next 10, 20 and 30 years, but the next 100 or 200 years. So, that's my focus. Stabilizing the portfolio of buildings that we have across the ground, and making sure that the non-fair and fair events are things that give folks great memories as they're coming to the fair. And as you're leaving the fair, I want to give you a positive experience for everyone.