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Riding in (Hamburg) style: Fair documentary debuts

The stars of the new Erie County Fair documentary arrived in style at the Palace Theatre on May 30, for the premier of a new show about the local landmark.

HAMBURG — The Erie County Fair documentary debuted at the Hamburg Palace on May 30, at 6:30 p.m. before airing on WNED Monday at 8 p.m.. The film followed local artisans, fair enthusiasts and skilled agriculturists, showing what has gone into preparing for the fair for the last 175 years.

Upon entering the screening, attendees were asked to donate canned goods to the Food Bank of Western New York. Jessica Underberg, agricultural manager at the Erie County Fair, did a voice-over for parts of the film.

“It wasn’t like I narrated anything,” Underberg said. “I just sat and talked about my experiences, sat and talked about the fair. I could talk about it for days and days. So it really wasn’t like a project for me. It was just talking about something I love.” Underberg said it’s a dream come true for her to work at the fair now because she grew up showing livestock there.

“I think it brings everything full-circle for me, having kids that show and seeing these younger kids and families grow up,” Underberg said. “When you see so much negative stuff in the world, and you see kids like these working with animals, it just brings everything back.”

A young livestock shower featured in the documentary, Allison Gowanlock from Marilla, rode to the premier on a large red tractor driven by Charles Richmond. Sitting on the other side of Richmond was Barb Brader, the first person to win the award for ultimate fair-goer in 2005.

“It was an experience,” Gowanlock said. “I was the center of attention and I like that.” Gowanlock was followed by cameras while she trained her pig for the fair, last year.

“When I do well, or anytime when I come out of the ring, my family is always there congratulating me, and most of the time, I have a lot of friends there watching me. It’s like my own posse.”

Gowanlock said that, while being on a tractor was nothing new for her by any means, going down Main Street on one was an experience she will never forget.

“When we first drove off, it was kind of jerky, so I had to hold on tight, but driving through town, and all the cars were waving at us, so that was fun.”

Brader said the ultimate fair-goer award goes to a person who really loves the fair. “You’re recognized so everyone knows you love it,” Brader said. “And I had the honor of being the first one. I think it’s the greatest fair in the world, and I mean that.”

Aubrey Gearhardt, whose family shows livestock and participates in 4-H, said it was exciting to see herself on the big screen with her animals.

“It feels kind of good that people know now kind of how it’s like to do all that,” Gearhardt said.

Lou Schriver, who has been performing in his Ramblin Lou Family Band at the fair for 50 years made an appearance at the premier and said he would be at the fair for 10 days again this August, “like always.

“Western New York is a very big fair community,” Underberg said. “We like to get out and see and do things.”

David Rotterman, vice president of WNED, said the station had been looking to do a documentary about the fair for a while, so when it was proposed to them, they loved the idea, and began production right away. The documentary was produced by Christy May.

“I think we get a blue ribbon for this one,” May said. Underberg said the fair is more than entertainment, it’s educational. She said 4-H and the fair is a tool for learning life lessons. “We’re not in the business of raising good pigs,” Underberg said. “We’re in the business of raising good kids.”
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