Scaled-back Fair St. Louis gets mixed reviews

Monday, July 3, 2006

Festival draws thousands even with drop in attendance.

ST. LOUIS -- Bernice Deardueff thought something was missing this weekend from Fair St. Louis, the riverfront Fourth of July festival where her family traditionally gathers.

"There's hardly anybody here," the 78-year-old Ferguson resident said.

Indeed, crowds were sparse at the Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on Saturday, the first day of a scaled-back, two-day Fair St. Louis.

Day Two is Tuesday -- Independence Day itself -- when the fair wraps up with fireworks and a performance by Hootie and the Blowfish. No events were taking place Sunday and today.

The change left Deardueff wondering if she'll want to return next Fourth of July to the event that drew massive throngs in previous years.

Others welcomed the small crowds.

"This is the most comfortable it's ever been," said Janice Bausley of St. Louis.

This year's 25th annual Fair St. Louis is without the air shows seen in years past and instead of having a three-day festival, Fair St. Louis merged with the LIVE on the Levee concert series to stretch the celebration beyond Independence Day weekend and give 10 weekend nights of free music and entertainment that goes into mid-August.

"We're hoping it will serve the community even better," said Arnold Donald, the fair's chairman.

Donald said the fair that was once recognized as one of the nation's largest Fourth of July parties remains vibrant. He understands some fairgoers miss certain events like the air show, which was becoming too expensive for the not-for-profit event to put on.

Thousands travel from across the region to attend the fair, people like Deborah Yemm, who drove 90 miles from her farm near Fredericktown in Southeast Missouri. She said she was very disappointed that the air show had been cut.

Ralph Strong of Union City, Tenn., has been coming to the fair for 20 years but doesn't plan to return in the future.

"There's nothing to do down here but stuff to eat," Strong said. "There's virtually no entertainment."

But other traditions stayed intact. The 129th Veiled Prophet Parade on Saturday had floats, inflatable balloons and marching bands that paraded through downtown St. Louis.

Parade spokesman Tom Cooke estimated about 100,000 had come to watch the procession, but he saw more than twice as many last year, he said.

"Clearly, I think there were less people because there wasn't as much at the fair this year," Cooke said. "The people we had today were the hard-core parade-goers."

Free concerts continue along the bank of the Mississippi River with performances by Cheap Trick, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Big Head Todd and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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