With more than 3,500 county and state fair concerts under his belt, there's one thing that's certain. Leroy Van Dyke knows fairs.
Ask him about it and the country-Western stalwart will give you an annotated history of fairs, from their origins (a way of creating better crops and agricultural education, by inciting competition among farmers) all the way to the spectacles they are today ("You see, for a lot of places they are the biggest thing to happen all year. So, it needs to be good.")
"The Auctioneer" singer peppers his colorful history with tales of memorable fairground concerts, most of them involving inclement weather.
There's the hottest concert Van Dyke has ever had ("114 degrees. That was in Kansas.") Then there's the time in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he performed through a violent storm that left several inches of hail on the ground.
That being said, after 57 years of touring, he still considers the Florida State Fair a highlight (though he's never run into memorable weather here).
"Florida has such a great mixture of people," Van Dyke said. "You have people from all over the U.S. who have moved or vacation in Florida, so every time I get down there it's like a get-together, a family reunion."
Van Dyke is bringing his Country Gold revue to the 109th annual Florida State Fair. The show, which Van Dyke performs in and MCs, will include other country hit-makers such as Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, T. Graham Brown and Steve and Rudy Gatlin.
"Every night is a different show, a different audience. That's what gets your adrenaline pumping, gets you ready to put on a show."
The Feb. 13 show is smack dab in the middle of the State Fair celebration, which opens today and runs through Feb. 18.
The fair offers rides, shops in Expo Hall, agricultural exhibits, arts and crafts, live animals and many exhibits celebrating the 500th anniversary of the founding of Florida by explorer Juan Ponce de Leon (not the least of which is Discover Florida, a Broadway style musical that offers a Conquistador-to-Cracker history lesson with a side of jazz hands).
Details: The 109th Annual Florida State Fair "Discover the Fun," is Feb. 7-18 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301 N., Tampa. Gates open daily at 9 a.m. and closing time varies by the day of the week and weather conditions. Admission tickets: $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-11, children ages 5 and younger are admitted free. Ride armbands: $25. Parking is free. Information, call 813-621-7821 or toll-free 1-800-345-3247.