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Coronavirus Impact: 2020 Allentown Fair, Das Awkscht Fescht join canceled events

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has wiped out yet another 2020 entertainment staple: funnel cakes and all that goes with it at the granddaddy of events in the Lehigh Valley, The Great Allentown Fair, Sept. 1-7.

It’s only the third time that the Fair has been canceled in its 169-year history.

The last time the Fair was canceled was in 1917 and 1918 when the 48-acre Allentown Fairgrounds became a staging area and training camp, known as Camp Crane, for the United States Army Ambulance Service during World War I.

Beverly Gruber, president of the nonprofit Lehigh County Agricultural Society that owns and operates the Great Allentown Fair and its base of operations, the Allentown Fairgrounds, bounded by Liberty, Chew and 17th streets in Allentown’s West End Theatre District, announced in an 8:30 a.m. July 8 press release that the 2020 edition of The Great Allentown Fair, Sept. 1-7, is canceled.

Gruber said the decision to cancel the Fair was the unanimous decision of the Lehigh County Agricultural Society executive committee.

This year’s Grandstand concert headliners are postponed until next year. Toby Keith, with opening acts Matt Stell and Laine Hardy, is rescheduled to Sept. 2, 2021, and Carrie Underwood, is rescheduled to Sept. 3, 2021.

Tickets purchased for the Grandstand concerts will be honored in 2021. Online ticket buyers will be notified concerning their tickets. An announcement about the reopening of the Fair’s box office is expected soon, according to Fair officials.

The other 2020 Fair headliner, 5 Seconds of Summer, canceled its concert.

Gruber said the Agricultural Society committee had proceeded cautiously with Fair planning since March, but it became apparent that staging the seven-day event ending on Labor Day “as it is meant to be, with thousands of people enjoying its exciting atmosphere, is no longer feasible.

“We feel it’s best to work toward a celebratory 2021 Fair that we will strive to make better than ever,” said Gruber.

“We took into account all aspects that go into producing a safe premier event and ultimately the health and welfare of the thousands of local, out-of-town and out-of-state fairgoers, exhibitors, vendors and entertainers was paramount in our decision,” Gruber said.

The Fair, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest and largest events, started in 1852 as a community celebration of agricultural achievements with entertainment and amusements of the day added. It evolved into a nationally-renowned exposition, with a crowded midway of rides and games, long avenues of eateries, thousands of farm, garden and home exhibits judged and on display and a variety of entertainment venues including its 10,500-seat Grandstand featuring the biggest acts,

According to Fair officials, in 1916 and 1941, the Allentown Fair did not allow children under the ages of 16 to enter the grounds during the Fair to protect them from the Polio epidemic.

The 2021 Great Allentown Fair is scheduled for Aug. 31 - Sept. 6.

The COVID-19 pandemic also provided the knockout punch to cancel that trifecta of tourism in the Lehigh Valley the first weekend in August: the 57th annual Das Awkscht Fescht, July 31 - Aug. 2, Macungie Memorial Park; 44rd annual DCI East Drum & Bugle Corps Championship, July 31 - Aug. 2, J. Birney Crum Stadium, Allentown, and 37th annual Musikfest, July 31 - Aug. 9, Bethlehem.

An announcement on the Das Awkscht Fescht website stated:

“It’s with heavy hearts that we make the announcement that this year’s Fescht has been cancelled.

“It’s only after careful consideration and much debate that we have concluded that this decision is the best way to go, in the interest of safety and well-being of our many visitors, participants, vendors and volunteers that make the Fescht possible.

“This cancellation includes the Indoor Toy Show and Outdoor Toy Town.

“We’re disappointed as well, but rest assured, we will see you in 2021.”

The featured automobile marque for the 2020 Das Awkscht Fescht was to have been Cadillac and LaSalle.

Officials of ArtsQuest, which presents the 10-day music and food extravaganza that attracts an estimated 1 million to the south side, downtown and historic industrial area of Bethlehem, announced that the Wind Creek Steel Stage concert headliners were postponed with one exception, which was a cancellation.

Musikfest joins other Lehigh Valley and national events to go virtual.

According to a June 10 press conference, more than 80 performers and 30 partners will join with ArtsQuest “to keep the music alive and free for the community during Musikfest 2020.”

“Virtual Musikfest” will stream 40 concerts live on Musikfest.org. Also, 40 concerts will be broadcast live from Service Electric TV studios.

Food and beverage stands will be set up during Musikfest at SteelStacks with a minimum of 10 Musikfest food vendors.

The Great Allentown Fair joins the parade of pandemic postponements and cancellations in the Lehigh Valley region that includes the 71st annual Kutztown Folk Festival; Levitt Pavilion concerts at SteelStacks, Tunes at Twilight, Godfrey Daniels concerts, 17th annual SouthSide Film Festival; 113th Bethlehem Bach Festival, and Pennsylvania Playhouse season, all Bethlehem; Civic Theatre of Allentown season and film programs, Pride Fest, Blues Brews & Barbecue Festival, Mayfair, Baum School of Art in-person auction, Miller Symphony Hall concerts, 40th Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, all Allentown; Northampton Community College Summer Theatre; 29th Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival; 18th Freddy Awards, and Bucks County Playhouse summer theater season.

Paul Willistein is editor of the Focus features section in the eight Lehigh Valley Press newspapers and on the eight Press websites. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@tnonline.com; friend Paul Willistein on facebook and follow Paul Willistein on Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram.

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEINA view of the 2019 Great Allentown Fair, looking north toward Liberty Street.