Zombies, luchadores and performing pigs: Andrew Novick on Denver County Fair fun
Whether he's performing in the Warlock Pinchers, using human blood to make art, or doing weird things with Peeps, Andrew Novick is always entertaining. That makes him a natural fit for the Denver County Fair's entertainment director. For his second year in that post, Novick is pulling out all the stops to make sure the fair is a nonstop barrage of fun, filling every nook and cranny of the site with bands, zombies, luchadores and performing pigs. There's so much stuff you could never see it all in one day, but Novick is quick to point out that this year, that's not an issue: Day passes are a thing of the past. "Forget picking a day, it's $10 for the whole weekend," he says. "Come and go as you please! It's to encourage people to come back and not have to pick between things."
Before the fair gets started Friday, August 9 at the National Western Complex, we caught up with Novick to talk about how he became the entertainment director, what to expect at this year's event, and just what the hell is the deal with his X-Treme Pancake and Breakfast Burrito breakfasts.
Westword: You're the fair's entertainment director, right?
Andrew Novick: Yeah, that's one of my titles. I have multiple titles. I'm one of the directors, and I'm also breakfast boss.
Do you have a title that's your favorite?
Probably breakfast boss.
It does sound pretty cool. Director sounds formal and stuffy, but breakfast boss ... that's just a sweet title.
Yeah, my wife doesn't like it. She's like, "Breakfast boss? What are you, in the mafia?" And I'm like, "Yeah, the breakfast mafia." I'm like a crime boss. I'm making sure everything's how it should be.
Breaking legs if they don't get the right pancake toppings?
Last year you were the entertainment director as well, right? Or you held multiple titles last year, too?
Yeah, I had multiple titles last year as well. But the first year, I originally came on board just in charge of the breakfast. When Dana [Cain] came up with the whole idea of the fair, she was like, "Hey, if we do this, if we pull this off, we want you to do the pancake breakfast." So that's how I got involved. For years I had done what I call a breakfast-B-Q, where I do a barbecue every summer and cook breakfast foods on a grill and people would bring crazy toppings. So that's how I became the pancake guy. I did that for like ten years. Once I started this breakfast, it became all public. People can come and get like eighty different toppings to choose from.
The first year, I had a lot of ideas, so I ended up managing the stadium arena, which is where Devo played. There were a bunch of bands and stuff there. After playing that limited role, the following year Dana was like, "We need you on board as a director." So I help with logistics and maps and stuff. It's a good check and balance. Between Dana and Tracy [Weil] and I, we're all totally different kinds of people with different ideas, so we're able to bounce things around.
What's your vision for the fair as entertainment director?
Last year, my proposed title was going to be fun police. [Laughs.] I was like, breakfast boss and fun police! I want to make it fun for anybody who comes -- to make sure there's something for everybody and something going on at all times. It's really not just entertainment per se, but making an experience for people who come..... We had a real tight budget this year -- last year I got a lot of fairly notable bands from Denver but a lot of bands played in our main stage area, which was a little bit off the beaten path. And I realized that people had just seen a lot of their favorite bands at the UMS like three weeks before. People came and they were so overwhelmed and excited by what they were seeing walking around they didn't really go outside the main area to go see bands. So I was like, "We can't have things outside the main area, and everyone has just seen their favorite bands."
So this year my approach was to have a bunch of awesome bands you've never heard of. I tried to find bands that hadn't played UMS and haven't played a lot, some young bands. It's still going to be entertaining, but what we found was that people didn't come to see bands. When they watched bands they enjoyed it, and while people are walking around it's great to have live music -- but it the bands weren't really the destination idea for the fair.
So you went a little deeper with the music this year to shake things up?
Yeah, I found some real young bands, kind of unknowns. There's a band in Lafayette I've seen, called the Foggy Basement Boys. I guarantee they've never played in Denver. It's a bunch of guys who go to all the festivals, bluegrass, Rocky Grass, they jam with all the big guys, but these are just fun guys who play their own stuff. I was like, "Hey, you guys should come. Get out of the basement and come play at the fair!" It's going to be super- cool and I guarantee that no one has ever seen them.
That gives it a little more appeal to people who are into the music scene, but it's not bands they saw at UMS or Westword Music Showcase or last weekend at the hi-dive. It's a chance for them to see something they don't see all the time.
Exactly. There's another band called the Threadbarons. I don't know a whole lot about them, but they approached us. They were like, "Hey, are you guys picking bands for the fair?" And I was like, "Yeah, what do you have?" They sent me some links and I thought the stuff was cool. It's kind of alt-country, alt-folk but it's some twenty-something-looking kids. I thought it was cool that this very young band approached us. I'd love to give that opportunity to somebody who knew about the fair and wanted to be involved.
Outside of music, what else can we expect?
One thing is robot opera. We had it last year, it was super-successful. It's a show that I saw at 3 Kings a while back. Two guys made a bunch of giant, really intense costumes and props out of cardboard painted and colored in. They did a whole opera with video and songs. There's like seven or eight people doing different things. Picture cardboard waves with people moving them in the foreground so it looks like they're underwater or whatever. It's really creative, very cool and we had it last year. It went over great. Since then they've done robot opera 2, called RoboperaZilla. This one takes place mostly underwater. There's crazy underwater creatures and stuff. These guys are super-creative. It's one of those things where they put in so much work in something just to do it once, and I'm like, "Don't destroy those costumes! You guys have to do this at the fair!" They're working on the third one now, so maybe next year we can complete the series.
The other idea for this year is that people come in and they're so overwhelmed. You saw the schedule -- it's overwhelming! People would come in and they'd just walk around and see whatever they saw, for however many hours. So we decided to have as many ongoing things as we can. That way you didn't miss it, right? A lot of things can be ongoing. Like the square dancing has been real popular. They do it for an hour and teach people how to square dance. They have really cool outfits and it's a bunch of older people having fun. This year they're going to be there the whole time. They're going to do lessons and have square dancing to Jimmy Buffet music, kind of pop-culture square dancing. It'll be ongoing. Last year we had the adult-sized big wheels at the food-truck rally and that was super-fun. So we're having that the whole time, inside. It's really cool. You can skid around on the smooth concrete floors and stuff. There'll be races.
As for kids' stuff, there's a magician, a balloon twister, lots of bouncy castles, bungee trampoline, the hamster balls -- everyone loves getting in the hamster balls.
I think the mayor got in last year. I tried to work with the Denver Film Society last year, but we just couldn't get anything together. This year we came up with videoke. They're going to do kind of a karaoke booth where you can sing along with your favorite movie soundtracks, but you'll actually be superimposed with the scene from the movie. So imagine getting to sing along with Tom Cruise, dancing around to the Bob Seger song from Risky Business. It's helping promote their Film on the Rocks, and Rocky Horror Picture Show, the idea that you're the star of the thing. So yeah, video karaoke.
What about people who are looking for more traditional "county fair" type entertainment? What will the fair offer to them?
Oh yeah, there's the Wienermobile! The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile will be there live. Also I think a lot of the competitions, it's kind of what harkens back to traditional county fairs. We have best pie, jam, jellies, fruits and vegetables, chickens, goats. All of those things are very county fair-ish, so you can go around and see all the entries. That would be a traditional county fair-type thing, except for some of our categories are -- we have quilts, but we also have Peeps dioramas. There's largest vegetable, but there's also vegetable that looks most like a celebrity. We're trying to one-up it, or modernize it, do our own kind of pop-culture mentality.
Bridging the gap between the traditional county fair and this new, urban pop-culture savvy fair you are all building?
Yeah, exactly. There's eating competitions: We have pie eating, hot dog eating, taco eating, hot chili eating. The other live competitions, like best beard and mustache, anyone can just walk up and be like, "Hey, I have a pretty decent beard." Best tattoo. Speed text messaging. Speed crocheting. Anything we could think of that was off the wall.
And it's free to enter those live competitions, right? You just walk up, sign up and compete?
Yeah, exactly. They're free to enter. Just walk up and see how you do.
It seems like you're designing the fair to be almost sensory overload. People walking around are going to be bombarded with stuff?
Yeah, that's the idea. Last year we did that but we had something different every hour on every different stage. So there was no possible way, people were like, "You scheduled too many cool things all at once!" This year it's a little bit more spread out, with the ongoing things you can do in between all the timed things. But yeah, definitely bombard people!
4H is taking a bigger role this year, too. They have their own pavilion, connected to the Kids Pavilion. They're doing different stuff every hour. 4H in Denver is kind of the same thing as the Denver County Fair. These kids don't live on farms, they're not doing farm stuff -- they're making robots and rockets and stuff. So it works really well for us to get Denver 4H involved.
Can you give us a heads up on one can't-miss event for each day of the fair?
I would say both evenings, Friday and Saturday, we have kind of a date-night type thing set up. Friday there's a jazz band and wine sampling. You can just sample a bunch of different wines, for free. That's kind of a destination thing, but it's wide-open. It's from 5 p.m to 8 p.m.
On Saturday it's Beers and Gears, so it's kind of bike-related. Saturday is our bike day, it's called Fun on Wheels. We're doing roller derby and custom bike-competitions for people to bring their bike and show it off, to see who has the coolest custom bike. There's microbrew beer sampling, and Foggy Basement Boys and a couple other bands playing right around the same time. Those date-night ideas are kind of wide-open, hang-out kind of things.
Friday night, a can't miss event is Corpses and Crowns, the zombie beauty pageant. It's run like an actual beauty pageant, with an evening gown competition, a talent competition and an interview competition. It's not just people stumbling around like zombies; they actually have to get creative and answer to these beauty pageant criteria. The judges are actual Colorado beauty queens, so that dynamic there is totally off the wall.
Sunday is Viva Denver day. Roughly a third of Denver is Latino, so we thought a third of the Denver County Fair should be kind of focused on the Latino community. That's how last year I started the breakfast burritos, because I'd done the pancakes the first year and I was like, "We're doing this Viva Denver thing," so that led to breakfast burritos. Then we have the Folklorico dancers, which was one thing we had last year that we're actually repeating because it's so awesome. They have these dresses and cool hats, and like twelve or fifteen dancers, and they're very proper and all wear white. It's just a very dramatic thing to watch. We were trying to think of other stuff, but we were like, "Man, we just gotta have that again" because we wanted to have more people see it. We're doing a taco-eating contest, and some lucha libre. We're not doing a lucha libre bout, but the luchadores will be walking around doing flash bouts and interacting with people, getting pictures taken with them and stuff. We have a Mexican ventriloquist. I'm fascinated with ventriloquism and I thought it would be totally cool to have a ventriloquist in Spanish. I've never seen it, and it was something I wanted to see, so we booked it for the fair. We're doing pinata-making, with demos on how pinatas are made, then people get to bust them open. Pinata-making demo and pinata-bashing party!
Somewhere below all that you'll find a pancake.
That's a win-win. Do you want to bring us up to speed on what you're doing for the X-Treme Pancake and Breakfast Burrito events?
Yeah, when I was very first going to do this, I went to a couple pancake breakfasts. I had to do my research! I went to several pancake breakfasts that year and I found that they were very lame and boring. You'd get your pancakes, they'd have some syrup, one of them had some nuts and bananas.... I was like, "Man, this is so boring, I'm going to have as many toppings as possible!" Last year we had over eighty toppings for pancakes. I think we had over sixty toppings for burritos. So basically you get your pancake or burrito and it's an endless buffet of toppings so you can create your own masterpiece, then eat it.
What kind of stuff are we talking about? How weird does it get?
For burritos I had just tons of different hot sauces, but also stuff like chicharrones, pork rinds, which give it a little bit of a crunch. Also Cheez-Its, which were really good on burritos. Every salsa you could think of, crazy Asian sauces like a banana sauce, hot and spicy banana sauce. I got to all the markets and try to find crazy stuff. Last year, the very last topping for burritos was just leftover pancake toppings. It was a bin of all the leftover candy and cereal and stuff from the pancakes. And people actually put it on their burritos! It was kind of my gag topping but then they actually did it. They're like, "I'm making a dessert burrito!"
Then for pancakes, it's like tons of different kinds of cereal, flavored syrups, all sorts of candy, just ludicrous things like licorice on your pancakes. Also, we have twenty flavors of butter: licorice-flavored butter, bubblegum-flavored butter, cotton candy-flavored butter, coffee butter. All sorts of ludicrous things like that.
And you're on hand for all that?
I'm running the show for sure. There's tons of volunteers who help, but I'm running around like crazy making sure everything is working right. I don't schedule myself to be anywhere else during the breakfast. That's my thing. I'm breakfast boss! I've got to be there.
And if people need suggestions, they can come to you for some tips?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
What else do people need to know?
I haven't mentioned the Denver History Pavilion. I don't know a lot about it, it's kind of Dana's thing, but it's one of the ongoing things. There's going to be giant dinosaurs there and lots of Denver history. Another awesome thing is we're having our own farmers' market. We're going to have a lot of organic fruits and vegetables to eat while you're walking around. I heard some criticism last year from a friend who said, "I brought my kids to your pancake breakfast, then we're walking around at 2 in the afternoon and the food trucks hadn't started yet" -- this year they start at 4 p.m., last year it wasn't until 5 -- and he said these kids were crashing from a sugar lull. He just wanted a piece of fruit or a vegetable he could hand them. There's food inside the fair, funnel cakes and hot dogs and stuff, but this is a healthy alternative.
There's the I Heart Denver store from the Denver Pavilions. It's like a showcase for Denver designers -- artists, photographers, crafters. We brought in Samuel Schimek last year to run our store. We have the fair stuff, the posters and T-shirts, the Denver County Fair items, but then he's also showcasing some of the items from his store, all this stuff that's Denver-centric, Denver artists and designers. He helped curate, with one of his designers, an exclusive product for us. It's a Denver County Fair pie soap. It looks like a fruit pie, like a cherry pie. It looks identical to a tiny pie, but it's a bar of soap. It's our own exclusive product. It's cool because it's not like a T-shirt booth at a concert. He actually brings in a mix of stuff inside the fair.
That sounds cool. Is there still more, or have we covered it?
I could probably talk for hours about this... we're bringing back the trick pigs, Pork Chop and Bacon. They were there the first year but they couldn't do it last year. They were already booked. These pigs do tricks and play songs on tiny instruments. They're really popular.
Another thing that's cool this year is we were approached by this dog-agility competition. It's a sanctioned, official dog-agility competition, and they were looking for a place to hold their competition. We had already booked the National Western, but we made a partnership. In the stadium arena, the whole weekend, they're going to be competing -- dogs doing insane stuff, jumping and slaloms and stuff like that. They're scored and judged and stuff, but typically they don't have a big audience. It's great for them because of the built-in audience at the fair, as one of the various things to check out. For us it's great, too, as something that's a huge deal but we don't have to do anything! They run the whole thing. It's ongoing and people can just go watch.
I brought in a store called the Concoctory. They combine the craft explosion we've had over the past several years, the kind of DIY crafts, with a hacker mentality and electronics. It's a DIY store for building electronic kits and things. They have classes on how to do soldering, and kids' classes for electronics, and they have all sorts of cool kits for electronics you can build. They're actually doing demos each day. One day they'll have a 3D printer and explain how that works, how to program it to build things. Another day they're having a hands-on thing to make a paper lantern with an LED and a battery to make this little electronic lamp. One day they're doing a demo for making a banana piano. It's a single chip and some software and you plug these probes into a banana and I think you hold onto an orange with one hand and tap the banana with another hand to play the piano. It's a cool demo for kids and for people to understand that electronics aren't scary and dangerous.
We had a record number of entries in our art competition. There's a bunch of different categories and different things. There's a huge gallery of art of these different entries. That's a thing at a county fair, where you go see the pies and the jams and things. Here it's modern art and sculpture and robots, stuff like that. We ended up making a giant Art Pavilion because we had so many entries. Instead of going down to First Friday, you can go to the Denver County Fair and see hundreds of cool art pieces.
The Denver County Fair runs August 9 through August 11 at the National Western Complex. Find the complete schedule here.
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