Thursday, July 31, 2008 

July 31st, 2008. Williwick, OH. 40 miles. Grass. Humid, warm, overcast.

Today we're in a park in suburban Cleveland

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 

July 29th, 2008. Middlefield, OH. 17 miles. Grass. Warm

First day of a two day stand in Ohio’s Amish country. The Amish we’ve discovered don’t ride camels and elephants.

ADDENDUM: I feel the need to comment on the ridiculous “Kelly Miller Circus Animal Abuse” video now on YouTube. Not a single word of what this “reporter” claims to have seen during our setup in Greenville, PA is true. Not a word. Most of his misstatements are easily refuted by simple facts. The reporter claims that animals are transported in unventilated trailers. His own video clearly shows the many windows in the animal transports. He claims that the ride ponies stood for horse in their own feces. His video shows me moving a pony that was tied to the side of a truck for less than twenty minutes while a picket line was setup in a grassy field. He refers to our lot boss as “slave labor.” He calls Armando Loyal, the elephant manager a “smelly circus worker” In point of fact he threaten to “call immigration” after having worlds with Armando. Then when Armando noted that he was born in Oklahoma he threatened violence. He states that all of our workers are “illegal aliens.” He says that INS confirmed that. Would INS knowing let us employ illegals? All of our guest workers have H-2B visas. He claims that an observer from the Cleveland Zoo was on hand. The young man with the zoo patches on his shirt was mentally challenged. He was a fan of zoos and circuses and attended the show with his mother. He wasn’t employed by the zoo, he bought the patches in their gift shop. As it happens we do have a woman on the show who did work at Cleveland Zoo once upon a time, but now she’s working on her PHD. He implies that I may have shoved him. It never happened. And for all of his claims of animal and human abuse, he shows nothing even remotely abusive.


July 28th, 2008. Chesterland, OH. 55 miles. Asphalt. Warm, overcast

Outstanding day as we return to Ohio. Tremendous presale by Kiwanis. Two standing room only shows with turn aways.

When everything works the circus business is a thing of beauty.


July 27th, 2008. Greenville, PA. 28 miles. Asphalt. Our last date in PA. Strong business.

In a sense everything in the weeks to come is a prelude to the long stay around Chicago., whether the annual jaunt to Kelly’s Island in Lake Erie, or the dates around Detroit. It’s almost August and August I the strangest month in the circus season, when the difficulties of the spring have been long since dealt with – or will never be dealt with – when the end of the season is still far off but its outlines can be glimpsed on the horizon. High summer in the high grass country.


July 26th, 2008 Girard, PA. 32 miles. Grass. Warm, Threat of rain.

Light business.

From 1852 until 1875 Girard was the center of the circus world as much as Somers, NY had been a few years earlier, as Baraboo, or Peru, or Sarasota would be later. Several major shows called Girard home. And Dan Rice the most famous entertainer of his day and the greatest of American clowns built his mansion in Girard.

Friday, July 25, 2008 

July 25th, 2008. Union City, PA 32 miles. Grass/ Warm, sunny.

First dry lot in several days.


July 24th, 2008. Youngstown, PA. 60 miles. Grass/asphalt. Rain.

Tight lot in Youngstown. Original lot is under water. Heavy rain in the morning. Big crowds for each show.


July 22nd, 2008. Westfield, NY. Grass. Rain/mud

Two days in Westfield on a grass lot turned to mud by heavy rains. Show towed on to the lot and off again. Good business.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 

Westfield, NY. 60 miles. Mowed field. Heavy rain.

Pump trucked burned out a clutch on the jump. Double-back for seat wagon. Heavy rain overnight has the lot soaked. A morning storm with high winds delayed putting up the bigtop.

Chautauqua County. I went to college here for a few years, and gravitated around its pull for several more. From Westfield to Fredonia to Silver Creek to Forestville I would be hard pressed to name anyplace I liked more.


7/21/2008. Springville, NY. 47 miles. Gravel lot, almost impossibly tight. Overcast, warm, rain likely.

Very sparse turnout. Sometimes it’s hard to really know if a town could work or not, because the sponsors have sold virtually no tickets at all.. Certainly Springville looks like a town we could successfully play with a truly motivated host.


7/20/2008 Alexander, NY 65 miles. Grass/asphalt. Overcast/hot/showers.

Yesterday we jumped seventy miles west, and today we backtracked nearly as far. We’re near Batavia where we’re competing with a County Fair. When Mike Naughton the owner of Yankee Doodle Circus visited recently he said, “You wonder of bookers can draw a straight line.” With diesel at five bucks a gallon that’s a valid question. Sometimes a bit of backtracking can’t be helped. Two or three good towns with strong hosts and conflicting dates and it’s worth the extra miles. Alexander is very small community. If we have a very good day it will be well worth it. If we have a less than stellar day it may reflect issues that any circus must address in 2008. Times change. What makes for a good town? I’ve written a lot over the years about routing and booking based on demographic information and local economic conditions. But sometimes the real story may simply be population. The Kelly Miller Circus today has a much bigger nut (daily expenses) than the same show did several years ago. Towns that were historically good for KM may no longer be able to support it. Fortunately this show has played many New York communities successfully in the past -- so fine tuning a New York route is less about blazing new territory and more about looking at old numbers. Some bookers book communities they’ve worked with in the past without necessarily considering whether that town is still right for the show. Management often can’t really know if a town is no longer suitable until we try to play it. The small town in the Adirondacks still work because it’s the height of the tourist season. But maybe the small towns of central and western New York work less well than they once did There are no shortage of larger towns here where KM has played at one time or another. Might we have been better off in Elmira or Corning or Ithaca or Binghamton or in the larger suburbs of Rochester or Buffalo? Strong hosts can make small towns work, but if we’re unsure of just how strong a host is are we better off in a place with at ten thousand people? The huge success we enjoyed in MA was in pasrt as a result of a canny booker who picked both good towns in the outer Boston suburbs AND found strong hosts. Jim Mead who books for shows in central New York has had great success in matching towns and hosts with shows giving Carson & Barnes good dates. Nobody hits it every day. But the wins outnumber the loses. Any circus that’s been around for awhile can fall into the trap of going with what they know in terms of communities and hosts, and bookers love an easy “date.” But things change. The needs of a show. The economy of a region. The makeup of a host group. If a string of dates work it’s worth looking at why they worked? If a string of dates don’t work it’s worth considering why the booker chose that town or that group, and what alternatives might have been available. Fine tuning.


7/19/2008 Youngstown, NY 68 miles. Grass. Hot/humid/showers.

Pretty town near Niagara Falls along the Niagara River. Across the river we can see Canada. Eleven years ago Natalie Cainan fell here while doing an aerial act on Franzen Bros. She was in hospital for eleven days. One paper reported that she had died. Today presenting her dog act I am reminded that circus performers find a way to bounce back, even if it requires learning a whole new set of skills.


7/18/2008, Sweden, NY. 32 miles. Grass. Hot humid.

This is the second town in the last week or so where I wonder if the booker might not have helped us out by suggesting that we bill the date under a different name? Southwood, NY was literally two miles from the edge of Syracuse. KM has played there successful several times, but returning back to back years proved disappointed. Had the date been billed as “Syracuse” with the bill posters working the south side of Syracuse and the sponsors seeking ticker outlets in Syracuse, I wonder if we might not have done a bit more business? For example, the San Francisco “Cow Palace” is actually in Daly City, in San Mateo County, however events taking place there are routinely called “San Francisco” dates. In the case of Southwood it might have made for more work for the bill posters, but several very small communities later in the week would have evened that out. Similarly Sweden. Sweden it turns out isn’t a community at all, it’s the name of a township. The nearest sizable community is the college town of Brockport right next door. Billing the date as Brockport – a well known place – might have allowed the show to better bill both Brockport and the west side of Rochester – where everybody knows where Brockport is, but few would have any idea where Sweden is. It seems to me that these are the kind of issues that aise too frequnetly as many shows when the booker really needs to provide more information so that marketing can better sell the circus.


7/17,2008. Lima, NY. Mowed field. Heavy rain early, then humid and hot.

The coolest hipest girl in my high school was Cindy Filipetti, or so it seemed to me thirty some years ago. Later Cindy took her father’s name and called herself Cindy Force and became born again and came here to Lima to attemnd bible college before going to India. Cindy took me to a small church where I tried hard to feel something, because I had an terrible crush on her, but I was in that chasing rattlesnakes and hanging out with sideshow types phase, and then I moved to Florida. Today she’s Cynthia Neale, the children’s book author.

Paul Horseman the carnival and circus historian visited the show in Fair Haven. Paul sells book and now I have something to read.

Because my real interest in circus is as much about the numbers and financial mechanics as it is about the show or the animals I’ve been think a lot about the front end and the advance. One thing that impressed me on Culpepper & Merriweather was just how well the home office and advance motivated sponsors to enthusiastically sell tickets. I don’t know if every show needs and advance clown, or a marketing team – but at least theoretically I like the idea of playing good cop/bad cop with local hosts. A dedicated support team at the home office providing sponsors with ideas and materials, a clown acting as a cheerleader, and a marketing person who scares the heck out of hosts who haven’t sold many tickets ten days out. Hosts sometimes think that a poor presale can be offset by a strong box office. It can be in theory, but it almost never happens. It’s important for hosts to understand that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 

Note: Posted five entries July 12-16 in the wrong order this morning. Hope to post some pictures next week when we play two days in Westfield, NY. What's consistently nice about KM is the way that people rave about the actual show. A real circus with all the elements and great production values


July 12th,. Canajoharie, NY. 55 miles. Narrow grass lot. Hot, humid.

Today we jumped out of the mountains into the Mohawk Valley. We won’t see many real mountains again for a long time. If I sometimes sound negative about circus, it isn’t real negativity at all. Circus is addictive. Do it long enough and you’re spoiled for much else. Kelly Miller is the best traditional mudshow on the road this season. And it may be he only traditional tented circus likely to actually grow over the next few years. Circus matters. Yesterday in Speculator a thousand children, young or young at heart saw an elephant, rode a camel, watched a trapeze artist, or a juggler, or a bareback rider, or a tiger act. Some of those children were almost certainly inspired to go home and play circus today. Many of them had never seen an elephant. The magic of television and the internet pales in comparison to the magic of real life. That’s why circuses with exotic animals are still so very important. For their ability to dazzle, to make us think. John North and Jim Royal have almost certainly built on the already strong KM brand to create a show that could play the cities and move less often.. And someday it may be said that no traditional show has put so much effort into getting production just right since Clifford Vargas. But clearly KM has not and probably never will abandon the small towns. Credit where credit is due. A circus like Carson & Barnes is wondrous in its size. The cities and towns it plays probably don’t realize how lucky they really are to see the last great “big one.” Likewise a show like Culpepper & Merriweather may be equally impressive for the risks it takes. A small show that can literally play a crossroads given a strong enough sponsor. It takes courage to be a circus owner, whether you are Geary and Barbara Byrd or whether you are Trey Key. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say, “Well the big show doesn’t carry twenty elephants anymore” or maybe, “When will that little show buy a new tent?” It’s much harder to make the payroll and pony up for diesel.

Several people have expressed concern lately that I have been critical of animal care practices either on the show that I work for or on other shows. I think it’s important for me to state this clearly. My positions haven’t changed. My job has changed. I have always believed that animal liberation hiding behind the mantle of “animal rights” has nothing to do with animal welfare, and everything to do with a utopian philosophical ideology that leads not to a better life for animals, but rather to wide spread extinction. As the spokesperson for a show I want people to understand that clearly. As the animal manager for a show I must also be a passionate advocate for the animals that I care for and for the role of animals on circuses in the future. I know that a show like Carson & Barnes genuinely cares about the animals on the show because once I was the guy lying on the ground breach birthing a goat there. Nobody will find and call out a veterinarian when needed faster than Kristin Parra. I know that Trey Key cares about the animals on Culpepper, I was the guy training cat grooms. I know that John Ringling North II genuinely loves the animals on this show. He’s the man fixing morning toast for the ride camel. All of the Oklamhoma based circuses are genuine in their desire to do the right thing by animals. If there’s a problem with the show animals here – it’s my fault and I’m sure that Mr. Royal or Mr. North would be quick to find someone to do my job. If a problem arose on CB or CM I don’t doubt for a minute that Kristin or Trey would fix it. Likewise on the Feld shows. If I suggest now and then that a circus could do better, or that a specific problem exists here and there – that’s not an attack on circus. It’s a plea to make things right so that we can continue to do what we already try to do well -- train and manage animals. Animal Welfare Act compliance is important. And if show are to continue to carry animals in the future attempting to comply every day is a given. But regulation isn’t the real answer. Policing ourselves is the solution. Circuses don’t make many mistakes, and good circuses fix them. That’s the best that anyone can ask of us. The vast majority of trainers and licensed exhibitors are committed to animal welfare standards. The notion espoused by animal rights advocates that trained animals are exploited abused and discarded is simply wrong. There’s no economic upside to mistreating an animal when that animal contributes to your livelihood. It’s never been easy for any show to travel one the road for much of the year with wild animals. But the awe in child’s eyes when she or he see a tiger or Roman Riding or a finely tuned liberty act is well worth the extra effort.


July 13th, 2008. Norwich, NY. 85 miles. Grass lot. Overcast/ rain.


July 14th, 2008. 65 miles. Camden, NY Grass. Hot, overcast. Good business. Mike Naughton visited the show with his daughter Katherine.


July 15th, 2008. 48 miles. Southwood, NY. Grass lot warm.

Jumped around Syracuse through the southern suburbs. Towns I knew growing up. Canasteo, Chittenango, and Cazenovia. Southwood isn’t really a village, more like a fire department and collection of homes not far from Manlius. Mr. North leaves the show today to return home to Ireland. He will be back when the show reaches Chicago. Some towns welcome the circus every years. Other years are really only good if the shows returns every two or three years. Southwood is a two to three year town, and unfortunately we played here well last year. Spare attention this time around In the parlance of bookers and agents, “You’ve gotta park it somewhere.”


July 16th, 2008. Fair Haven, NY. 48 miles. Grass. Overcast.

Friday, July 11, 2008 

July 11th, 2008. Speculator, NY. 35 miles. Sand/grass. Light rain.

Yesterday was one of those odd days. We did an early show to a small crowd, and a later show to a much bigger one. The lot was alpine, at the base of a ski lift. The drive to North Creek provoked memories I hadn’t revisited in some time. Thirty years ago I was a radical. At 17 I went to Guatemala and spent some time there attending the American School. I had relatives from a well off family there. It was my first trip to Central America, the place where even now, many years later I still most at home in the world. At 17 however what I discovered was the difference between and poor. It was my first glimpse at grinding, hopeless poverty. Over the next several years in college I discovered what I believed was the solution to that inequity. Marxism. Not the totalitarian Soviet system, nor the brutal Maoist flavor, but a more democratic form that I somehow thought could exist in small nations where the rich had everything and the poor had nothing at all. My economical beliefs lead me to politics, and at the small college I attended I served on the Left in Student Government, trying to be practical, yet idealistic. Surprisingly my adversaries we’re more conservative that I was, but rather more die-hard Marxist-Lenininsts. The President of the study body was among that crowd. A kid from the Adirondacks named Tom who embraced the revolutionary notion that the ends justified the means in leading the masses toward some utopian end. We were friends and allies at times, enemies at others. After a year or so we both left that school. Another year went by and I was doing a snake show in Pennsylvania when I saw a story on the news of two college students in Buffalo murdered by a man recently paroled from the Attica prison. One ofv the student was Tom. His idealism, his trust apparently took him too far. Eventually there was another school in Florida, and then I was a zookeeper for awhile, and then I lived in Honduras for a bit studying sea turtles and redesigning the national zoo there. My politics became libertarian. It wasn’t Marx the masses needed, I concluding as an eyewitness to the atrocities of the Contra War, it was access to capital. On the drive to North Creek I saw a sign for Indian Lake. My friend Tom is buried there.

But yesterday there was another tragedy, another murder both more distant and closer to home. The road office manager for the Carson & Barnes Circus was murdered by his estranged wife while the show was playing in Davenport, Iowa. We like to say that circus is about families. Some of that is marketing. It sells tickets. But some of it is very real. A circus is a collect of families, entertaining other families in the towns where we pitch a tent. Yesterday on Carson and Barnes one family was permanently torn apart. A dozen other families are left to grieve and to wonder why? Behind the smiles in the center ring there are tears and sadness. With every homocide idealism is tried.

Email yesterday suggested that on Culpepper the elephant manager was knocked down by one of the African elephants. There was some fear that his shoulder was broken. Turned out that he was just banged up. Elephants are charismatic megafauna. As much as we might like to see them as cute, they aren’t. There are problematic elephants that require handlers who stop to wonder how the elephant is thinking. Elephants are social, and social animals live within rigidly defined orders. Problematic elephants constantly test that order. Old school elephant men may have believed that force and strength enforced social order, but today the best elephant trainers lean toward finesse. Can a problematic elephant safely work in a circus? Yes, but only with the right elephant manager. They aren’t push button animals. If we believe in traditional circus with animals we can’t afford to fall into the trap of thinking that the way it was is the way it is now. Circus is a business, we are necessarily pragmatic. But for the business to continue we all must realize that our audience is not pragmatic. They’re idealists…there’s that word again… They want elephants, but they don’t want an elephant that’s chained in a truck for days, or hit by an elephant guy who can’t think of a better way to solve a problem. They don’t want to ride pony that’s been punched by a groom. They want all circuses to hire the best people for the job, not the cheapest, or the fellow who was simply available. Complicated though it may be, to continue to create our own special “circus magic” we must live up to their standards. There’s no longer an excuse to keep an elephant guy who can’t really work elephants safely, nor should there be any place on any show for a groom who think that a whip is a legitimate tool necessary for grooming a pony. In 2008 you don’t keep a bad animal caretaker around just because you can get him to grain the hoofstock in winterquarters. We may be conservative by nature, but circus itself is subversive, fueling the imagination. Circus really is art, even if we are not always artists. Part of being pragmatic is looking realistically at how we can carry traditional circus with animals into the future without alienating the people we depend upon to fill the bigtop.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 

July 10th, North Creek, NY. Field. Warm. Well into the Adirondacks now..


July 8th, 2008. 45 miles Glens Falls, NY. Very hot. scrub lot with sand and weeds. Business mediocre. Lot/License..

July 9th, 2008. 26 miles. Granville, NY. Warm/hot grass. We’re north of Glens Falls in the hill country east of the mountains along the shores of Champlain and Lake George. Two hundred and fifty years ago this was some of the most fought over territory anywhere. Three wars were waged here -–The French and Indian War, The Revolution, and the War of 1812 – all in the end battles for the control of waterways. Had any of those wars ended differently, both the United States, and Canada would be profoundly different. In the dark woods along the then frontier our histories were made.


July 7th, 2008. 18 miles. Hoosick Falls, NY. Grass, shade. Warm.

Set up in a lovely park in Hoosick Falls, NY on the border with Vermont. Over the back roads winding through the Green Mountains we’re only eight miles from Bennington, VT. Moderate business.

After tear down walked to a bar called the Sandbox with tiger trainer Casey McCoy. Bartender was a Harvard trained attorney who likes to tend bar because she’s “a people person.” There’s a novel in Hoosick Falls. In a perfect world lawyers don’t to be lawyers, and in a perfect world I would reorganize parts of the Kelly Miller Circus. Once upon a time under the pre in the animal department.vious owner the show had an “animal department” charged with caring for all of the show animals, and animals leased from elsewhere. Today the show animals are all hoofstock. The tiger acts isn’t housed in the animal department. The leased elephant act is housed in the animal department but comes with an elephant manager and a groom. The elephant manager also owns a horse act housed with the other hoofstock. The confusion arises when it comes to the division of responsibility. The tigers are clearly the responcibilty of the tiger trainer. The elephants are clearly the responsibility of the elephant manager. But by virtue of shared resources, the animal department continues to provide services for the elephants (loading hay, setting up and taking down a shared canopy) and also provides some services for the horse act, because the horses ride in the animal truck. (Truck clean out.) None of these are big jobs, or bad jobs, or difficult jobs – but because of the work load the animal department has slots for two grooms, when with no shared chores, and some simple equipment upgrades, otherwise we would need only one. Two days ago after weeks of talk one of the animal grooms was removed from the department. Frankly I thought he should have been fired. It was enough that he was lazy. He beat animals. I don’t mean that he disciplined animals that were unruly. I mean he kicked and punched ride ponies as a matter of course, and whipped a ride camel while Vet providing the show with health certificates stood in a trailer door way feet away. I could argue that casual abuse was once the norm while on a farm, or in a zoo, or on a circus. And I’d like to think that I’ve more than proven which side I’m on in fighting the extremists associated with animal liberation. But I honestly believe that the only way we can keep animals on a traditional circus is by complying with animal welfare rules. You don’t tell a camel to “kush” then beat the hell out of him even as he’s kneeling down. This particular groom was reassigned to another job. I can’t imagine why. In the meantime he still lives in the cab of the animal truck, as he has for twenty years. Suddenly the other groom, and the elephant manager are worried about a “labor shortage.” Even a lazy worker works sometimes. If I was the circus manager I think I’d say something like, “You allowed it to happen and never bothered to stop it. In May in New Jersey when the temperature was 100 degrees the animals had never been shed of their winter coats. Now deal with it.” I’m not the circus manager, and certainly the animal department won't be rearranged this season. But John Ringling Nlorth II is a genuine and sincere animal lover who hopes to continue the tradition of animal acts on th is circus. It only takes one overtly, openly abusive jerk to hold the entire future of this show or any other show hostage. Cat trainer Wade Burck is right when he points out that circus can be its own worst enemy.


July 6th, 2008. 26 miles. Berlin, NY. Mowed field. Warm, sunny.

Western foothiils of the Berkshires, we have returned to New York State. While we’re all familiar with the idea that we have to park the show somewhere every day, Berlin is a town of 500 people, so why park it here? Passed the historic Shaker villages of Hancock MA and New Lebanon, NY this morning. The Shaker influence in the eastern Berkshires is haunting and easily seen in the odd house built here and there by Shaker craftsmen. Berlin sits onRt 22, the old Albany Boston Post Road. In what was once its commercial area old taverns and hotels dating to 1799 are now decaying apartments for workers at the local mill. There are, I imagine, ghost stories here where the Dutch influence ran head on into flinty New Englanders.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 

July 5th, 2008. Pittsfield, MA. Overcast. Rain. Probably one of the worst lots of the season. Following the Cole Bros show by only a few days this may be pretty slow.


Friday July 4th, 2008. Pittsfield, MA. 165 miles. Lot – unplayable. Warm, overcast.

Woke today to heavy rain in Merrimac. Took three hours to pull everything off yesterday’s lot, where we did fair business and make the 165 mile jump west into the Berkshires to Pittsfield. Only one truck break-down, not bad for a long jump. Today is an off day due to the long mountain haul and the holiday. In Pittsfield we discovered that the lot for tomorrow is too small for the tent. Possibly the city will close the street. Elsewise we’re looking for another lot. The Cole Circus played here a couple days ago. Their paper (posters) are everywhere. Ours are not to be found. An ignoble conclusion to a great MA run.

I remember sometimes that although I may be a circus guy, or an animal guy, for a very long time I have also been a writer. In Pittsfield I remember that. Herman Melville lived here, summering in the mountains with Hawthorne. Both the Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick were writ in part in these Berkshires. Melville, perhaps the greatest of writers was never so well off to give up his periodic day jobs, generally clerkships in government offices around New York, but in the Berkshires he found time for his imagination to soar. Hawthorne on the other hand was a literary superstar, holding court in his mountain digs entertaining the other writers of his day. What did they talk about, those two? Did wonder about narrative? The perfect sentence, the perfect opening line in the greatest of literary adventure yarns was so simple: “Call me Ismael.” Did they ever visit a small circus, a wagon show passing through the low mountain between Albany and Boston? The Civil War was raging. Was war the topic of every discourse?

The Kelly Miller Circus is moving west now. The show will move west and south for the rest of the season. The relentless run through spring and early summer east and north is over. In a few weeks the show will be in Ohio returning to its midwestern roots.

Thursday, July 03, 2008 

Thurs. July 3rd, 2008. 16 miles. Merrimac, MA. Grass. Picture perfect little town. Tomorrow is an off day and we jump 165 miles to Pittsfield, MA, our last date before we reenter New York State.


Wednesday July 2nd, 2008. North Andover, MA. Grass. Showers.

Very good presale. Two full houses. In the Republic of Geaorgia my brother Jon is celebrating a birthday, but I haven't got email to wish him well. Casey's cat act worked with four cats. Second day in a row no problems when the cats are run in early.


Tuesday, July 1st. Continued strong business.


Monday June 30th, 2008. Townsend, MA. 85 miles. Grass. Warm, chance of storms.

Open date. NO shows. We’ll play here tomorrow. KM is probably as polite as circus can be. The management never screams, or yells, or shouts. For the most part this is refreshing. But every now and then every tented circus needs somebody to play “bad cop.” Not sure if that ever happens here, and as a result some issues are never resolved. It’s sometimes said that much of the structure of a circus was borrowed from sailing ships. After all both sailing ships and bigtops are creatures of the wind as well as commercial enterprises. The discipline required on-board a sailing ship is significant. So too on a mudshow.


Sunday June 29th, 2008. East Providence, Rhode Island. 18 miles. Grass. Muggy. Reasonable ticket pre-sale.

My wife tells me that the fires in the Los Padres National Forest are raining ash on Monterey. Here in Rhode Island it’s hot and humid. Trey Key the owner of Culpepper and Merriweather went to college here at Brown University. Though briefly on the jump into Rhode Island that it would be nice to have him here today. Everybody should get to performer in front of an audience that matters to them at least once.. Tomorrow is an off day, one of two this week. MA/RI was the DESINATION this season. In seven days we slip back into New York.


Saturday June 28th, 2008. Plainville, MA 20 miles. Grass. Overcast, cooler, chance of storms.
It’s increasingly clear that when playing towns that were once Roberts Bros dates or Vidbel dates Kelly Miller can do well in MA. Strong hosts have done well with pre-sale, and box office has been good. Of course it doesn'’ hurt that we actually have a very good circus -–a big show packed into a single ring. Based on the business we’ve done thus far, I have to imagine that KM will return to MA and look at venturing further into New England another year.

Addendum: Overheard on the midway. A woman to her children. “I thought it was free. Most circuses are free.” Note to self: No circus is truly free. Circus is expensive and somebody is paying for it. Maybe on the backend of a midway at the carnival or fair there’s a “free” circus paid for by the fair board. Maybe kids tickets are free, while the price for an adult ticket is inflated along with the price of floss. A movie cost between eight and nine dollars, whether it’s a good movie or a bad movie. Corn in a movie theater costs four and half to six and a half dollars. A soda is another three and a quarter. At Kelly Miller an adult ticket is twelve bucks, a soda and popcorn together is maybe five and a half bucks more. Attending the circus is LESS than going to a mediocre movie. And the circus is live entertainment. Professional performers. A genuine taste of the performing arts. Isn’t that worth at least as much as a summer blockbuster?.


Friday June 27th, 2008. Rehoboth, MA. 20 miles. Mowed Field, Hot, muggy, overcast.

Cat trainer Casey McCoy started the ’08 indoor season playing Shrine dates with a four cat act. That same act was booked on Kelly Miller for the tent show. A week before the circus opened in Hugo, OK, Casey’s “hind leg cat” died of a respiratory infection. The four cat act became a three cat act. A few weeks alter Casey found a new cat in a Texas sanctuary and named her Tora. Tora had no training at all, and in the months that have followed she has grown accustomed to her cage-mates and to the arena and learned to take her “seat” her safe place in the arena. Last night Tora sat on that seat in the arena through all of the cat act for the first time. Simple as that that sounds, it was a break-through. All else follows after a cat learns to find and take its seat and stay put until instructed to move. In a sense that has been The Year of the Cat, first working with the tigers on the Culpepper show, and now watching Tora’s evolution under Casey’s tutelage. Circus audiences in the 19th Century thrilled to the darling of Van Amberg entering a small cage with lions or with tigers. Van Amberg’s ability to train a lion to lay down with a lamb was enough to make him a circus celebrity. Today the sophistication of even the most basic cat acts far exceeds anything the 19th Century dreamed of. And a cat act, like a clown, or elephant, or the trapeze is a defining part of traditional circus.

Outstanding business. Full houses with turn-aways.


Thursday June 26th, 2008. Middleboro, MA. 17 miles. Grass/asphalt. Rain. (The Cranberry Capitol of the World!)

Yesterday in Berkley the Southshore Circus Band, a group of windjammers played a concert before the second show. It’s always interesting to actually hear the sounds of the circus as it must have been in the days when every show carried one or more big bands, and the music leaned toward marches. I don’t think I’ve been a show before where so many people find their way into the back lot. I can certainly the desire to explore every nook and cranny of a circus, but at the same time the yard is the home to the people who work on the show. Sometimes it’s nice to feel “off display” sitting shirtless as the Weber grilling chops. Your home is your home even if there are tigers parked at your door.

News from The Great Culpepper & Merriweather Circus is that the show is doing good business in high Colorado. Glad to hear that.. I miss the simplicity of Culpepper, and the people, even if I’m more at home with the complexity of a bigger show. It’s nice to be back on a circus where I know the elephants and the camels, but it’s hard not to miss Robin Dykes’s wonderful Culpepper cookhouse and the quirky cats in Trey Key’s mixed act of tigers and a lion.

A circus fan said to me today, “mostly I’m fascinated with the logistics of how it all moves. Me too. And how to move it better.

One element that constantly reminds me of just how special Kelly Miller really is are the production numbers. Only one other traditional tented show still mounts production numbers, and they haven’t changed anything in years. On Kelly Miller the opening genuinely sets the tone of the show and warms up the crowd. The production built around the trapeze act, the talented Sara Green and the web ballet is a nicely done testament to what all circuses once did. The salute to Oklahoma at the end of the show reminds that audience that Mr. North delivered a lot of circus over the previous two hours. Cliff Vargas would have approved.