Friday, July 31, 2009 

computer issues, but let me briefly update.

Friday July 31 Wanamingo, MN. 85 miles. Field. Warm.

Thursday July 30th. Independence, MN. 30 miles. Field. Cool, rain.

Wednesday July 29th. Annadale, MN. 45 miles. Grass. Cool.

Presale and gate in most towns have been decent. Recession continues to impact per cap.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 

Tuesday July 28th, 2009. Foley, MN. 20 miles. Grass. Cool.

Poor showing here two years ago on a weekend up against a Catholic Festival. Hoping for better luck this time around. Suburban St Cloud. Turning southeast from here on the run to eastern Iowa dates next week.

Monday July 27th. Becker, MN. 20 miles. Grass. Warm, humid.

Made night jump into Becker and slept in late on Monday. Another very good presale and a wo excellent showsstrong box office. Two excellent shows.

Sunday Zimmerman, MN. 50 miles. Dirt lot. Warm.

Strong presale. Miserable lot. Two good shows. Night jump to next town.

Saturday, July 25, 2009 

Saturday July 25th. Hugo, MN. 55 miles. Overcast and cool.

Long time sponsor in a town that has tradtional been good for this show. We expect a nice day.

This has nothing to do with circus, or maybe everything. In Britain Harry Patch has died at the age of 111. Mr. Patch was last living British veteran of the First World War. That means that Mr. Patch was a child when James Bailey toured his Barnum show through Europe. On many shows including CM we include some form of Patriotic Salute during the performance. It's a bit like singing the National Anthem at a baseball game. Sometimes I think we forget when we're saluting our soldiers, our veterans that it isn't their service to our country that we're recalling. We are saluting the history they embody as well. We talk sometimes about "traditional circus" and we're proud of the long lineage that represents. Perhaps as much as any institution circus is a time machine traveling through history and observing the present. I would hope that at some point in his long life that Mr. Patch enjoyed a circus, because the history he represented marked an era that circus remembers. Likewise for the conflicts that have followed. At any given show we may see veterans of the Second World War, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, and our present conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan. We hope they understand that we appreciate their service. We hope we will never forget that history touched them, as it has touched us.

Friday, July 24, 2009 

Friday. Braham, MN. 85 miles. Grass, wet. Warm.

Hard rains last night. We had to pull three trucks off the lot this morning. Yesterday's shows were sparse. Circus fan and blogger "Dan The Booker" visited for the first show. We're out of the lakes country and closing in on the Twin Cities again. Tomorrow we'll be in the suburbs. Braham is a new town for us today.


Thursday. Aikin, MN. 90 miles. Warm. Muddy.

Fairgrounds lot flooded several weeks ago. Still wet. Two other shows have been in the area in the last month. Poor presale. Letdown after the great day in Walker yesterday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 

Wednesday July 22nd, 2009. Walker, MN. 30 miles. Grass. Sunny.

Short jump to a small park on a lake. Yesterday we enjoyed excellent business and hope to repeat that today in Walker, where we've generally done well through the years.

Tuesday July 21st, 2009 Park Rapids, MN. 50 miles. Grass. Warmer.

First show on Monday in yesterday’s town was cancelled do to severe storms. Second show was okay. Today a big telephone presale should make for a very good day.

...For some time I’ve been trying NOT to write about another circus blog hosted by an entertainment critic focusing on circus and Broadway shows. For several years I’ve admired the way that this particular blogger tries to sort out fact from fiction, while keeping us all a little more honest. The blog writer once penned a well thought of biography of a giant in the circus world, and another book providing a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at Soviet Era circus. I haven’t agreed with the writer’s artistic opinions – frankly I think he strives for a circus that is either 50 years out of date, or far too adult for children of all ages. And although he spent some time years ago working as a press agent for a circus, clearly he’s not in touch with the business end of today’s bigtop, and his solutions for "saving" the circus seem to run counter to most standard operating procedure. To "save" the circus first you must be convinced that circus is falling apart. At times however his blog has been both a breath of candor and of fresh air. Few bloggers are willing to discuss issues like circus salaries. David isn’t.

In the past months I’m afraid something has, changed. These days the blog focuses far too much on the failings of traditional circus, and on the failings (strictly as he sees them) of one show in particular. That might be all well and good, except that given a chance recently to actually see the show he so often targets – The Kelly Miller Circus – he chose not to take the short bus ride to the Jersey Shore. (It’s great when a critic praises something like the cat act on KM. But kudos based on youtube and the comments of others without seeing the act don’t do it justice. You can only imagine how remarkable it truly is. Kelly Miller is, I would say, the cream of the crop when it comes to traditional "mudshow" circus. And John North and Jim Royal and company have honestly tried to bring back quality and circus magic in an old fashioned way. If it doesn’t always work, credit for trying, and check back next year. And when it does work it’s magnificent.

There’s plenty that’s wrong with circus or with any other business or artform, and we sometimes take a long time learning our lesson when it comes to some specific issues. But taking pot shots at KM isn’t about those issues at all. It appears to be petty and seemingly unnecessary. I just don’t get it.

David, I know you can offer up something better because you've given us better in the past..


Monday July 20th, 2009. Wadena, MN. 30 miles. Gravel/fairgrounds. Cool. Rain likely.

According to the route card published yesterday we’re in MN until August 4th. 15 more days. Should get pictures up on the blog later this week.

Monday, July 20, 2009 

Monday July 20th, 2009. Wadena, MN. 30 miles. Gravel/fairgrounds. Cool. Rain likely.

According to the route card published yesterday we’re in MN until August 4th. 15 more days. Should get pictures up on the blog later this week.


Sunday July 19th. Parkers Prairie, MN. 50 miles. Grass, warm.
Smaller town than yesterday, less than 1000 people. OK phones and presale. Good first show, sparse second show. The cool weather broke for a day, though tomorrow the forecast calls for rain and temps back in the 60s and 70s. We/’re moving east now in the direction of the lakes and the MN resorts. Almost two more weeks here before we go back into Iowa.


Saturday July 18th. Elbow Lake, MN. 70 miles. Dirt/gravel. Cool.

Maybe the only lot in MN without a blade of grass. Strong phones, but poor presale. 1200 people but looks smaller. Sparse shows.


Friday July 17th, 2009. Ortonville, MN. 40 miles. Grass. Cool. Very windy.
Relatively short jump. Chilly this morning, MN is setting record low temps for July, some places reporting near freezing temperature at dawn. Not quite that bad here. Strong winds coming off the lake in Ortonville. Good sponsor with a respectable presale and a good crowd for setup.
Ten miles down the road is Milbank, South Dakota, orginal hometown of California circus fan and former Carson & Barnes Advance Clown Dale Leddy. Several years ago when Dale was on Carson & Barnes the show played Milbank and it was a lot of fun to watch the "homecoming." Milbank is a good town for circus and today we hope that Ortonville will be a good town too.


Thursday July 16th, Wheaton, MN. 70 miles. Grass. Cool.
Wheaton shows more signs of the economic recession than most of the towns we’ve seen in MN. Many closed businesses, fewer improvement projects, and the jobs here are low wage – in assisted living facilities. CM had a good day five years ago at the Traverse County fairgrounds, but this year the presale is very disappointing and there’s not a lot of reason to believe that the box office will be much better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 

Wednesday July 15th, 2009. Madison, MN. 60 miles. Fairgrounds. Cool, breezy.

Good shows yesterday despite the weather. In the Northeast, Big Apple Circus, the show against which all others can be measured for quality is about to end its season. It’s been a lot of months since they opened the 2008-2009 season and kudos for a job well done.
We’re back on the South Dakota border. Office hasn’t had route cards for awhile so we know where we’re headed on a day to day basis.

Tuesday July 14th. Clara City, MN. Grass. Warm, heavy rain.

Good presale here, but the rain has been coming down in buckets.
Have been thinking about phone rooms today. Fifteen years ago some circuses could count on making money in a given town before they ever set up the big top because of strong phone sales. If any one thing has dramatically changed presale numbers, its probably the decline in phone operations. Legal restriction on telephone solicitation far more than any other regulation(s) has changed the way that we have to do business. Gone are the days when a phone room operation working with a circus and a sponsor can call your home at six-thirty in the evening and sell you a block of show tickets for the widows and orphans. Once upon a time some phone operations were so successful that a show itself barely needed to paper a town and didn’t worry too much if the seats were sparsely filled. The money was already in the bank. Today phone sales offering blocks of kids tickets to businesses are a fraction of what the old numbers were. Which brings up the point – circus can still certainly be profitable – but there are luxuries that most shows can no longer afford. Like a string of open dates. Days when for whatever reason the show sits on a lot unbooked. Even a poor day is better than most open days. On an open day the nut is ticking away, money is going out but not a thin dime is coming back in. Maybe with a small indoor show with a low overhead or paying acts by the day and not the week, an open day is no big deal. For everybody else it is. We’ve been fortunate this season with no real open days other than Easter, and the days we were forced off the road by deep snows in Texas.


Monday July 13th, 2009. Melrose, MN. 75 miles. Grass. Warm, slightly overcast.

Melrose has a plant that processes turkey. Large Hispanic population. Respectable presale and strong gate. Nice day.

Sunday July 12th, 2009. Cokato, MN. 60 miles. Grass. Overcast, muggy.

Today would have been my father’s 79th birthday. I thought of that only when I noted the date for this update. The first time I came to MN was as a kid with my parents. We drove from the east coast straight through in a station wagon and spent a few days on the upper Mississippi on a houseboat fishing. I remember the Wisconsin Dells.
In 2000 Cokato gave CM Circus it’s biggest day ever. There have been other good days here as well – and two years ago the town was a successful. Today we fared poorly. The host blamed the economy but likely the real reason was some lack of organization in the presale and promoting the show. There nothing all that different about Cokato that it should have fallen flat where other towns this week did not.
In the comments somebody recently said that he hates booking "played out" towns. I’m not entirely sure what that means. A place like Salinas, CA sometimes sees five shows in a year, and some years every one of them makes money. The demographics are right. Traditionally even a smaller community doesn’t get "played out" when a show visits every two or three years – not with a good well organized motivated sponsor. Some good towns cease to be good not because they’ve seen too many shows but because the towns themselves are in steep decline. The desert towns in California were like that this year. Last fall California scared the heck out of me. I couldn’t imagine how any show could do well there this season. Once beyond the desert CM did very well. What I’d failed to see months before, what Trey saw was that the demographics of the farmworker towns were different. Yes there was high unemployment but farmworkers don’t own their home, and aren’t losing them to foreclosure (like the desert towns) and the folks that are working will still come out for a show.
What really makes for a "played out" town is a town that’s been burned by circuses that come under lot and license, promise much, deliver little, and overcharge for everything. It’s the same scenario that gives a bad name to free kids tickets. A bad circus poisons a town far more than a good circus returning every couple of years.


Saturday July 11th, 2009. Jordan, MN. 25 miles. Grass, gravel. Sunny, warm.
Every year at some point I can define the circus season as a collection of scabs and scars. If you never bleed, how can you possibly be working? In 2009 I suppose I got off to an early start, breaking a fingertip while changing a tire on my motorhome the day before I actually left for Oklahoma. It’s still discolored five months later, though I have every hope that by Labor Day I may reclaim the nail. Standing in the shower the other day it occurred to me that we were truly beyond the halfway point in the season because the scabs on my legs ran pretty much from ankle to kneecap. But most years I manage to really, really bleed at least once – and last night I ran straight into a stake for a moonbounce while carrying a section of perimeter fence that surrounds the cats. Not a small scratch, a big six inch rip that had me hobbling to the convience store for Dr. Cainan’s "Lysol Cure." Until you’ve actually sprayed lysol onto an open wound you can’t imagine how "bad" medicine can feel. But hey, it works for claws and fangs and assorted infections and I’m betting that it will be tough enough for tent stakes.
...All of which brings up another point. Most years I yammer on and on while blogging. A bit of circus history, a bit of geography, a taste of gossip, and lots of opinion. This season I’ve been relatively quiet. It isn’t that history is less fascinating, the geography less interesting, that I don’t have opinions, or that gossip has dried up. Circus is a job. Most seasons it’s a fun job, other years it’s just a job. This year with so many people out of work in every town where we pitch the tent I find that it’s hard to takie things lightly, and mostly I’m thankful to be employed. To date, at least for Culpepper & Merriweather’s Great Combined Circus the season has been alright. We’ve had some slow stretches in New Mexico and Arizona, the California desert and in South Dakota – but we had a great run on the west coast and in most of the country business has been respectable. Maybe because of the economy people are staying at home and coming to the show instead of vacationing. With three more months ahead of us it’s way too early to declare success. August is historically slow and we’ll see how the rest of July plays out and how we fare in the autumn. Today was nothing to brag about. Circus travels across the latitude lines chasing the Spring, the longitude lines basking in Summer, then in Fall withers and returns home hoping that next year will mean another season. In hard times like these I think we are all particularly grateful for this season. In town life you hope and worry and wonder about your options. In a traveling society success and failure can be measured every day when the sponsor settles, when we call "doors." We’re blessed that a couple of good weeks can erase a really bad one. Town life doesn’t work like that.

Friday, July 10, 2009 

Lonsdale, MN. 50 miles. Sunny, hot. Rough field.

Rain last evening just prior to the second show. Jump this morning through the Twin Cities suburbs. Next week we'll move west again into the MN prairie near the Dakotas before coming back to the lakes and the Twin Cities again. With another three and a half weeks in MN we'll see a lot more towns.

Thursday, July 09, 2009 

Thursday, July 9th. Waconia, MN. 25 miles. Grass, fairgrounds, chance of rain.
Good presale in a town where CM has had some excellent days. This is the suburban Twin Cities so the first shoppers were off for Mall of America by 10:30. Been thinking a lot about small show, small town circuses lately – the kind of show that CM was in it’s early seasons... turning a profit with domestic labor and seats for 300 people. Of course scrounging for equipment for small shows is the easy part, it’s financing booking a show, insurance, the advance, and getting it down the road when it first opens that’s so costly. You can neither succeed nor fail until it's open and moving.

Wednesday July 8th. Arlington, MN. 65 miles. Grass, fairgrounds, overcast then clear.
Reasonable presale and two respectable shows. Economy is reflected more in the per caps than in box office. Circus fan Chris Grieder came by the show. He’s on his way to Wisconsin for the Great Circus Parade this weekend.

Tuesday July 7th. Springfield MN. 38 miles. Grass lot.
Good presale and business for the early show. Second show delayed by storms. Weather looked so severe at one point, the crew actually pulled the seats from the bigtop for a quick tear down. Second show was wet, but no wind.


Monday, July 06, 2009 

Quiet 4th of July holday weekend. Grass lots. Warm to hot weather. Jumps 85 miles to Emmetsburg, IA, then 75 miles to Truman, MN. Tosay, 50 miles to Windom, MN. Weather this week, temps in the 80's with a chance of thunderstorms most days.

Friday, July 03, 2009 

George, IA. 55 miles. Overcast, cooler, showers. Grass/gravel lot. Circus kicks off the 125th anniversary of the founding of George -- taking place over this holiday weekend. Strong presale, though rain could dampen gate. Always worth remembering that while the 4th of July is Independence Day in the US, the days leading leading up to the holiday mark the anniversay of Gettysburg -- one of history's bloodiest battles where in 1863 we almost tore ourselves apart. There were plenty of Iowa volunteers in that war.


Spirit Lake, IA. 55 miles. Sunny, hot. Grass lot.

Brent "Cheeko" Dewitt longtimes CM clown was waiting on the lot in Spirit Lake. Fresh from Zoppe and Flora he'll be presenting his unicorn sideshow on the midway for awhile. Strong presale and nice crowds. Iowa business good so far. My son Robin who has traveled with the show since opening leaves on Saturday for a five week stay in Pennsylvania and New York.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 

Sheldon, IA. 45 miles. Grass. Sunny. Very hot.

Nice short jump. CM always does fair business here. I've been following the news of the military coup in Honduras closely. Lived and worked in Honduras oh-so-long-ago and in recent years it has appeared that the threat of government by coup in Latin America was finally a thing of the past. The dusk to dawn curfew in place is tough on the little circuses from Salvador that are popular in Honduras. Generally a show will set up and stay in a small town or city for as long as a week, but if they can't perform they will literally stay put until they have enough fuel money to move again. Zoo in Tegucigalpa used to do a lot of animal trading with shows looking for fuel money after a tough stretch. Got a polar bear that way.