All in the Family
Courtesy Lam Lucariello Rachel Robertson Photography
The 50th State Fair continues to attract generations of ohana
Life’s one big circus for the Anastasini family. They travel together. They play together. And they share the love for acrobats and showmanship. For nine generations, this Italian-Mexican-American family has entertained people from around the world with their gravity-defying feats, Risely acts and “Diablo” juggling.
Now in their sixth year at the 50th State Fair, the Anastasinis will bring a new variety show under the big top, featuring former “America’s Got Talent” contestant and slack wire acrobat Evgeny Vasilenko, a hand-balancing performance by Melanie Chy, a Chinese pole act by Seattle-based Duo Straight Up, dancer and circus performer Rachel Randall, trapezist Nick Lowery, and Giuliano and Fabio Anastasini performing their Risely act, named after Richard Risley Carlisle, an American gymnast and acrobat who developed a circus act in which an acrobat lying prone on his back juggles barrels or fellow acrobats — brothers in this case — with his feet.
“It was an act my brother Luciano and I did for more than 25 years,” says family patriarch Giovanni Anastasini. “I didn’t want to teach it to them [Giuliano and Fabio] at first because I thought it was too difficult, but they picked up on some of the tricks fairly quickly.”
An institution for many island residents, the 50th State Fair got its start in 1930 when the Chamber of Commerce produced the Hawaiian Products Show in an effort to shore up business during the Depression era. It would eventually expand in 1948 with rides, games and food concessions operated by EK. Fernandez Shows, and rebranded as the “49th State Fair,” a gesture in anticipation that Hawai‘i would indeed become the 49th state. Congress, however, passed the Alaskan Statehood Bill on July 1, 1958.
“When Hawai‘i was granted statehood in 1959, the fair’s name officially changed,” says Donna Smith, vice president of E.K. Fernandez Shows, which started in 1903 when 20-year-old “Eddie” Fernandez began traveling around to O‘ahu plantation camps at night and entertaining workers by projecting scenic silent films onto bed sheets. “There was a photo that appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin showing Kane [Fernandez] holding a 50th sign over the 49 on the show’s marquee.”
Chandra Lucariello has many fond memories of the Fair, calling it her “Disneyland” when she was growing up and anticipating its opening every year. “My dad would hype it up,” recalls Lucariello, director of mixology and spirits education for Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits of Hawai‘i.
Enough so that years later, she and her husband, Daniel Lucariello, would have a lively “trash the dress at the Hawai‘i State Fair” photo shoot a day after their wedding nuptials. “Our photographer, Rachel Robertson, suggested it,” Chandra Lucariello laughs. “We were like two little kids at the Fair … but all dressed up in our wedding clothes. We had a great time doing it and it was my Disneyland fairytale.”
In addition to the circus, the Fair also showcases other genres of live entertainment, including this year’s “Pork Chop Revue,” which stars Cousin Grumpy and a cast of bodacious swine that perform feats of dance, athletic acrobats, dance and “song.” The show has been on tour throughout the U.S. for more than 50 years, making appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Laugh-In,” “Merv Griffin” and “Tonight Show.” It also once came to Hawai‘i with “Pork Chop Revue” late founder Boyd “Uncle Heavy” Kines, whose son, Les, now fronts the family show.
“It’s always amazing when I hear ‘my father was here;’ my grandfather was here,” says Smith, referring to the younger generation of entertainers who have followed in the footsteps of their parents. “It’s all about smiles and memories that are created during the Fair.”
With Memorial Day around the corner, the 50th State Fair will be up and going, signaling the start of summer and another carnival run for E.K. Fernandez Shows, which has been the exclusive producer of the Fair since 1988.
“Once you pay your admission ticket, you get free access to a lot of different entertainment,” Smith says. “This an affordable family outing with lots to do and lots of smiles.”
And those glees of laughter and gasps of breath are the ultimate reward for the
Anastasini family. “You’ll see acts that you will only see on YouTube or television,” Giovanni Anastasini says. “We put so many hours into the shows and the reward is seeing people’s reactions. The Hawai‘i audience is great because they like to have fun and they’re not afraid to show their emotions.”
50th State Fair
May 26-29, June 2-4, June 8-11, June 16-18 and June 23-25
Fridays: 6 p.m. - midnight
Saturdays: 4p.m. - midnight
Sundays except June 11: noon - midnight
Monday, May 29: noon - midnight
Thursday, June 8: 6 p.m. - midnight
Sunday, June 11: 4 p.m. - midnight
Noon – 6 p.m., 30 credits ($3); 6 p.m. – closing, 50 credits ($5); keiki under 40” tall free at all times. A Fun Pass is required for rides, games, food and beverages, novelties and some attractions. Purchase and reload Fun Passes at card dispensers located at the entrance to the Fair and throughout the fairgrounds, including the dining tents and game tent.