(NECN: Jack Thurston, Essex Junction, Vt.) - Despite a passing storm Thursday, workers climbed high scaffolding to set up the temporary outdoor stage for Vermont's largest annual celebration: the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction, Vt. The 10-day event draws around 300,000 people for rides, food, agricultural exhibits, shopping, concerts, and more. But the Champlain Valley Fair's opening weekend could be dealt a huge blow with the threat of high wind and lashing rain from Irene, a major Atlantic hurricane.
After the tragedy this month at the Indiana State Fair, where winds toppled a concert stage killing seven and injuring dozens more, the Champlain Valley Exposition wants to reassure fairgoers. "You're looking at a very safe stage," said production manager Kevin Margolin.
Margolin explained the Champlain Valley Fair's stage is built differently than the one that fell down in Indiana. Margolin said the Vermont stage is designed to better sway to withstand higher gusts. It also has a wind gauge built in for constant monitoring.
Margolin and Champlain Valley Expo officials stay in touch with first responders and the National Weather Service to get a sense of potential emergencies that may force a concert cancellation. "I don't ever think about how many tickets we have sold," Margolin said. "I just think about the safety aspect of it. Can we do a show safely? Is it safe for the artist, is it safe for the audience?"
Lynerd Skynard and the Doobie Brothers are scheduled to take the stage Saturday. Sunday, the day Hurricane Irene is predicted to impact New England, Big Time Rush, a Nickelodeon teen pop band, is slated to appear. As of Thursday evening, the Champlain Valley Fair said it was too early to talk about cancellations.
"We're watching for [fairgoers'] safety," said Tom Oddy, the Champlain Valley Exposition's director of special events. "We will make prudent decisions when it's time to make those. They will be in advance."
Coincidentally, the same band scheduled to perform the night of the tragedy in Indiana, Sugarland, is appearing September 4 at the Champlain Valley Fair. At that and all the events, no matter the weather, the Fair says safety is priority number one. "Prevention is the key," Oddy said, explaining that being prepared in advance of emergencies can help avoid a catastrophe.
For more information on the Champlain Valley Fair, including whether concerts may be performed early, moved, or canceled, visit this website: www.cvfair.com