Northwest News

Local crooner to join Boyz II Men at Ohio State Fair

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Christon Gray doesn't know if he'd call himself a celebrity just yet.

But the success of his CD might tell a different story.

The home-grown singer-songwriter, who recently released the CD School of Roses, which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes R&B charts, has a humble day job as a graphic designer at the Ohio Expo Center, also home to Ohio State Fair, 717 E. 17th Ave.

The 2004 graduate of Groveport-Madison High School will join Boyz II Men on stage at 7 p.m. July 24 in the Celeste Center at the Ohio State Fair, which will run through Aug. 3.

He's even doing a little bit of promotion for the show.

"I designed my own flier," Gray said.

Admission is $23, which includes admission to the fairgrounds.

School of Roses soon caught fire, landing at No. 5 on the Billboard R&B charts.

"It started to get some buzz pretty heavily and quickly across the country," he said.

Brett Chance, entertainment director for the expo center, hooked up Gray with the management company of Boyz II Men.

Gray said he's a fan of the vocal group, which had several hits in the early 1990s, such as End of the Road and Motown Philly.

Around the office, Gray might be low key, but his talent is undeniable, said Alicia Shoults, spokeswoman for the expo center and state fair.

"It's interesting because we know Chris as a local guy," she said. "But he's a big star. And his careers are merging at the Ohio State Fair."

General admission to the 161st fair is $10 at the gate, $8 for seniors and kids, ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and younger. Tickets are available for $6 each area Kroger stores, participating AAA storefronts and Ticketmaster. Daily discounts also are offered.

Whereas the fair is known for its focus on Ohio agriculture, it has become equally renowned for its rides, top-level entertainment and food, Shoults said.

For example, actor John Stamos will join the Beach Boys at 7:30 p.m. July 29. Admission is $30, which includes entrance to the fair.

KiddieLand, located on the south side of the fairgrounds, makes its return.

Johnny and Monica Welde of Welde's Big Bear will entertain the crowd with a family of bruins. Shows are 1, 3 and 7 p.m. daily.

Among the other attractions in the children's area are rides, pig races and a free petting zoo, complete with camels, a zebra and baby goats.

Also new this year is the Ultimate Victory Challenge, a mixed-martial arts competition that begins at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2. Tickets are $35 to $60.

"We have worked with that event, had numerous fights on a non-fair basis," Shoults said. "We thought it might be something kind of unique and interesting to try."

The fair celebrates Ohio beverages by offering only beer and wines made in Ohio. There will be different wine-makers featured 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily of the festival at the Taste of Ohio Cafe.

Patrons can sup on new and familiar items tantalizing, unhealthy and, in some cases, bizarre. For example, meal worms are folded into cream cheese, battered and deep-fried.

"I think there will be some adventurous people who will try it, but I think the most people will prefer something sweeter and deep-fried," she said.

Of course, that won't be a problem, with dishes such as the funnel cake sundae and deep-fried candy bars.

In some cases, sweet will be mixed with savory.

Donut burgers are back, but with a twist: the sloppy donut, which features pulled pork, bacon, cheese and deep-fried pickles. Another attraction is the chicken and waffles on a stick. A new take on the BLT offers bacon, lettuce and fried green tomatoes.

Indeed, bacon is a big thing at this year's fair.

Bubba's Bacon, a new vendor, is offering a bacon burger, bacon popcorn, bacon ball on a stick and chocolate-covered bacon.

"This is our 161st fair and we take pride in the fact that we've maintained our roots in agriculture while continually evolving to be consistently ranked as one of the top state fairs in the nation," Shoults said.

"We offer free entertainment, live music, educational activities and so much more, making the Ohio State Fair a family outing where you can get great bang for your entertainment buck."

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