Play Fair

Explore the surreal side of Fair Saint Louis

In case you hadn't noticed, St. Louis gets pretty hopped up about Independence Day, as evidenced by the free über-party on the riverfront. When Fair Saint Louis began in 1981 as a project of the cryptic Veiled Prophet Organization, it was touted as a way to "unite St. Louis" and spread patriotism (or something), and the "Great American Celebration" was called the VP Fair. Fair organizers dropped the "VP" because they'd broken ties with the century-old brotherhood of the economic elite, and no one knew what VP stood for anyway. Vestiges remain, however: The VP Parade embarks from the corner of Fourth Street and Washington Avenue on Saturday, July 3, at 10 a.m. The fair's traditional pillars of "patriotic pageantry," live music, funnel cakes and beer remain intact as well -- with a few new twists.

The 2004 theme is "Meet Me at the Fair," so spread across the fairgrounds will be reminders of the golden age of St. Louis. The most promising of these is the Eads Bridge, which will be open to foot traffic, with a recreation of "The Pike" (the side show/amusement park of the 1904 World's Fair) and a great view of the fireworks that detonate nightly over the mighty river. The weirdest is a collection of sand sculptures in front of the Old Courthouse, each one a replica of 1904 World's Fair sculptures -- including Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, who was rendered in butter (yes, butter) for the original fair. And don't forget to visit Bud World, Budweiser's ode to itself, which features a "high impact video [that] offers a perspective on how Budweiser reaches lives daily in a variety of unexpected ways, reinforcing the brand's core values." And it's delivered in "BudVision." Neat. If you're legal, you get to sample these core values after the propaganda's over.