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Pickle Pizza, MC Hammer and a dinosaur stomping ground: The PNE is back

The Pacific National Exhibition is a blend of the traditional and the new. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the food at this year’s fair.

One of the big hooks for 2019 is that Jimmy’s Lunch is celebrating 90 years at the PNE. Thursday morning the Jimmy’s crew grilled up some burgers at a media preview for the fair, which opens Saturday and runs to Sept. 2.

The menu at Jimmy’s Lunch is probably the same as 1929: burgers and hotdogs, served with fries and Coke. Let’s not forget the mountains of onions that they grill for the burgers and dogs, a sweet aroma that wafts throughout the site.

Not so long ago, burgers, dogs and mini-donuts were the staple of the fair. But the PNE has brought in all sorts of ethnic food over the years, and this year, unveils something truly radical — vegan food.

“We’re the first fair in North America to designate a big portion of our food concessionaires to vegan and vegetarian options,” boasts PNE communications head Laura Ballance. “About 10 per cent of our vendors will be vegan or vegetarian.”

Among the vendors and booths “dedicated to plant-based diets” are Buddha-Ful and Savoury Salads.

“People may think we’re crazy, but it really is Vancouver,” said Ballance. “What we see here is that people will maybe eat healthy for dinner, then they’ll treat themselves to mini-donuts or floss or something.”

If you’re not into chowing down on a “Buddha Bowl” of miso ginger, roasted yam, carrot, beet, chard, short grain brown rice, cashew queso, purple cabbage and sunflower seeds, there will be other new and exotic foods to sample.

Many sound totally gross, which is part of their appeal. Jalapeno Lemonade! Butter Beer Ice Cream! Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Corndogs!

Ugh. There’s also a big trend to pickle-favoured food, like Pickle Pizza and Pickle Cotton Candy.

PNE President Shelley Frost is whacked by PNE Creative Director Patrick Roberge on Thursday at a media preview for the 2019 fair. Photo: Arlen Redekop/Postmedia Arlen Redekop / PNG

Entertainment-wise the fair has a concert lineup that should appeal to music fans across the spectrum.

For the baby-boomers there’s Smokey Robinson and the Beach Boys, for R&B fans there’s a double bill of MC Hammer and Bobby Brown. And for PNE President Shelley Frost’s generation, there are favourites from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“I’ve wanted Billy Idol to come to the fair for a long time, so it was really fun to able to say ‘Go get Billy Idol!’” Frost said with a laugh. “Blue Rodeo is the soundtrack of my 20s, I was really glad to be able to say ‘Go get Blue Rodeo!’”

One of the changes in the physical fair is the use of space. A quiet space between the Italian Gardens and Rollerland will become a “dinosaur stomping ground” for kids, complete with area they’ll be able to dig for fossils.

Toon City is another family area that will feature kids shows throughout the day. But it’s been relatively sedate at night, so the fair will be launching a program called Family Flicks, featuring outdoor movies of family favourites like Mary Poppins.

“You can bring a cushion or blanket and watch some really fun family style movies on the hillside,” explains Frost. “Have popcorn and enjoy a movie out in the park.”

The “Revel District” will be a meeting spot at night, over by the amphitheatre where the concerts are staged.

“We have a Mexican zone there that has churros and street tacos, a bit of Mexican fun,” said Frost. “And then we’ve got a western zone that’s got bull riding and ribs, chicken and beer.”

Rollerland will feature a kids-themed event called Snap Happy, where you’ll be able to snap selfies with “playful art installations” like “giant pink polka-dotted cows.”

MC Hammer (L) and Vanilla Ice will both be appearing at this year’s PNE. Vanilla Ice is Aug. 29, MC Hammer is Aug. 30. Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Over at the Garden Auditorium, Game Changers will showcase the history and evolution of video gaming.

“People of my generation will like to see the Pong display and Asteroids,” reasons Ballance. “Younger kids will like the Red Bull area (which features virtual reality gaming).”

“And they’ll laugh at us for Pong and Atari,” said Frost.

The Superdogs will be back at the Coliseum, where they typically draw 6,000 to 10,000 people during the day. For the night show, the PNE is bringing in one of the most famous names in hypnosis: Reveen.

Alas, Peter Reveen passed away a few years ago. The Reveen at the PNE is his son, Ty, who has donned the cape and is up to dad’s old tricks.

Last year’s fair drew 705,000 people over 15 days (the PNE closes Mondays), and Frost says they hope to draw 700,000 to 750,000 people this year.

There may be some big changes coming to the fair in the future. The PNE has been going through a “visioning process,” and will be going to council in the fall or early next year for approval for its master plan.

“The two major projects that are moving forward are a redevelopment of the amphitheatre (to 10,000 seats) and a redevelopment of Playland,” said Frost.

“Playland will almost double in size and become more of a theme park attraction, a world-class attraction that will draw people from all over the region and will take on a new look, feel and life.”

jmackie@postmedia.com

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