Lifelong carnival worker cherishes festivals like Arts, Beats and Eats
ROYAL OAK — Once a year, the downtown area is transformed into the Arts, Beats and Eats festival.
From Aug. 31-Sept. 3, it will be the third year the event is hosted by Royal Oak, and the 15th overall.
Caro resident Ray Defrates, 71, has made a life out of working at these sorts of festivals for more than 50 years. He’s the man you’ll see at the age- and weight-guessing booth in the game section, orchestrated by North American Midway Entertainment.
“I started out when I was a kid watching a guesser and I needed to get a job,” Defrates said. “We guess the age within two years and within two months, and guess the weight within three pounds. A few years ago, I started guessing the due date (of babies).”
In his decades of work on the job, which started when he was 15 and became full time when he was 17, Defrates has traveled most of the U.S. and met a wide variety of people while working 25 festivals per year that each range in length from three days to a week in most cases. His shifts are typically 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
“It’s kind of fun. You travel around and you meet a lot of people,” Defrates said. “My favorite part is meeting the people. I meet a lot of interesting people.”
During a trip to New York, Defrates said he has met celebrities like Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett and Johnny Cash.
“They’d perform and then they’d come over to the midway,” Defrates said.
Sporting his personally owned 1942 Toledo Scale that weighs 450-500 pounds, Defrates said he could guess the weight of event patrons and then have them reveal their weight.
“I had mine built. It’s pretty heavy. It has to be calibrated … 10-12 times per year,” Defrates said. “This is my scale. It’s my baby right here. I had a guy at the last spot. It only goes up to 600. His friends were trying to get him to go on and I couldn’t let him.”
Defrates said he guessed the man weighed 663 pounds, which was about 13 pounds too high. In another case in Indiana, he had a 574-pound woman take the scale.
He said he’s had people return to his booth year after year, with mothers saying his due date guesses were spot on about their now 4-year-olds, or with seniors in wheelchairs toying with him by saying their age is 22.
“That kind of gets you inside,” Defrates said. “I look forward to that, too. I’ve just gotten used to it; all the sounds and all the music. I like to watch the changes. You don’t get to see that in an office. It is a fun job.”
However, he said, in one case, his teasing hit a new level.
“I got smacked by a little Italian lady up in New York,” Defrates said. “She was about 4-feet, 130 (pounds) and I was going to tease with her and said 200 (pounds) and she smacked me right upside the head with her purse.”
The guessing game itself hasn’t changed much over the years, Defrates said.
“The only difference is it used to be 25 cents,” Defrates said, noting the now-inflated price of purchasing prizes.
When he started in the field, Defrates said he was paid $10.10 per day, with the 10 cents to account for the 5-cent bus rides. He said he would run home at the end of the day to save 5 cents to give to his mother. He even worked at Cedar Point from 1959-1960.
Now, he’s traveling the Midwest and East Coast, returning to Arts, Beats and Eats this weekend, which he alternates with the Romeo Peach Festival on Labor Day weekend.
“I was there every year for six to eight years,” Defrates said of Arts, Beats and Eats.
This year’s Arts, Beats and Eats hopes to bring out more than the 335,000 people who braved the weather last year. With a juried art show, huge Zumba event, more than 50 new restaurants, a lineup of music headlined by REO Speedwagon and more, patrons are likely to find something of interest.
“You go there and sit in on the concerts and you’ll find something you’ll like,” said Mayor Jim Ellison. “I think it’s a great lineup this year.”
With a decent weather forecast, festival Producer Jonathon Witz said he’s hoping for 500,000 attendees.
“We certainly hope for a little bit cooler start to the event,” Witz said. “My expectations are high since we have our footing in Royal Oak now.”
For more details on the four-day festival, visit www.artsbeatseats.com, call (248) 334-4600 or follow Arts, Beats and Eats on both Facebook and Twitter @artsbeatseats.