No matter how many different kinds of entertainment you’ve seen in your life, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being awestruck by a girl suspended in midair by her hair or a man keeping his balance atop a single wheel while tossing around flaming pins.
Such were the wonders of the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus in two performances Sunday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. The day of family fun, sponsored by the Craig Lions Club, was jam-packed with excitement from the midway activities like pony rides and a bounce house that greeted younger audience members at the gate leading to the blue and white tent encasing the show of a lifetime.
The crowd was greeted by guest ringmistress Kristi Shepherd, president of the Lions Club, and regular announcer Miss Simone as organizers brought in some of their biggest and furriest draws — a lion named Francis and tiger and tigress Solomon and Delilah. Trainer Trey Key, who also owned Culpepper & Merriweather for the past 13 years, showed what the large felines could do, though not without a little help from the spectators, who reminded him of the magic word — “please” — needed to get Francis to jump from one platform to another.
Out of all the viewers enraptured by the beauty of the lion and tigers, perhaps none enjoyed it more than Shepherd, who stopped by the face-painting booth to get adorned with the orange and black of a tiger.
“I’m a huge jungle cat fan,” she said. “I’m just like a kid at heart.”
The antics of clown duo Judy and Punchy kept the show going between acts as the staff cleared the ring for the unicycle talents of the Arlise Troupe and set up the intricate rigging needed for performers like Miss Elizabeth, whose acrobatic skills were only increased by the fact that she was hoisted by her hair follicles.
According to Key, the “hair hang” is a rarity in most circuses today and one Culpepper & Merriweather didn’t have the last time they set up in Craig.
“In all the 29 years this show’s been around, we’ve never had anything like that,” he said. “It used to be more common, but it’s not an easy way to earn a living.”
The audience was just as captivated with Miss Elizabeth’s fancy footwork in a later juggling exhibition and with Miss Simone’s prowess on the trapeze. Other causes for applause were the bullwhips of Melray Silverlake as he sliced through paper and balloons with pinpoint precision, followed by animal acts like Miss Paulina and Her Birds of Paradise and Natalie Cainan’s canine ensemble, the American Eskimo Escapade.
Audience member Sydnie Harding, 12, said the cadre of dogs was one of her favorite parts of the show, particularly the smallest pup.
“It reminded me of my friend’s dog, Anya,” she said.
Kayden Grinolds, 6, said she enjoyed the acrobats the most, but it was hard to pick any one act as the best.
“I liked everyone there,” she said.
The feeling was mutual with the people of Culpepper & Merriweather.
“I’m glad to be back in Craig and working with the Lions Club, it’s always really special,” Key said. “It’s the relationships you build with people across the country that makes this so fun.”
For anyone who was unable to attend the show, Culpepper & Merriweather will perform in Steamboat Springs at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.