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On the count of three, you're going to read this story about hypnotist Steve Bayner

A man smiles in a black shirt standing in front of blue stage. a light leak streaks across the photo
Mikaela Lefrak
Vermont Public
Hypnotist Steve Bayner has been entertaining audiences at the Champlain Valley Fair for more than 30 years. After the fair ends this year, he plans to retire.

After more than 30 years of thrilling audiences at the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction, hypnotist Steve Bayner is planning to retire.

For decades, he has hypnotized fairgoers into talking in silly voices and acting like animals on stages. Bayner, who is 69, is a tall guy with short gray hair and a trademark outfit — black short-sleeved collared shirt, dark blue jeans.

Ahead of his final stint at the fair, he’s in an introspective mode.

"All these years that I’ve been doing this, I have more questions today than I did when I started," he says. "In many ways, I feel like I understand less today than I did 30 or 40 years ago."

Despite years of practice, he says he doesn't understand what exactly happens in the minds of his subjects. Despite everything he’s read about it, it all still feels like a mystery.

"Truth is something we don't get a lot of, in today's world," he says. "And so yeah, I want to know the truth about everything, and especially what I've done for the last umpteen years."

"I want to know the truth about everything, and especially what I've done for the last umpteen years."
Steve Bayner, hypnotist

Bayner’s originally from Washington state. As a young man, he was looking for a way to break into the entertainment industry — first through magic, and then a garage band. He eventually found his way to hypnosis.

He was hypnotized, and the experience hooked him. He made a career of it, performing at fairs and corporate events and on cruises. He learned to read audiences closely, to pick out which people would be the best on stage.

"There were a couple of girls up here the other day, and I knew there was no chance," he says. "Not everyone gets hypnotized. It’s generally lack of attention. Body language tells me a lot. I’ve gotten really, really good at being able to tell by a person’s body language."

"Not everyone gets hypnotized. Body language tells me a lot. I’ve gotten really really good at being able to tell by a person’s body language."
Steve Bayner, hypnotist

He’s also gotten good enough to hypnotize himself. He says he even got his wisdom teeth removed without any pain medication. He just pictured himself on a beach in Hawaii.

"I could hear him wiggling my tooth around, but I did not allow my mind to go there," he says. "I just said, 'I can’t go there.' So I just stayed with the image I had made for myself, and honest it did not hurt."

Bayner’s been performing at the Champlain Valley Fair for so many years that some of his earliest audience members now have kids of their own, who they bring to his shows.

More from Vermont Public: The Champlain Valley Fair is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Here's how it has changed in the last century

Jeff Bartley is marketing director with the Champlain Valley Expo, which hosts the fair. He says Bayner is something of a local legend.

"I’ve heard there was one year — before I started here — where they moved the stage of where Steve Bayner was, and you thought the fair was coming to a close," he says. "We received a lot of negative feedback of, 'Where’s Steve Bayner?' So we very quickly put him back in the proper place next year."

"It’s bittersweet. He’s been a longtime friend of the fair ... He’s given us a lot of laughs over the years."
Jeff Bartley, Champlain Valley Expo marketing director

The fair hosts many different kinds of performers every year, from a Queen cover band to sheep shearing demonstrations, but they say they really don’t know how they’ll fill Bayner’s shoes.

"It’s bittersweet. He’s been a longtime friend of the fair," Bartley says. "This is not just his last fair with us, it’s his last fair ever. And he held out for the 100th. He’s given us a lot of laughs over the years."

Bayner says he’s watched his crowds dwindle a bit over the years, and that’s part of the reason why he knows it’s time to move on.

"You can only go so long and expect to have huge crowds, but I've had a lot of people coming up to me this week, and they say, 'Hey, will you sign something for me?' or else they want to get a picture taken," he says. "And it's not because they want my autograph or anything like that, but they you know, they want a memory. They go, 'Hey, man, you're not gonna be here. I grew up with you.' I really want to give a heartfelt thank you to the community. It's been a lot of fun."

Bayner plans to retire to Florida, where he says he’ll play a lot of golf. And he’s hoping to be back at the Champlain Valley Fair next year… as a spectator this time.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontpublic.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
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