Toby Keith: The artist will put his acting career aside to rock the Fair audience. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
For country fans, the first year of
State Fair concerts being booked by Live Nation presents a
disappointing trio of reruns at the Mohegan Sun Grandstand. But there
is good news for fans: The best country act at this year's fair is
free. The rare and inspired talents of western swing wizards Asleep at
the Wheel open the Chevrolet Court series on Thursday. Aug. 20, with
two shows at 4 and 8 p.m.
The band will perform an innovative and
lively mix of styles pioneered by country legend Bob Wills. It's a
unique and irresistible sound that isn't played or heard much in
upstate New York. In truth, the program directors for local country
stations probably think that western swing is Kenny Chesney's new
touring strategy and that Bob Wills played shortstop for the Dodgers.
Wheel founder Ray Benson has nurtured
this dazzling act and cultivated its classic sound since 1970, making
sure they showcase their flair for improvisational playing with a
rotating cast consisting of some of the most talented touring musicians
in the industry. The lanky baritone is all class, with an easy charm
and loads of the old-fashioned showmanship for which country is
revered. It's a refreshing departure from the arrogant pandering that
will be on display at the grandstand.
While some musical blends merely water
down a style of music to give it mass appeal, western swing polishes
the great songs of the Andrews Sisters, Count Basie, Ernest Tubb and
Hank Thompson in addition to Wills' originals, notably the national
anthem of western swing, “San Antonio Rose.” It's all played with the
classic piano and horns partnered with fiddle and steel guitar. And
nobody does it better than the multi-Grammy winning band from Austin.
First up at the grandstand—and the best
bet for a good country show—is the seventh visit of Brooks and Dunn,
slated for Monday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. That's because a B&D show is
more about the music than the other scheduled acts. The future Country
Hall-Of-Fame duo has had plenty of highlights in the 17 years since
their vinyl-era debut, Brand New Man, which incidentally
featured the Ronnie Dunn-composed “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” previously
recorded by Asleep at the Wheel. Strangely enough, this year they’re
paired with bearded rockers ZZ Top in a live rock and country show a la
CMT’s Crossroads program. Tickets are $45 and $55.
On Thursday, Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.,
multimedia star Toby Keith returns to the grandstand for the sixth
time. Keith has a new movie out, Beer for My Horses (it opened
Aug. 8 in Buffalo), along with a soundtrack CD featuring cuts from
Rodney Carrington, Mel Tillis and, believe it or not, Ted Nugent, who
plays a character named Skunk in the flick and also has two Chevy Court
gigs on the same day. After Keith’s stiff and listless acting in his
dismal first film, Broken Bridges, however, it’s a little like
bringing Dubya back for another term in the White House. As for his
concerts, Keith’s talent fails to shine through the flashiness and
macho chest-thumping of his musical beer blasts.
Worse yet, this year he brings along to
open the show three virtually unknown acts that, not coincidentally,
are currently signed to his Show Dog Nashville label. Thus the
audience, who paid top dollar for a concert, gets carried along on
Keith’s ego trip as guinea pigs while he promotes his own business
Carter’s Chord, featuring the sister
trio of Becky, Emily and Joanna Robertson from California, recently
issued a debut CD of lame pop ditties that make them sound like a
female Rascal Flatts. The second act is Mica Roberts, a melodramatic,
bluesy vocalist from, believe it or not, Locust Grove, Okla. Also
featured will be the trio Trailer Choir, whose stage show is as
contrived as their hokey name, complete with a rotund good ol’ boy
known as Big Vinny the Mack, who highlights performances by flopping
around on the stage like a hooked catfish. It’s no coincidence that all
three acts also have tracks on Keith’s Beer for My Horses soundtrack CD. Ducats to Keith’s show are $56.50 and $66.50.
On Sunday, Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m., the State
Fair will host the fourth grandstand appearance by pretty-boy band
Rascal Flatts. If you missed them the first three times, not to worry.
There’s nothing creative or original about shows staged by these
arrogant, overrated cousins and they never have anything witty or
original to say to their fawning, mostly female fans. They grovel for
applause like organ-grinder monkeys, with phony posing and a boatload
of cutesy country hip-hop tunes.
Teen sensation Taylor Swift also returns
to open the show; she’s armed with charm, spunk, and angst but, alas,
precious little actual talent. Her first CD has soared with her
youthful audience, who apparently identify with her torchy adolescent
themes, but her songs are pretty much all the same, her range limited
and her singing as flat as Kansas. Tickets run $56.50 and $66.50.
Gary LeVox: The Rascal Flatts singer will perform as part of this year’s hit parade at the State Fair. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO