Country-flavored acts cover a lot of ground on New York State Fair stages this year, providing a taste of the wide variety of what’s being called country these days. Two Grandstand performers return after playing there at the 2006 Fair: Keith Urban headlined a memorable show while Jason Aldean opened eight days later for Gretchen Wilson.
Urban’s 7:30 p.m. return on Friday, Aug. 24, is overdue, six years ago after having ignited a show that sizzled with his charisma and energy. While Aldean and many of the younger acts busting out as hot-country heroes think they have to prove their redneck machismo, sort of the country versions of gangstas, Urban’s easy charm is a throwback to the days when Nashville stars connected with audiences through class and poise as well as genuine talent.
The Aussie guitar slinger’s classic rock-flavored musical style is a departure from the Grand Ole Opry in its heyday. Yet his personality would have fit right in with vintage stars who were confident that if they gave their all and sang from the heart the audience would adore them. Even fans who are lukewarm to Urban’s recordings would be smart to turn out to hear one of the best live performers on the road today.
Opening act David Nail has a way with a ballad, which may just give him the potential to distinguish himself among newer male singers, who lean toward more upbeat material. Tickets are $45, $55 and $65.
Some fans of Aldean were reportedly upset at not getting seats close to the Joe LaGuardia Grandstand stage for his 7:30 p.m. concert on Friday, Aug. 31. If his last appearance there is any indication, they will certainly have no trouble hearing him if they are anywhere in the Grandstand, on the Fairgrounds or within Onondaga County. Earplugs are definitely recommended in case he repeats what was one of the loudest and most raucous “country” shows seen there.
Commercially, the Georgia boy has progressed substantially since then, doing big numbers in CD and download sales and now selling out the Grandstand. He lists among his musical influences Guns N’ Roses and Tupac Shakur and it shows: Aldean sometimes gives up the pretense of being a country artist, even allowing his lackluster singing to give way to a mumbling rap. Hank Williams, he ain’t.
Opening act Luke Bryan had a great start with the single “All My Friends Say.” It was far and away the best cut on his debut CD, although his follow-ups haven’t been as impressive, the recent “Drunk On You” a noteworthy exception. Obstructed-view ducats are $45 and $55.
Turning to the free shows at Chevy Court, versatile and polished pop-country band Sawyer Brown makes its court encore at 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24, after their razor-sharp 2005 set there was a highlight that year. The group’s driving force, singer-songwriter Mark Miller, is dynamic and irresistible, his hot band mates are tight and improvisational and their repertoire deep and textured. A long list of dandy songs—some poignant, some spicy—make this show likely to be among the court’s best again this year.
Venerable balladeer Ronnie Milsap returns to Chevy Court on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2 p.m., having scored a strong showing there in 2007 with the stellar backing of the Stan Colella Orchestra. He’ll have to make it without the Colella guys this time and he’ll surely rely on his four decades on stage and his Nashville-meets-Vegas stage presence, although his tacky blind jokes should be retired by now. His bluesy tenor has carried him through the years, making him one of those performers who never has time to sing all of his hits—from 1974’s “Pure Love” to 1991’s “Turn That Radio On”—in one show.
Gutsy singer Gary Allan hits Chevy Court stage later that day on Sunday, Aug. 26, 8 p.m. Sixteen years after his chart debut, the California native has staked out a position as interpreter of introspective, at times moody, songs. His sincere delivery and gritty vocal style set him apart from all the guys out there singing about romance and partying, as the rail-slim Allan often digs a little deeper to strike emotional gold.
Meteoric sibling trio The Band Perry is a good bet to draw the most fans to Chevy Court this year with their first State Fair appearance on Sunday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m. It’s hard to categorize the style of lead vocalist Kimberly Perry and little brothers Reid and Neil, and that’s just how these multitalented kids want it. They stretch the limits from bluegrass-style acoustic numbers to classic country soul to steamy torch songs, laying in rich harmony throughout. As long as they stick to touching, mature songs like their powerful “If I Die Young” and guard against a tendency to slide into Taylor Swift-like cotton candy, the Perrys could be a force on the country scene for a long time.
Little-known singer Candy Coburn gets a chance to impress a Labor Day crowd on Monday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m., three years after her last Fair appearance opening for Big & Rich at the Grandstand before a sparse audience. She showed plenty of spunk at that show, but her ordinary voice failed to win over many fans as she rocked out on a lime-green guitar. It doesn’t seem that much has changed as she’s still seeking to make inroads in terms of popularity. The other act on the bill, Native American folk singer Joanne Shenandoah, seems an odd match with Coburn.
The final Chevrolet Court performance of this year will be the Sept. 3, 8 p.m., Charlie Daniels Band concert, their ninth appearance on that stage. At 75 years old, this is not the same Charlie Daniels that played the Grandstand four consecutive years beginning in 1979 before becoming one of the court’s most frequent guests. The rollicking shows of the once-rebellious and bellicose longhaired country boy lost their edge with Daniels’ conversion into a spokesman for the religious right, a less-wacky, country Ted Nugent.
This year’s show will be a melancholy landmark as the outfit carries on without the steady hand of keyboard player Taz DiGregorio, who was killed in car crash last October. A tribute to the original Charlie Daniels Band member at an event he played so often would be fitting indeed.
The non-musical Grandstand show, Sunday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m., features Larry the Cable Guy, whose role in the popular Blue Collar Comedy franchise has made his low-brow witticisms part of the American vernacular. There’s nothing new about a redneck boy using his lack of sophistication to make people laugh. As far back as Andy Griffith’s hilarious 1953 monologue as a country boy bewildered by a football game, southerners were poking fun at themselves to the amusement of the whole nation.
But Griffith and the entire Hee-Haw generation of comics
managed to be funny without the outhouse humor Larry spreads so freely
and, more important, they refrained from using mean-spirited imitations
mocking people with disabilities. The sleeveless one can be clever at
times, but in a nation where we’re supposedly getting serious about
bullying, parents should certainly keep their kids away from his shows.
Tickets are $25, $35 and $45.