August 1, 2008

Concert Lineup Offers Quite a Mix


With multiple major free-concert series, several casinos within driving distance, a corporate-run mainstream concert pavilion, and a number of prime concert clubs all competing for the attention of music lovers across the span of the summer's mere 12 weeks, America's Fair had its work cut out for it this year.

Sure, the Fair is the Fair, and people are likely to go for a variety of reasons -- tradition, nostalgia, the need for good, clean family fun -- regardless of the musical lineup presented, a roster some might even see as incidental to the yearly "firemen's muster"- type event.

Clearly, however, the bookers, planners and promoters out at the Hamburg Fairgrounds have sought increasingly to provide a lineup that is both competitive with the rest of the area's summer concert action and diverse enough to please the "everyman/everywoman" populism that is the heart of a county fair experience, from Buffalo to Baton Rouge and back.

This may explain why, for the past decade or so, the Fair has been broadening its horizons, musically speaking, and expanding beyond the country music base that has always been its bread and butter.

Heck, plenty of kids attend, and their interests should be served too, even if that interest is wholly a product of exposure to the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Metal heads aren't averse to cotton candy and the odd midway ride either, so why should they be left out? And, of course, one can't abandon one's base; country music and county fairs go hand-in-hand, like NASCAR and auto fumes, cold beer and hot August evenings.

From Bob Dylan to ZZ Top, Def Leppard to Trace Adkins, Deep Purple to Keith Urban, the Fair has spent the past 10 years or so seeking to please all comers. This year is no exception. In fact, the two-week lineup at the Grandstand may be the most diverse one yet. Here's a primer in what to expect. Tickets for all shows (except the Spinners performance, which is free) are available through

*Vanessa Hudgens with Rooney (Aug. 9): The "High School Musical" star is surfing a wave of near-hysteria, and her debut solo effort is riding high on the strength of the dance-pop hard candy ditty "Sneaker Night." Rooney will open with a set of power-pop landing somewhere between the sugar-sweet Jonas Brothers and the Beatle- worshipping Jellyfish.

*Ted Nugent with the Gregg Rolie Band (Aug. 10): Nugent will arrive loaded for bear. He has just released a killer new live album, "Sweden Rocks," and if this record offers any indication, the Motor City Madman has never been in finer form, as both guitar picker and fast-talking instigator. Expect the classics, from "Stranglehold" to "Cat Scratch Fever," as well as some more recent propaganda-rock, a la "I Am the NRA." Founding member of both Santana and Journey, keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rolie will lead his excellent new band through a set of classic Afro-Cuban rock, including tons of early Santana hits. This will be killer, no doubt.

*Taylor Swift with James Otto (Aug. 11): What happens if you cross Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton with the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain? You sell millions of albums, apparently. Taylor Swift is currently country's hottest commodity, and she has not yet reached her 20th birthday. A full-throated singer deftly blending the rich tradition of classic country with its more contemporary rock and pop leanings, Swift's show is perhaps the most buzzed-about on the Fair's roster. Country rocker James Otto, who recently lit up Dunn Tire Park with a fiery set during the WYRK Taste of Country, will open.

*Heaven & Hell with Motorhead and Testament (Aug. 12): Omigod. This bill isn't messing around. Heaven & Hell -- Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio fronting, whether it's called as much or not -- has been in spectacularly heavy form since reuniting three years back. All three of its studio albums and the double album concert document "Live Evil" have just been remastered and rereleased, and there is talk of new material. Get ready to "throw some goat"! Motorhead and testament opening? Lemmy at the Hamburg Fairgrounds? A blessed day, to be sure.

*The Spinners (Aug. 13): Happily, some first-rate Detroit soul music will be represented during this year's Fair lineup, when the Spinners play a free show at the grandstand. Some 50 years after its first hit, the group will remind us what R&B and soul music once were. For free, to boot.

*Merle Haggard with Phil Vassar (Aug. 14): You can't get more "classic country" than Merle Haggard. The man's face should be carved into the side of Mount Rushmore, so estimably does his shadow loom over the history of the genre. As a recent tour with Bob Dylan made plain, Hagg's still got the goods. Phil Vassar, who spent years writing songs made into hits by the likes of Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson before becoming a star under his own name, will open.

e-mail: [email protected]

Originally published by News Pop Music Critic.

(c) 2008 Buffalo News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.