You know the drill. The Kentucky State Fair commences, the midway opens, the corn dogs cook and the rooster crowing contests, well, crow. With these rituals come live music — lots of it, from country to classic pop to R&B and more. It’s a feast of sound that plays out the same way every year, right?
Well, not so in 2018. When this year’s State Fair gets underway on Thursday, the concert traffic will still plentiful, but the presentation will be markedly different.
For starters, the ticketed concerts that usually play out at Freedom Hall are gone. Also, the roster of nightly free performances, currently billed as The Texas Roadhouse Concert Series, has moved from its longstanding home at Cardinal Stadium to a new 4,500 seat entertainment area by the entrance to the adjacent Kentucky Kingdom called Bluegrass Village.
“Historically, when you come here as a fairgoer, you’ve almost had competing interests,” said Cody Patterson, director of communication for Kentucky Venues, which oversees the State Fair’s home, the Kentucky Exposition Center.
“You had the paid concerts and you had the free concerts. We want people to be able to pay their gate admission, see the livestock, grab a bite to eat and then go right over to the free concert. There’s not as much competing for attention, especially for those fairgoers that can only come one night. We wanted to give as much value as possible for everyone’s experience. The State Fair board felt like the free concert series would create that.”
All concerts begin at 8 p.m. except for the finale show by MercyMe, which starts at 4 p.m. The performances are free with paid fair admission and parking.
Here is what you will hear:
Aug. 16: Gary Allan/Walker Montgomery
A frequent State Fair guest over his 20-plus year recording career, the California-born Allan amassed a string of No.1 singles between 2003 and 2013 that included “Man to Man,” “Nothing On But the Radio” and “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).” Opening is the latest member of the country singing Montgomery clan, Walker Montgomery.
Aug. 17: 112/Midnight Star
Named after the club where it auditioned for hip-hop entrepreneur Sean Combs, the Atlanta R&B quartet of Quinnes Parker, Daron Jones, Slim Scandrick and Mike Smith, hit the top of the pop charts with such crossover hits as “It’s Over Now” and “Peaches and Cream” as well the platinum-selling albums as “Room 112” and “Part III.”
Aug. 18: Great White/Vixen/Goldy Locks
Views of Great White can differ wildly. To many, it will always be the band whose pyrotechnics triggered a horrific nightclub fire in 2003 that killed 100 people, including Great White’s guitarist. For those with longer and more loyal memories, Great White was an MTV-friendly favorite in the late ‘80s thanks to the hit “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”
Aug. 19: The Oak Ridge Boys/Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers
An interesting pairing. The Oaks have gospel roots that stem back to the 1940s, although its reputation largely centers on a series of ‘70s and ‘80s country pop hits (“Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue”). That’s the same era the similarly gospel-reared Gatlin began chalking up country hits like “She Used to Sing on Sunday” and “Houston.”
Aug. 20: Casting Crowns/Bonray
The contemporary Christian rock troupe Casting Crowns remains an immensely popular touring and recording group. A veteran of several Rupp Arena performances, the Dove and Grammy winning outfit has placed numerous albums (“The Alter and the Door” and “Come to the Well” among them) in the Top 5 of the all-genre Billboard 200 chart.
Aug. 21: Happy Together Tour 2018
The annual summertime package tour of surviving ‘60s artists returns for another round with Mark Volman and Howard Haylan (Flo & Eddie) of The Turtles leading the charge. It was the Turtles’ 1967 hit “Happy Together” that gave the tour its name. Other artists on the bill include Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and The Association.
Aug. 22: Chris Janson/Carly Pearce
Part of the Saturday lineup at last year’s Red, White and Boom, the very chatty Chris Janson returns to Kentucky having since released his “Everybody” album and two seemingly linked singles – “Fix a Drink” and “Drunk Girl.” Northern Kentucky native Pearce, a 2017 Boom performer and the voice behind “Every Little Thing,” will open.
Aug. 23: Chevelle/The Cunning
There is always a State Fair band that produces enough volume to scare the daylights out of the livestock residing elsewhere on the fairgrounds. This year, that distinction will likely go to the Illinois metal trio Chevelle. Fronted by brothers Pete and Sam Loeffler (on guitar and drums), the band’s newest album is 2016’s “The North Corridor.”
Aug. 24: Josh Turner/Dillon Carmichael
Hands down the top country pick of this year’s State Fair lineup, South Carolina native Turner possesses a rustic and deeply traditional country tenor. He has released six albums, including 2017’s “Deep South.” But nothing better suits his antique singing than the equally vintage sounding title tune to his 2003 debut album, “Long Black Train.”
Aug. 25: The Commodores/Linkin’ Bridge
While Lionel Richie hasn’t been part of the Commodores since 1982, the group still tours today with longtime vocal replacements J.D. Nicholas (formerly of Heatwave) and Walter Orange. The repertoire remains unchanged, as well, from funk favorites like “Brick House” to such pop hits as “Still.”
Aug. 26: MercyMe/Stars Go Dim
The State Fair always ends on a Sunday. As such, its finale concert returns to Christian music. As with Casting Crowns, MercyMe has enjoyed considerable crossover success that was triggered by the triple-platinum selling, Dove award winning “I Can Only Imagine.” It remains contemporary Christian music’s all-time top selling single.
If you go:
Kentucky State Fair
When: Aug. 16-26
Where: Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane in Louisville
Admission: $7-$10 (excludes parking, $5-$10)