What circulates around the Kentucky State Fair each August is as distinctive as all of the competitive, homespun and often outrageous activities that propel it for 11 days.
For every rooster-crowing contest, there is a country music show. For every courtyard chat with Freddy Farm Bureau, there is a classic pop performance. For every heartburn-inducing corn dog, there is a serving of rock, R&B or contemporary Christian music.
And so it is again this year, with 28 acts converging on the fair in Louisville over the course of 13 concerts. For many, it stands as the last great celebration of the summer. For others, it's a glorious cultural tradition, one in which only the artist names (well, most of them) change from year to year.
As always, if you're taking in any of the summer concert fun at the state fair, you need to keep these things in mind:
■ All performances, free or ticketed, require admission and parking charges for the fair itself (see details in the accompanying box). However, mostticket outlets, including TicketMaster (1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com), include the fair admission with fees for the concerts.
■ All concerts begin at 8 p.m. except for the closing-night performance by Rascal Flatts. Show time for that one is 7:30 p.m.
■ All Cardinal Stadium shows will be held rain or shine.
That's it as far as the rules go. Starting Thursday, the midway opens, the exhibits begin and the pig races commence. And so does the music.
Aug. 19: Sugarland, Little Big Town: From Lilith Fair, which it teamed with this summer, to the Kentucky State Fair, the hit country-pop duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush is back to show off music from its upcoming album, The Incredible Machine. Similarly, the vocal quartet Little Big Town will preview songs off of The Reason Why, which comes out next week. (Freedom Hall. $33, $48.)
Aug. 19: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Run With Bulls: You've seen actress Kristen Stewart play her on film in The Runaways. You've seen country star Miranda Lambert cover her hits (I Love Rock 'n' Roll) in concert at Applebee's Park. Now, get set for the true rock and pop force than is Joan Jett. The Nashville trio Run With Bulls will open. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 20: Jeff Dunhan: Well, this is a first. Instead of country or oldies pop, we have an arena-size puppet show. Of course, that oversimplifies the humor of Dunham. He's a masterful comic, ventriloquist and puppeteer, and his arsenal of characters includes a talking jalapeño, a foul-mouthed superhero, the talking corpse of an inept terrorist and an aging crank known as Walter. (Freedom Hall. $38, $48.)
Aug. 20: MC Hammer, Code Red: Few pop-rap acts rose to stardom and then fell from it faster than MC Hammer did in the early '90s. In a scant two years, he amassed the huge crossover hits 2 Legit 2 Quit and U Can't Touch This. His creditors, though, found Hammer anything but untouchable and forced him into a well-publicized bankruptcy. Louisville hip-hoppers Code Red will open. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 21: Tim McGraw, Montgomery Gentry: How does a recession-proof country concert draw like Tim McGraw spend his summer? Why, by organizing an all-star benefit for victims of May's floods in Nashville and then helping out rock icon Jerry Lee Lewis on his upcoming album Mean Old Man. Central Kentucky's Montgomery Gentry, fresh from this summer's Country Throwdown Tour, is the special guest. (Freedom Hall. $64, $74.)
Aug. 21: Jackyl, Slaughter: A Georgia rock band with the adventuresome Jesse James Dupree still in charge, Jackyl rose to fame in the early '90s with such guitar-rich hits as Push Comes to Shove. Its new album on the Mighty Loud label is When Moonshine and Dynamite Collide. Veteran Las Vegas pop rockers Slaughter (of Fly to the Angels fame) will open. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 22: Oak Ridge Boys, The Grascals: If it's Sunday, then it must mean the Oak Ridge Boys are back. The country-gospel-pop vocal quartet with a history that dates back to the '40s has long been a weekend staple of the state fair. Also on the bill will be The Grascals, the popular Nashville bluegrass-country band that regularly plays regional bluegrass festivals during the summer. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 23: MercyMe, Francesca Battistelli: The fair's annual gospel-contemporary Christian music offering will be the Texas sextet known as MercyMe, which is touring in support of its new album, The Generous Mr. Lovewell. The pop-inclined New York singer-songwriter Francesca Battistelli will complete the bill. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 24: Charlie Daniels Band, Kentucky HeadHunters: A Southern rock mainstay, fiddler/bandleader Charlie Daniels boasts a musical history that runs from late-'60s collaborations with Bob Dylan to present-day Geico commercials. The Kentucky HeadHunters are Metcalfe County country-rock mainstays that recently issued a fine archival live recording from 1990 titled Authorized Bootleg. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 25: Al Jardine, Dean Torrence, Gary Puckett, The Monarchs: Turning back the clock to pop's distant past will be two pioneers of '60s beach music: Al Jardine, a founding member of the Beach Boys, and Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean. Pop mainstay Gary Puckett, who scored numerous hits fronting The Union Gap, and Louisville pop merchants The Monarchs round out this oldies bill. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 26: Jake Owen, The Eli Young Band: It has been a full two days since the fair offered any country music. It returns with Florida-born Jake Owen, the artist who teamed with Sugarland and Little Big Town for the hit 2008 cover of The Dream Academy's Life in a Northern Town. The Texas-based Eli Young Band, named for singer-guitarists Mike Eli and James Young, will open. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 27: Black Stone Cherry, Default, Cavo: Bring out the earplugs for this one. Headlining will be Edmonton's Black Stone Cherry, whose drummer, John Fred Young, is the son of Kentucky HeadHunters guitarist Richard Young. Vancouver's Default (of Wasting My Time fame) and Missouri guitar-rockers Cavo open. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 28: Billy Currington, The Band Perry: Introduced to the country music world via a 2004 hit duet with Shania Twain (Party for Two), Georgia singer Currington has forged a surprisingly durable career of his own thanks to the earnest hits Good Directions and especially People Are Crazy. The show-opening The Band Perry, a sibling trio, will release its debut album in the fall. (Cardinal Stadium. Free.)
Aug. 29: Rascal Flatts, Kellie Pickler, Chris Young: The pop-heavy country trio Rascal Flatts is a regular around these parts, as are show openers Kellie Pickler and Chris Young. The Flatts crew, which will issue the new album Nothing Like This in November, headlined at Rupp Arena last year. Pickler opened there for Taylor Swift in April, and Young shared a Rupp bill with Alan Jackson in May. (Freedom Hall. $48, $69.)