Music News & Reviews

Kentucky State Fair music preview: A buffet, but heavy on country

Carly Rae Jepsen is on a double bill Friday with The Wanted.
Carly Rae Jepsen is on a double bill Friday with The Wanted. Courtesy of the artist

You probably thought all the Kentucky State Fair had to offer concert goers anymore was country music. Rest assured, country will be served in heaping quantities when the fair settles into the Kentucky Expositon Center in Louisville on Thursday for its annual 11-day run. But get a load of what else is in store.

Along with six separate country concerts, the fair will offer a cross-continental boy band, a pack of veteran femme fatales, a pair of Frank Zappa alums, a troupe of decidedly non-PC puppets, and a family of seasoned duck enthusiasts.

All of it is fun. So get set to take in the foreign and familiar sounds of this year's Kentucky State Fair.


All free concerts require fair admission and parking; for ticketed events, go to Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or

Aug. 15, Alan Jackson, Gary Allan: With George Strait bowing out of the game, Jackson now reigns as country music's top-drawing traditionalist. Curiously, his next record will be a bluegrass album ingeniously titled The Bluegrass Album that sports a cover of — what else? — Blue Moon of Kentucky. The opening act for Jackson's decidedly country-driven Thirty Miles West Tour will be Allan, of Nothing On But the Radio fame. (8 p.m. Freedom Hall. $39, $49.)

Aug. 15, Vertical Horizon, Blind Melon: Welcome back to the '90s. Two of your alt-pop faves have been waiting for you. Blind Melon helped define a new radio-rock era with 1993's No Rain (the song with the video of the "bee girl") but quickly faded from view after the overdose-related death of vocalist Shannon Hoon. Vertical Horizon, still fronted by singer/guitarist Matt Scannell, sported a slightly harder sound that rounded out the decade with Everything You Want. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 16, The Wanted, Carly Rae Jepsen: Friday night belongs to the kids, with a double bill that teams two pop up-and-comers. Canadian singer Jepsen had the song of the summer last year with the international No. 1 hit Call Me Maybe. Before that, she introduced herself to her home country with a third-place finish in the fifth television season of Canadian Idol. The British/Irish boy band The Wanted began to establish a North American fan base last year with the pop hit Glad You Came. (8 p.m. Freedom Hall. $45.)

Aug. 16, En Vogue: At the height of its popularity in the '90s, the California-based En Vogue was one of the hottest female vocal troupes in the land, commanding generous support from pop and R&B-driven audiences. Fueling that following was a pair of Top 10 albums — 1992's Funky Divas and 1997's EV3 — and hits like My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It). Today, only two founding members — Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron — remain in the ranks. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 17, Toby Keith, Kip Moore: Oklahoma country star Keith is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his self-titled debut album this year. The prolific singer issued 15 studio follow-ups during the two ensuing decades, the newest being 2012's Hope on the Rocks. No. 16 is on the way. Keith's recent single Drinks After Work is a preview of his next, as yet-untitled, album. Somethin' 'Bout a Truck singer Moore will open the show. (Freedom Hall. 8 p.m. $45, $56.)

Aug. 17, Chevelle: Take two brothers (guitarist/vocalist Pete Loeffler and drummer Sam Loeffler) and their brother-in-law (bassist Dean Bernardini), toss in a tough-knuckled sound that flirts with power-trio efficiency but is prone to huge, metal-savvy outbursts, and you have the platinum Illinois troupe Chevelle. The trio's newest album is Hats Off to the Bull. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 18, The Oak Ridge Boys, Jimmy Fortune: As always, Sunday evening at the Kentucky State Fair marks the return of the Oak Ridge Boys, the group than began more than 65 years ago as a gospel ensemble but is best known for the harmony-rich country pop that it has designed from the early '80s onward. Fortune, an alumnus of the Statler Brothers, rounds out the bill. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 19, Casting Crowns: What would you expect out of a band formed in Daytona Beach, Fla.? Well, forget the party-savvy assumptions in this case. Formed as a student worship group at the close of the '90s, Casting Crowns became a Dove- and Grammy-winning band that regularly crossed over from a devout Christian rock following to the pop mainstream. Its past three albums hit the Top 5 in the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 20, Clay Walker, Parmalee: Walker is a frequent but not consistent hitmaker, and sustained runs at the country charts always seemed out of reach. Then, as soon as critics started to dismiss him, the Texas-bred singer bounced back. He scored a Top 5 hit as recently as 2009's She Won't Be Lonely Long. The North Carolina country-rock quartet Parmalee will open. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 21, Jerrod Niemann, Thomas Rhett, Kelsey K: Yet more country music, this time from comparative newcomer Niemann, who hails from the metropolis of Liberal, Kan. Borrowing generously from vintage guitar rock but often revealing a dash of Americana roots charm, Niemann scored a No. 1 album in 2010 with Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury. Georgia songsmith Rhett and teenage country newcomer Kelsey K will kick off the show. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 22, Happy Together Tour with The Turtles, Chuck Negron, Gary Lewis, Gary Puckett, Mark Lindsay: Here is your king-size helping of '60s and '70s pop that brings together members of Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Union Gap, Three Dog Night and more with the princes of psychedelic pop, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of the Turtles (and, during the early '70s, Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention), as hosts. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 23, Montgomery Gentry: This one should play very well at the fair. Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry don't scale the charts with the same frequency that they did a decade ago (although Where I Come From cracked the Top 10 in 2012), but there will undoubtedly be legions of fans and friends turning out to help the Southern rock-inclined Central Kentucky duo feel at home on home-state turf. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 24, Theory of a Deadman, Black Stone Cherry: They are buddies with Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, performance mates with Chris Daughtry and have had the distinction of being part of the White Trash Circus Tour in 2009 with Motley Crue and Godsmack. But at the fair, Theory of a Deadman will share the stage with their longtime Kentucky-born pals from Black Stone Cherry. Expect an evening of loose, loud and suitably non-suave rock 'n' roll. (8 p.m. Cardinal Stadium. Free.)

Aug. 25, A Conversation with the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty: Well, it's country, that's for sure, but nobody will be picking tunes. In fact, the closest thing to an instrument you are apt to find onstage will be a duck call. Holding court on the last afternoon of the fair will be the family Robertson — Willie, Korie, Si and Miss Kay. Rock stars of a very different order, they are better known as the proprietors of the A&E reality series Duck Dynasty. How very fair-like. (The family will be at Rupp Arena on Sept. 29.) (3 p.m. Freedom Hall. $38, $48.)

Aug. 25, Jeff Dunham: Breaking away from a final country concert on closing night, the fair finishes with an performance by comedian/ventriloquist Dunham. Consistently one of the top-grossing comedy artists in the world, Dunham's act is curiously rooted in tradition, specifically the vintage routines of Edgar Bergen. But his characters — a grumpy elder, a lowbrow superhero, a beer-guzzling redneck and the corpse of a bush-league terrorist — speak to an entirely different generation. (7:30 p.m. Freedom Hall. $40, $48.)


Kentucky State Fair

When: Aug. 15-25

Where: Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Philips Ln., Louisville

Admission: $10 adults, $6 children/seniors; free for ages 2 and younger. $8 parking.

Learn more: (502) 367-5001, (502) 367-5002,