Music News & Reviews

Kentucky State Fair brings a fresh harvest of concerts

Reba will open the Kentucky State Fair concert calendar Aug. 18, 2016.
Reba will open the Kentucky State Fair concert calendar Aug. 18, 2016.

It’s Kentucky State Fair time again, and you know what that means — conversations with Farm Bureau Freddie, a late night twirl on the midway and, of course, the thrill of the pig race and the agony of the corn dog.

Oh, yes — and music. Lots of music. From indoor shows by prime country celebs to a series of free outdoor performances where the sounds include rock, modern and classic pop, vintage R&B and even more country. It’s a parade of 14 concerts in 11 days.

A few things to keep in mind if you’re Fair bound. Tickets for the Freedom Hall concerts are available through Ticketmaster (1-800-745-3000 or The free shows still require State Fair admission and a few extra bucks for parking.

Outside of that, the State Fair and its bounty of live music await you.

Aug. 18: Reba, Parmalee (7:30 p.m., Freedom Hall. $46, $50.) Audiences got to know her as Reba McEntire. Today, she simply goes by Reba, possibly the most influential country music entrepreneur since Dolly Parton. The country quartet Parmalee, whose home state became the title of its huge 2013 hit (“Carolina”) will open.

Aug. 18: ABBA: The Concert, Kazual (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Let’s be clear. This is not a reunion outing by the famed Swedish pop quartet that split as a full time unit in 1982. “ABBA: The Concert,” rather, is a touring tribute production that has been a stage attraction for 20 years — roughly twice as long as the original Abba existed.

Aug. 19: Jeff Dunham (7 p.m., Freedom Hall. $40, $50.) The most popular ventriloquist of his generation, Dunham has gathered a variety of dysfunctional characters (Peanut, Sweet Daddy Dee, Walter and especially Achmed the Dead Terrorist) into his stage programs. His current touring show is titled “Perfectly Unbalanced.”

Aug. 19: Ashanti, After 7 (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Getting the groove going on Saturday will be contemporary R&B/hip-hop stylist and sometimes actress Ashanti, whose hits include “Foolish,” “Rock wit U” and “Rain on Me.” The ’90s era pop-soul trio After 7 (“Ready or Not”) will share the bill.

Aug. 20: Kentucky HeadHunters, Black Stone Cherry (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) This family affair outing teams the pride of Metcalfe County, the Kentucky HeadHunters, with their hard rock offspring from Black Stone Cherry. Specifically, Cherry drummer John Fred Young is the son of HeadHunter guitarist Richard Young and nephew of drummer Fred Young.

Aug. 21: Oak Ridge Boys, Martin Family Circus (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Also keeping things in the family is this country-gospel outing. Oak Ridge Boy vocalist Duane Allen is the father of Jamie Allen Martin, the matriarch of the show-opening Martin Family Circus, a group co-founded by Winchester guitarist and Marty Stuart/Exile alumnus Paul Martin.

Aug. 22: Newsboys, 7eventh Time Down (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Throughout its 30 year history, the Australia Christian rock group Newsboys has been a potent commercial force. Its visibility became stronger still when DC Talk and longtime solo artist Michael Tait became its lead vocalist in 2009. Newsboys’ newest album, the synth-savvy “Love Riot,” was released in March.

Aug. 23: Happy Together Tour 2016 (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) The Happy Together Tour is the annual summer assemblage of 1960s-era pop vets hosted by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles (also know as the Frank Zappa alumni duo Flo & Eddie). This year’s lineup includes Chuck Negron, Mark Lindsay, The Cowsills, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and The Spencer Davis Group.

Aug. 24: Chris Janson, Brooke Eden (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium; Free) Missouri native Janson began making a name in Nashville in 2009 through duet recordings with Holly Williams. His biggest solo imprint came when his “Buy Me a Boat” album and its title tune single became Top 5 country hits last year.

Aug. 25: Blood, Sweat & Tears with Bo Bice, Stephen Bishop (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Pairing something old with something a little less old is this performance by the horn-savvy troupe Blood, Sweat & Tears (of “Spinning Wheel” fame) with 2005 “American Idol” runner up Bo Bice as its current lead singer. Stephen Bishop scored several pop hits during the ’70s but had many more covered by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Eric Clapton.

Aug. 26: American Authors, Public (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) You probably know American Authors’ music even if you don’t the group by name. The group’s 2013 single “Best Day of My Life” became the soundtrack for numerous commercials, films, sports programs and even last year’s Miss America pageant.

Aug. 27: Rachel Platten, Jeffrey James (8 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) Think “Best Day of My Life” got multi-media exposure? Then get a load of how many places Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” has wound up. An all-star video of the tune was even filmed by “Pitch Perfect 2” director Elizabeth Banks for the recent Democratic National Convention.

Aug. 28: Francesca Battistelli, Building 429, Lauren Daigle, Finding Favour (4 p.m., Cardinal Stadium. Free.) The fair’s free concert lineup returns to contemporary Christian music for its finale. Closing things out at Cardinal Stadium will be Grammy and multi-Dove Award winner Francesca Battistelli. Her newest album is 2014’s “If We’re Honest.”

Aug. 28: Chris Young, Brett Eldredge, Chris Lane (7 p.m., Freedom Hall. $48-60.) Chris Young must like Kentucky a lot. The singer behind such hits as “The Man I Want to Be” and “I’m Comin’ Over” headlined the 2015 Red, White & Boom festival. Along with his closing night State Fair visit, Young already has a local return planned with a Rupp Arena concert on Dec. 10.

Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at

If you go

Kentucky State Fair

When: Aug. 18-28

Where: Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane, Louisville

Admission: $10 (free for children five and under), $8 (parking)

Call: 502-367-5002