Green Grass & High Tides At The State Fair

Southern rock was pretty much the dominant genre in my high school parking lot during the late 1970’s (the lot right next to the water tower with the “Power To The Students” and “Stoned and drunk and always late, that’s the Class of ’78.” graffiti.)

The free concerts at the New York State Fair this year have five country rock bands spread out over two days and the main grandstand has Lynyrd Skynyrd, the most famous of all southern rock bands (well, at least more famous than everyone but the Allman Brothers.)

Of course, the free concert gig at the state fair has become sort of a retirement plan for older rockers. Scrape together at least one or two of the old members, fill out the balance with session musicians and play your old hits to older folks who tend to think that today’s music is just so much noise, to wit: the annual appearance of Bowzer’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party. (Trivia nugget #1: Sha Na Na actually played the original Woodstock festival, right between the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Jimi Hendrix!)

Anyway, two bands of note and one novelty song are on my radar screen. The Outlaws (a.k.a The Guitar Army) were the cult country rock band in my high school, with three guitars riffing away, the drug reference in their most famous song (see this post’s title) and a cool hook ’em horns salute to throw down during solos. Hughie Thomasson is still playing lead guitar, but Henry Paul is gone from the classic lineup.

Poco was formed by Richie Furay and Jim Messina after the breakup of classic rock band Buffalo Springfield. Poco was one of the first bands to successfully mix country and rock (as opposed to groups such as the Flying Burrito Brothers that played pure country with rock attitude). Their first album Pickin’ Up The Pieces is still considered the first great country rock album. Most of the band has moved on (Furay, Messina, Randy Meissner, Timothy Schmit, George Grantham) but original member Rusty Young and Paul Cotton (who joined in 1971) soldier on.

I used to freak people out in college by slapping Poco songs onto mix tapes for parties, but many folks in my dorm became fans. (Trivia nugget #2: Timothy Schmit replaced Randy Meissner on bass in both Poco and the Eagles.)

I’m also looking forward to the Pure Prairie League. They are a one hit wonder band (sing along now: “Aaamie, whatcha gonna do…”) but I was always amused by their cover of the song I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle, the Big Brother & The Holding Company’s angry response to Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogie”.

In high school one of our big hangouts was The Ground Round–beer, peanut shells you could throw on the floor–but nice enough to bring a date. They would have local bands with regular gigs and one band threw this song at us, probably because of its release on the live Pure Prairie League album “Takin’ the Stage”. It became a ritual, go to the Ground Round and pester this band to play “Merle.” Ahh, good times. That Ground Round is now part of Wegman’s parking lot in Dewitt. But at the 2007 NY State Fair there will be one guy shouing out “flat tire Merle!”

And I guess that’s what the free concerts at the Fair are all about, easy going nostalgia. Just think, in twenty-five years we’ll get to see Green Day for free at the fair!

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