One of the most unusual things about the New York State Fair has been its ability to bring fairly decent attractions to both its ticketed concerts at the Grandstand and its free offerings at Chevy Court. Well, the Fair announced its final selections for the Grandstand and has lined up what old-style politicians used to call “a balanced ticket.” Top 40 rock (Train/Maroon 5); Hip hop (NeYo/Cee-Lo Green); Kiddie crap (Selena Gomez); Modern rock (3 Doors Down),: Classic Rock (Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger) and, of course, country (2 shows: Lady Antebellum and Sugarland). Balanced, but absolutely nothing I’d want to pay for.
The free concerts have been pretty varied and, since they went to two separate acts each day, plentiful. Only 11 of the 24 slots have been filled, but I’m starting to get antsy. Fair officials are covering some of the same bases as the Grandstand–just with lesser lights: Classic Rock (3 Dog Night, REO Speedwagon) Kiddie crap (All Star Weekend, Big Time Rush) and Modern Rock (The Script). They try to pick up some of the even older patrons by also lining up Big Band (Glenn Miller Orchestra), old-style R & B (Charlie Wilson) and 1950’s via Broadway show tunes (Midtown Men). There’s even a celebrity chef.
So far, only one act would even possibly merit a drop by: Bruno Mars. Mars’ debut album had two #1 hits and as a part of the production team The Smeezingtons he has written/produced hits for acts like B.O.B., Flo Rida, K’naan. What can we call his style? hip pop? It is leavened with hints of reggae, Motown, doo-wop. He is a lively entertainer–honing his on-stage chops growing up as a part of a musical performing family.
But even Bruno Mars doesn’t pass the ultimate test for going to a Fair show–can I plausibly convince my wife that it’s worth spending part of her time at the Fair at his show? My wife likes music, but is not fanatical like myself. Oftentimes, the only thing I have going for me to convince her about the merits of any one performance is my overwhelming enthusiasm for a particular band. I don’t think I can muster up that kind of enthusiasm for Bruno Mars. I can’t even get myself to buy his album.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the appearance of REO Speedwagon. In my youth, nothing would have excited me more than a chance to see this band. Their 1977 live album “You Get What You Play For” was one of my favorites in high school. Songs like “Ridin’ The Storm Out” and “Golden Country” were always blasting out of my bedroom and disturbing my parents. They had a real hot-shit guitarist (Gary Richrath) and they had paid their dues at endless barroom gigs across the midwest. Then in the 1980’s they decided to get famous and make a lot of money. Power ballads and sappy pop led to a string of chart singles and oodles of airplay. But the hot-shit guitarist lost a power struggle with the lead singer for control of the band, the personnel became interchangeable and the hits stopped coming. Now they are reduced to playing the nostalgia circuit and trying to market gimmicks like an REO video game. As the man said: “Instant karma’s gonna get you.”