Days 7 and 8 brought a smorgasbord of musical sounds to The Great NY State Fair this year. Although country music dominated the lineup these two days, rock and roll greats threw the one two punch needed to turn up the volume at the Grandstands.
Michael Ray – As the day of the show approached, Carrie Underwood ticket holders were still uncertain of the upcoming opening act for the evening. As they arrived, they soon learned they would be greeted by newcomer Michael Ray, winner of the reality program “The Next”. The program, which aired on the CW network was a different type of reality program. This program was designed to help contestants, who are already established musical acts and bring to the table a built-in fan base, move on to the next level in their careers. Each contestant was mentored by four professionals in the business; Gloria Estefan, Joe Jonas, John Rich, or Nelly. They then would compete to take their talents to the next level eliminating those until a victor was crowned. Mentored by John Rich of Big & Rich, it is apparent as he takes the stage why Michael Ray walked away victorious. He certainly nailed it with a few of his own songs and covers such as Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks) and Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty). It is always refreshing to see artists with vocal diversity be able to nail covers as different as these artists are. To me it shows their true vocal talents. He was right at home up there and quickly won over the crowd like a pro. Unbeknownst to the audience at the time, the stage has been home to him since he was a toddler joining his musical family up there with his Kermit the Frog guitar. This cutie won over the audience this night, implanted his name in their minds, and setting the stage (as if he needed to) for the superstar, Carrie Underwood. Although he may have been an unknown name upon arrival, he certainly wasn’t by the time he departed.
Carrie Underwood –
Sometimes performers are just born to be superstars. Walking away with the 2005 title of American Idol, it didn’t take Carrie long to hit the road with her first hit album Some Hearts that included number one singles such as “Jesus Take The Wheel” and “Before He Cheats”. Now a seasoned veteran with five studio albums under her belt, this petite superstar’s voice just blows you away with its strength and power. As she took the stage at the Grandstands, she certainly didn’t disappoint fans as she belted out hit after hit, from a catalog a mile long of music she’s recorded over the last nine years. In addition to her long list of hits, she also is extremely decorated with awards including six Grammy Awards, sixteen Billboard Music Awards, eleven Academy of Country Music Awards and seven American Music Awards, along with being nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. We recently learned that one of these tunes “Two Black Cadillacs” will even be made into a television show. She has been the face of numerous product endorsements, and very active in working together with several non-profit agencies to bring awareness to their causes. All of this at the young age of 31. Amazing! Recently in the news just days after her NY State Fair performance, she shared with her fans her exciting announcement that she and husband, Mike Fisher (Nashville Predators hockey star), are expecting their first child. This amazing young woman will be an amazing mother and we couldn’t be happier for Carrie and Mike and send them all the best as they begin their family.
Set List: Good Girl > Undo It > Wasted > See You Again > Two Black Cadillacs > Temporary Home > Last Name > Jesus Take The Wheel >We’re Young and Beautiful > Cowboy Casanova > So Small > One Way Ticket > Some Hearts > I Told You So > Flat on the Floor > All – American Girl > Leave Love Alone > Cupid’s Got a Shotgun > Blown Away > Encore – Paradise City > Before He Cheats
Angie Johnson –
Angie Johnson was the perfect choice to begin the salute to Veterans on Veterans Day at the Fair. Angie, herself a veteran serving in the US Air Force and currently a Missouri National Guard member, understands the trials and tribulations our military experience and how to bolster their spirits and give some peace and joy to them through her music. Donning the greatest red pumps (I so want a pair of those), they were the appropriate choice as she and her band heated up the crowd with each song they sang. One memorable tune was called “A Girl That No One Knew” which was co-written by Buffalo’s own Johnny Rzneik from the Goo Goo Dolls, showcased her talent and told her story. As most country musicians do, she writes about her life, her experiences, and her thoughts. This song was about her struggles to being discovered and given a chance as she paid her dues night after night in smokey bars. Almost giving up her dream on several occasions, the music business keeps pulling her back each time she thinks it’s over. Her talent is apparent despite her difficult struggles. Her song, Swagger, co-written with Phoenix Mendoza, is verification that this girl has talent, stage presence, and just plain rocks. And my admiration has nothing to do with her being a fellow St. Louis Cardinals fan, I swear.
I wonder if Mike Eli and James Young ever foresaw their huge successful career as they sat in their dorm room at the University of North Texas playing guitar and singing. These two later joined by Chris Thompson and Jon Jones are now known as the Eli Young Band. With five studio albums under their belt, several number one songs, and a truckload full of nominations and awards (2011 ACM Song of the Year/Music Row Awards Breakthrough Artist), these four young men really can rock a crowd and set the stage on fire. One of my favorites on my play list they are extremely talented musicians who can write and play like no other. I found it interesting how they continued to refer to themselves as a “garage band”. You know what I think? I think it’s the roots of this “garage band” that gives them their charm. They haven’t lost sight of entertaining their crowds, which I must say was packed to the gills at Chevy Court, and their love of the roots in country rock was apparent in their music and especially their encore of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps”. Anyone that can rock out to their music and embrace their roots in southern country rock has my adoration forever.
Set List: Revelations > 10,000 Towns > Skeletons > Love Songs > Dust > Prayer For The Road > Drunk Last Night > Even If It Breaks Your Heart > When It Rains > Oklahoma Girl > Guinevere > Small Town Kid > Crazy Girl > Encore – Gimme Three Steps
Cheap Trick exploded onto the scene back in the late 1970’s carving out a niche with their hits and their electric live performances. However their beginning here in the states experienced a slow start. By 1978, Cheap Trick had released three albums here in the US to a luke warm reception. Surprising to know as the songs were some of today’s greatest rock and roll songs of the era, i.e.”I Want You to Want Me” and “Clock Strikes Ten”. It wasn’t until the songs hit the big time in Japan and Cheap Trick recorded their live album in Budokan, that the US label took notice and re-released here. They were finally recognized at that point and their American audiences couldn’t get enough of them. Hailing from the Rockford, IL area, they even designated April 1st as “Cheap Trick Day” in the state; no joke. Still as entertaining today as they were back in the 70’s and 80’s with their flamboyant costumes, and amazing stage presence, it certainly understandable how this group has been recognized as one of VH1’s 100 Greatest Artsist of Hard Rock.
When someone asks me to list my favorite bands, Journey never fails to make my top ten list. Growing up in the 1980’s Journey was a part of everyone’s album, cassette, and dare I say without aging myself, 8-track collection. Their tunes were a staple then and still today, as you hear covers of some of their most popular songs played by national and local bands alike. Their popularity has not waned over the years. In fact, it’s refreshing to see younger generations appreciate their style of rock and roll. They were my first live show back in 1981 at the Syracuse Carrier Dome with their Open Arms tour, and I can recall it as though it was just yesterday. There was something about rock and roll performances in the 1960’s, ’70s and ’80s that focused on lyrics and musical composition. With guitar, drums, and bass solos taking center stage, it was more than just a show, it was a gift to the audiences. The band has evolved over the year with many changes,i.e. solo careers, collaborations with others, band changes etc. however here we are more than 30 years later and they still rock the crowd like they did all those years ago. As they took the stage at the Grandstands, it was apparent that the energy you felt back then was still there, and for those just experiencing their first Journey concert, something that will continue with a new generation of fans with Open Arms.
As days seven and eight wound down, I reflected on how amazing the Great NY State Fair had been so far. As I covered the shows and events over the course of these several days, I was able to take some time in between to really explore the different exhibits in the buildings, side entertainment, rides, and foods that make our fair so special. I highly recommend to families to actually come more than one day, so that they don’t feel rushed. By taking my time and exploring the buildings, seeing the parade more than one time, and taking time to taste some of what is offered, I felt as though I experienced the State Fair more than I ever had before.