Cows and concerts: Agricultural fairs attempt to increase attendance through music

Former "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery is shown performing at the ACM Fremont Street Experience on Mar. 30 in Las Vegas. McCreery will perform at The Great Frederick Fair in Frederick Sept. 21.
Former "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery is shown performing at the ACM Fremont Street Experience on Mar. 30 in Las Vegas. McCreery will perform at The Great Frederick Fair in Frederick Sept. 21. (AP FILE PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

When Maryland State Fair organizers ask for the main reason folks attend in surveys, the results are always the same.

The majority of fair goers want to see the cows, the goats, the rabbits and the pigs. The agricultural animals are stars of the show.

Yet in recent years, with fairs attempting to attract more than just the agriculturally minded, concerts have become an increasingly central focus of the entertainment, said Max Mosner, the President and General Manager of the Maryland State Fair.

This year, agricultural fairs in, or near, Carroll County will give attendees the chance to see a former "American Idol" winner, the country's most famous ventriloquist, the reigning Country Music Association Top Male Vocalist, the star of a hit Nickelodeon television series and more.

"When we first started doing concerts," Mosner said, "we were hoping we could attract people to see the entertainment and, while they were here, enjoy the midway."

Nearly two decades ago, the Maryland State Fair agreed to have a promoter organize a concert. Mosner told the promoter that the entertainment needed to be family-friendly. The promoter signed The Beach Boys, and the show was successful, Mosner said.

The State Fair has expanded its concert offerings. Three concerts are scheduled this year. Christian pop band Newsboys will perform Aug. 28, "Victorious" sitcom star Victoria Justice takes the stage Aug. 31 and country music group The Band Perry plays Sept. 1.

Traditionally, the State Fair snatches up performers trying to squeeze in concerts in between large cities, Mosner said. Two years ago, that's how the State Fair got teen idol Justin Bieber there for a show that sold out in less than 30 minutes.

After that successful show, the Fair has continued to bring back teen-friendly artists. Last year, Selena Gomez, Bieber's girlfriend, performed with her band, The Scene. This year, it's Justice's turn.

"[Justice] appeals to that same audience," Mosner said.

The Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair in Westminster, operating with a smaller budget than the State Fair, uses a promoter to book an up-and-coming country music act for its headliner concert. Kip Moore will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 on the Finch Stage.

Moore will perform his first No. 1 hit "Somethin' 'bout a Truck" at the 4-H fair. The single spent two weeks atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

Moore is just the fourth artist to perform at the fair having already released a No. 1 hit since country concerts started being organized there annually in the late 1990s. Lady Antebellum, The Dixie Chicks and Lonestar were the other three.

"It's been great for us," 4-H Fair manager Debbie Weishaar said, "and I've been getting constant calls for tickets."

The 4-H fair is featuring a wider variety of music than ever before, with nightly concerts taking place in the activities tent. featuring everything from barbershop quartet to bluegrass. Local country artist Richie Fields performs at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Finch Stage, the night before Moore's headliner concert.

Other nearby fairs are hosting noteworthy performers. The Great Frederick Fair in Frederick will have Pistol Annies, an all-girls group fronted by Miranda Lambert Sept. 15 and former "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery Sept. 21.

The York Fair in York, Pa., boasts Lambert's husband, Blake Shelton Sept. 12 and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, at the State Fair, The Band Perry will serve as the event's marquee country act. Just two years ago, The Band Perry performed at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair in Westminster. The sibling band fronted by Kimberly Perry have released four straight Top 10 hits on "Billboard's" Hot Country Songs chart.

Mosner said he hopes the group will attract more spectators to the Fair and add to the number of visitors to see cows, sheep and pigs.

"We were very pleased," Mosner said, "to catch [The Band Perry] at a good time."

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