This week’s musical offerings at the Kern County Fair are bit different from the fantastic performances last week by Tower of Power, Shelia E, War and Ramon Ayala.
Aside from this Sunday’s Tejano show featuring Tulare-based Jorge Moreno (promoting his latest release “Gone Country”) at 6 p.m. and David Lee Garza and his group Los Musicales at 8 p.m., most of the music happening this weekend at the Budweiser Pavilion will skew more towards rock and country than norteño and Tex-Mex.
In between the familiar sounds of exhilarated screaming and the dueling pianos, music lovers will have these options to accompany their general admission fair ticket. Make sure to get there with plenty of time to get parking and a bite to eat. Seating is “first come, first serve” for these shows, which take place at 8 p.m. (unless otherwise noted).
On any other year, Texas-based Midland’s appearance at the Kern County Fair would be a coup. A young, up-and-coming country band with a song on the charts and the building momentum to catapult them into mainstream success? Make it so.
Unfortunately, their show this year is as a last-minute replacement for Montgomery Gentry, which was forced to cancel due to Troy Gentry’s untimely death in a helicopter accident on Sept. 8 in Medford, New Jersey.
Even with the understandable and unfortunate pallor looming over the affair, the Midland show looks to be a welcome respite from the heaviness surrounding it.
The Texas-based trio looks — Nudie-style suits and all — like they stepped out of a Gram Parsons album with a bit of 1970s SoCal Laurel Canyon-era swag thrown in for good measure. This penchant for stylistic time traveling matches the throwback feel of their witty hit single, “Drinking Problem,” which, when I first heard it, could have sworn it came out in 1993.
Their debut album, “On The Rocks,” is a perfect, jukebox ready, neo-traditional country album that gets it right. On it they sound like the missing link between The Eagles and Dwight Yoakum. Their songs are solid and their harmonies tight. You can practically see the sunset light peeking through empty beer bottles on a nightstand when you listen to their slower stuff and neon-lit honky-tonks on their faster stuff. They may be from Texas, but these boys are pure Bakersfield whether they know it or not.
Friday: Smash Mouth
Regardless if you’re at this show as a fan, as a parent whose kids love “Shrek,” or in total irony, this band is critic-proof. Since the release of their fun retro-1960s single “Walking on the Sun” — sue me; it was a fun song when it was first released — they parlayed that formula into other beatnik retro-space age organ-fueled hits like their signature song, “All Star.”
But like fellow '90s mainstay Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth started off playing a harder style of music until they found success with a completely different — almost accidental — sound. Their cover of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” is a straight-up third-wave ska tune with horns and all. Expect the show to be just as whiplash-inducing in the style department.
But why try to pigeonhole them into a style? They’ve transcended from being a band into becoming a sort of pop culture running gag. You know what I’m talking about: like yelling “Freebird!” or “More Cowbell!” at a band while they’re playing, or just mentioning Nickelback.
I remember a time when just mentioning the band Journey was considered a punchline (see Nickelback above), but, these days, you probably won’t find a human being that’s not familiar with “Don’t Stop Believing.” Smash Mouth’s current relevancy might be dependent more on their Internet fame than on their music, but does it matter? You still know the words to “All Star.”
Is there a more anthemic rock anthem than “Born to be Wild"? The song virtually billows motorcycle exhaust and visions of easy riding down life’s freeway — even now. It was the soundtrack of freedom and the counterculture for a generation since its release in 1968. Heck, just the sound of it is steeped in anti-authority attitude. If any song demands a bandana skullcap, it’s this one.
Plus, it’s been covered by dozens of performers (Krokus, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, The Cult ...) so chances are you’ve heard at least one iteration of the tune. Heck, even Blue Oyster Cult covered it, and no, there is no cowbell.
But the 1960s were a polarizing time politically and socially and the group’s music swung to its own pendulum. On the darker side, their song “The Pusher” (written by Hoyt Axton), was one of the first to decry — at least on the surface— hard drug-use. On the lighter side, “Magic Carpet Ride” is a fun jaunt with a bouncy chorus that just begs for patchouli incense and spin-dancing.
The band itself was only around for a short time between 1968 and 1972, and managed to write three songs that will be classic rock staples as long as that format is on the air. Singer John Kay, the only remaining original member, has managed to keep his band revving for almost 50 years. By anyone’s estimation, that’s a heck of a long road.
Main Plaza Stage: Crooked Eye Tommy (Thursday) and Marcus Leary and the 50 Buck Band (Friday)
Even though the Budweiser Pavilion will be getting the lion’s share of audiences, don’t forget the other stages as well; you’ll be treated to a variety of styles ranging from 1940s boogie-woogie to mariachi.
On the Main Plaza Stage, Crooked Eye Tommy, a fantastic blues band from Ventura, will be performing Thursday night and country singer Marcus Leary and his 50 Buck Band will perform Friday. Both shows start at 9:30 p.m.
Crooked Eye Tommy, recently named best blues band at the Ventura County Music Awards, is dynamic, musical and powerful. They certainly earned that award.
Marcus Leary may call Texas home these days, but recent single “Arvin, Forever in My Heart,” a tribute to his hometown, shows that California is never too far from his mind. His performance Friday night marks a homecoming for the singer, so expect a lot of family, friends and past high school alumni — kind of like the fair itself.