All shows at 8 p.m. (unless noted) at Budweiser Pavilion.
What makes pop/country act Old Dominion a bit different than their peers is the wit in their lyrics, especially on their latest single, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart.” There’s an honest playfulness in the Nashville quintet's music and lyrical content that gives their songs a bit more weight and bounce than what you might be used to hearing on country radio these days. Every influence feels natural and not shoehorned in to fit a demographic (save for the forced Fleetwood Mac shout-out on “Not Everything’s About You”).
They are unapologetically modern in their approach to production, but they seem to have a traditional approach to song craft: You've got to earn that chorus. Their newest album, “Happy Endings,” has an easy depth of moods and feels that are atypical of most modern country releases.
Old Dominion plays Wednesday, Sept. 20.
Tower of Power
What can be said about Tower of Power that hasn’t been said before? The Oakland-based, nigh-immortal soul band has been living up to its name with precise musicianship and an effortless charisma for almost 50 years. The band itself feels like its most popular member.
They consistently deliver the goods, and even after all the years performing here, it feels less like they’re stopping through and more like they’re visiting their second home. They may be from the Bay Area, but we’ve got joint custody.
From the prophetic “What is Hip," smooth songs “You’re Still a Young Man” and “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of the Stream)” and the percolating groove of “Squib Cakes,” expect a night of funky hits and a packed pavilion with a heck of a lot of dancing and Soul (with a capital “S”).
Drummer David Girabaldi, due to injuries sustained in a train collision earlier in the year, will not be performing (Herman Matthews has been filling in). Fans can take heart that Girabaldi but is healing quickly and expected to tour with the group later in the fall.
Tower of Power plays Thursday, Sept. 21.
Sheila E (nee Escovedo) might be best known for her 1980s hits “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” as well as her other collaborations with Prince including the “Sign O’ the Times” album and film. But she’s a musical powerhouse, bandleader and side musician in her own right, having performed with Marvin Gaye, George Duke, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Ringo Starr and Herbie Hancock, among others.
With a lively stage persona that can be fiery, energetic, seductive, and engaging — sometimes all at once — she is probably one of the world’s most recognizable drummers and celebrities. But what do you expect? It’s in the blood. Her Escovedo family is a bona fide percussion dynasty— I mean, Tito Puente was her godfather. C’mon!
Joking aside, the musicianship onstage that night will be amped up to 11 and along with her hits, expect some percussive fireworks to light up the night.
Sheila E plays Friday, Sept. 22.
As it stands now, is there a person alive who hasn’t heard “Low Rider”? It has permeated pop culture so completely that its evolved into its own conundrum: Did the song popularize the culture, or did the culture popularize the song?
Regardless of that chicken/egg conundrum, and all kidding aside, the band, fronted by sole original member Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan, has a deep tie to Bakersfield: Local percussionist Marcos Reyes has been playing with them for more than a decade.
With classic rock and soul staples like “Cisco Kid,” “Spill the Wine,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” and, of course, “Low Rider,” the band never fails to kick up the party.
War plays Saturday, Sept. 23.
In my opinion, Ramon Ayala’s song “Tragos Amargos” isn’t just one of the best corridos (narrative ballads) ever made, but one of the best songs, period. The lyrics are stunning in their sadness, and along with Vicente Fernandez’s classic “Volver,” has probably inspired almost as many drunken sing-alongs in Spanish as “La Bamba.”
Ayala is a legendary figure in norteño and corrido music as well as one of the best accordionists to play those genres. Get to the pavilion early for this one; it’s going to be a good one.
Ramon Ayala plays Sunday, Sept. 24.
Singer LeAnn Rimes has been a fixture in country music since her debut single “Blue” at age 13. Since then, she’s gotten more attention for her private life than for her music, but it doesn’t change the fact that the woman can sing. (Those who caught her set at the Herculean 2015 Bakersfield Rock & Country Music & Art Festival can attest to this fact.)
She’s currently promoting her latest release, “Remnants,” and its single “The Story”; the heir apparent to the Patsy Cline mantle is trying her best to stay there. At 35 years old, Rimes’ voice has earned the weathered soul needed to better relate to listeners the pathos at the heart of country music. She’s earned her story and just in time to sing it.
LeAnn Rimes plays Monday, Sept. 25.
After leaving a career performing secular music to devote himself completely as a Christian artist around 2010, Chris August had the biggest hit of his career with the anthemic worship song, “Starry Night.”
His music has incredible pop sensibilities, no doubt accrued through his years as a sideman, and his show gives non-secular music listeners an opportunity to enjoy a concert at the fair without guilt. Songs like “Loving You is Easy” show a lighter side to August and add playfulness to complement some of the grander songs like “Canyons (Beautiful Noise).”
Chris August plays Tuesday, Sept. 26.
This one’s going to be a good one. Having splashed onto the pop music scene in 1990 with their single “Hold On” (not to be confused with the Wilson Phillips song of the same name), En Vogue came about as the female counterpart to fellow vocal now-a-trio Boyz II Men (who performed at the Kern County Fair last year).
Expect an entire contingent of forty-somethings losing their minds to '90s classics like “Free Your Mind,” “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” and especially “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get it)” which will have the Kern County Fair on their feet and partying like it’s 1992.
En Vogue plays Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry’s career arc has been one of consistency and perseverance. After forming in 1999, the duo found success with a string of successful singles including “If You Ever Stop Loving me,” “Lucky Me” and “Roll With Me” with Colt Ford.
Troy Gentry died Sept. 8 in a helicopter crash in New Jersey, before the duo was set to perform.
The Kern County Fair said heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers are with Gentry's family and many fans during this difficult time.
Montgomery Gentry had been scheduled to play Thursday, Sept. 28. Check the Kern County Fair website for updates on who will perform that day. Plans weren't known as of press time for this special section.
Not many bands can take the credit for becoming an honest-to-goodness viral internet meme, but then, most bands aren’t Smash Mouth.
It’s really easy to make jokes at their expense, but at one time they were responsible for popularizing the retro-shag carpet 1960s beatnik cool with their 1997 hit “Walking on the Sun.” Being no dummies with an “L” on their forehead, the group realized what worked and parlayed their space-age lounge-ish formula on every hit after.
People may joke, but there’s a reason why they keep working — you can thank Steve Harrell’s easily identifiable raspy vocals and the "Shrek" movies for that — but, like I said, they’re no dummies to have gotten this far in the parasitic world of the music business.
They know what works and they run with it and appear to be having fun with all the recent attention they’ve been getting. Will people be converted to team Smash? Well, if so, it’s no wonder they covered The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.”
Speaking of covers, the band performs a version of War’s “Why Can’t We be Friends,” giving fairgoers a chance to see the song performed live twice this year from them and the originators. Compare at will.
Smash Mouth plays Friday, Sept. 29.
Steppenwolf’s 1968 hit “Born to be Wild” is the quintessential 1960s rock anthem. Singing about “smokestack lightning” and “heavy metal thunder,” the song evokes a moment in time where the youth of America’a future was being written in broad strokes.
The song’s theme of the road as the solution still carries on to this day; the romantic notion of hopping onto a motorcycle and taking off to forge your own unencumbered path is just as enticing and sexy as it was in the 1960s — arguably, maybe even more so.
Steppenwolf’s performance at the Kern County Fair will undoubtedly revolve around that signature classic, but their other hits — “Magic Carpet Ride” and “The Pusher” — are sure to still pack a punch.
Steppenwolf plays Saturday, Sept. 30.
Jorge Moreno and David Lee Garza
Tulare-based Jorge Moreno will be promoting his Tejano/country release, appropriately titled “Gone Country.” The Cal State Bakersfield grad released three other albums, including "In Love In Texas," which received two nominations at the 2008 Tejano Music Awards — Song of the Year for "Luz de Luna" and Crossover Song of the Year for "In Love in Texas" — a coup for any musician outside of Texas.
David Lee Garza and his group Los Musicales play norteño, Tejano and Tex-Mex — pretty much whatever it will take to keep people dancing up a storm. With more than three decades in the business, Garza's unique accordion style, developed while playing with his father, Tony, is hard to resist. Los Musicales are a family affair with Garza's brothers Richard (bass guitar) and Adam (drums).
Jorge Moreno will play at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1 and David Lee Garza will play at 8 p.m.