State Fair Concerts Are Back

The State Fair is back, and so is its concert series.

When Gov. Andy Beshear canceled the Kentucky State Fair last summer, it was a devastating loss to Louisville. One of the city’s biggest cultural mainstays was, like so much else in 2020, delayed because of the pandemic, stalling the influx of tourist dollars that the Fair usually brings.

But this year, there’s a diverse lineup of talent at the Fair. 

The Fair’s Texas Roadhouse Concert Series is free with paid State Fair admission, as it has been since 2018, and all of the shows will play in Parking Lot L at the Kentucky Exposition Center from Aug. 19-29. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. concert every day except the 29th, when gates open at 2:30 p.m. for Christian singer Cory Asbury’s 4 p.m. concert.

One-third of the 24 groups or musicians are from Kentucky, including The Voice winner Jordan Smith and country artist JD Shelburne. The rest include R&B singer Ginuwine, best known for his ‘90s hit song “Pony,” hard rock group Jackyl, whose song “The Lumberjack” features a chainsaw, and The Turtles, best known for their 1967 classic “Happy Together.”

As performance venues in Kentucky and elsewhere have started to increase their capacity limits, the State Fair has followed suit. After June 11, pending any major changes to the state’s COVID situation, they’ll be able to operate at 100% capacity. That’ll be a huge boost for the local economy, according to Ian Cox, assistant director of communications at Kentucky Venues, who told LEO that this year’s Fair is projected to bring close to 600,000 guests to KEC over 11 days. Currently, Cox and his colleagues are working on plans to keep the Fair’s offerings in line with up-to-date COVID guidance while making the overall event “very similar to what people experienced in 2019.”

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Louisville indie/garage rock band White Reaper will be the Fair’s featured act on Friday, Aug. 27. We’ve covered them in LEO quite a bit over the last few years, but their energetic tracks have propelled them to success in Kentucky and beyond. Shortly before the pandemic, they played on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and were slated to tour in Europe with Pearl Jam last June. (If you haven’t listened to them yet, we forgive you, but you’re overdue. Start with these tracks: “The World’s Best American Band,” “Real Long Time,” “Make Me Wanna Die,” and “Only a Shadow.”)

The band also has an American tour planned for later this year, which will take them to big festivals across the country, all the way from Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits, in just nine weeks. Still, performing at the Kentucky State Fair will be a special privilege, according to keyboardist Ryan Hater.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for us to have a good welcome back to Louisville and make a real party out of it,” said Hater. “I’m most excited for the feeling of stepping out on stage for the first time again and just feeling the energy from the crowd.”

“I’ve always loved being on stage, and I think that I’m relatively somewhat shy, meeting new people offstage,” he continued. “But then when I get on stage, a whole other person comes out, and I just love that energy.”

Although Louisville won’t have as many music festivals this summer as we enjoyed before the pandemic — both Forecastle and Bourbon & Beyond have announced that they are taking 2021 off — the State Fair’s concert series does, at least, promise to make for a worthwhile trip for music fans. When White Reaper and 23 other musical acts take the stage again in August, it’ll be a very welcome return to quasi-normalcy. As they say: the show(s) must go on.

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