The entertainment director reflects on nearly thirty years of shifting concert lineups

Although popular a cappella group Pentatonix will play a sold-out show at the Ohio State Fair on Saturday, Aug. 5, Entertainment Director Brett Chance can remember a time when the demand for an artist prompted the team to add a second sold-out show. That time was the early '90s, and the artist was Billy Ray Cyrus.

“The mania for that ‘Achy Breaky Heart' stuff was crazy,” said Chance, who started at the Fair in 1990 and worked his way up to booking shows in 1998, when he made a successful offer for Toby Keith. “There's still a market for Billy Ray. … [But] he would have a hard time out-drawing his daughter.”

While Miley Cyrus has yet to grace the Celeste Center stage, there was a period when Chance was booking Disney stars to a great reception, although the Selena Gomez show almost fell through when the singer initially canceled.

“It was selling well and we just hated to lose it and we knew the young kids would be disappointed,” Chance said. “We brought her back in November.”

This year, the Disney audience was treated to a performance by the Kidz Bop Kids last week. While some might label the act a downgrade or out-of-place among the other, established performers, the show drew about 5,700 people, Chance said.

“We've always tried to have something for everybody,” he continued, explaining the Carpenters Tribute band, another seemingly odd choice this year, was a free show designed to appeal to seniors. Though country music is the backbone of the fair (hometown act Rascal Flatts plays Thursday, Aug. 3), R&B, classic rock, Christian/gospel and contemporary pop are genres typically covered each year. Hip-hop, however, has proven somewhat elusive for the fair, though Coolio visited in the past.

Establishing a solid lineup can be a challenge due to several factors. “When I first started doing this in the '90s, artists were still able to sell CDs … [and] they would tour to promote CD sales,” said Chance, who pointed out that, as album sales have declined, the artists' touring fees have increased.

The fair is also competing with Columbus' numerous festivals and venues, from the PromoWest halls and bars to Nationwide Arena. “Everyone has to do their own thing and hope it works out,” he said.

“Thankfully, it's not like every year we announce the lineup and we get a bunch of negative reactions,” said Chance, who would like to see Steely Dan and Hall & Oates on a future roster. While he can't confirm 2018 acts, Chance did mention that attendees can expect venue upgrades such as new bleachers and front doors.

“Some years are better than others. … But it always seems to work out in the end,” he said.

Party Planner is a new Alive column providing a behind-the-scenes look at the city's concerts and nightlife events. It will run every other week.