This year's slate of performers is like a fried Oreo that arrives un-fried
The Ohio State Fair's concert lineup is a mixed bag most years. Performers at the top of their game usually aren't gunning to play fairground stages next to butter sculptures during time slots between marching bands. But just about every year, fair-goers can count on a big-name classic rock act or two (Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick in 2015, Journey in 2011), on-the-rise pop stars (Meghan Trainor in 2015, Kesha in 2011, Selena Gomez in 2010), R&B singers of yesteryear (Boyz II Men in 2014, Keith Sweat in 2016) and country legends (Dolly Parton last year, Willie Nelson in 2002).
But instead of a mixed bag, this year's Ohio State Fair concert series is a duffel bag of duds.
To be fair, a few of the marquee acts will likely be crowd-pleasers. Columbus-bred pop-country act Rascal Flatts, a familiar name at the fair, has been hugely popular for nearly two decades now; the boys will play a homecoming show at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3. Texas a cappella group Pentatonix will visit the fair at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5; the five singers sound like all those other collegiate a cappella groups, except they also wear expensive clothes. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2, bad-to-the-bone George Thorogood & the Destroyers will instruct fair-goers on how to drink (alone) and what to drink (one bourbon, one scotch, one beer).
Here's a quick rundown of a few other 2017 bookings, all of which take place at the Celeste Center.
Who's playing: For King & Country (7 p.m. Monday, July 31)
The scoop: The fair often brings in Christian artists. Last year's booking of highly respected Christian rapper Lecrae wisely incorporated hip-hop into a concert series that almost never features rappers, and it also scratched the faith-based itch. This year? The fair opted for Australian brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone of Christian pop duo For King & Country, which, like so many worship-music acts, opts for the Christian Coldplay cliche. (The Smallbone brothers also try to throw in a Twenty One Pilots vibe, and it doesn't help.)
Who they should have booked: Bruce Cockburn
Who's playing: Alabama (7 p.m. Saturday, July 29)
The scoop: This country-rock act had a string of hits in the '80s, one of which made a persuasive argument for being inclusive of fiddle players while gigging in Texas.
Who they should have booked: Drive-By Truckers
Who's playing: The Carpenters Tribute (1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1)
The scoop: Just like it sounds. Michelle Whited sings songs by Karen Carpenter.
Who they should have booked: Joan Baez.
Who's playing: Cole Swindell (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1)
The scoop: Unremarkable, ultra-mainstream country-pop
Who they should have booked: Bypass the bro country for a classic artist like last year's Dolly Parton, or opt for one of several modern-day Southern songwriters upending the Nashville Sound (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton).
Who's playing: Joe (7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4)
The scoop: R&B singer known mostly for his '90s hits
Who they should have booked: Mary J. Blige
Who's playing: Kidz Bop Kidz (6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 27)
The scoop: Kidz Bop is supposed to be a parent's dream (the hit songs you love, sung by kids and scrubbed of profanities!), but it's actually a nightmare (the hit songs you never really liked, scrubbed of any personality!).
Who they should have booked: Literally any other group.