Fair to Poor: Grading the Ohio State Fair concert schedule

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Along with the country also-rans, classic rockers and Christian pop acts, the Ohio State Fair's concert schedule usually includes a few bright, shining oddities and some artists that would appeal to a younger, hipper audience: Devo, The-Dream and Miguel, Weezer, Kris Kristofferson and Ke$ha are among those who've taken the Celeste Center stage in recent years. Alas, this year's lineup includes no such highlights. There's not even a big Crew Stadium country show to close out the week. It's not completely irredeemable, but when your best bet for cutting-edge entertainment is Carly Rae Jepsen, the odds are against you.

In case you're hoping to see some music at the fair anyway, let's assess this year's crop of performers.

Wednesday, July 24: Jeff Dunham

Nyuk, nyuk. F

Thursday, July 25:Ladies' Night Out Tour featuring Eric Benet, K'Jon and Noel Gourdin

Benet is best known for his romantic exploits: The mother of his first child, Tami Marie Stauff, died in a car accident in 1993. He was briefly married to Halle Berry at the height of her celebrity. These days he's hitched to Prince's ex-wifeManuela Testolini, with whom he fathered another kid. Even when you turn your attention to Benet's music, though, the focus remains on romance. He's an entirely passable R&B loverman, but his music is a bit milquetoast. So it goes with eminently acceptable openers K'Jon (not to be confused with K'naan) and Noel Gourdin.C+

Friday, July 26:Martina McBride presented by Pandora Jewelry with special guest Angie Johnson

McBride is the real deal - a country singer with powerful pipes and songwriting chops - and her concert Friday has potential to be the best show at the fair, even if it is weirdly sponsored by a jewelry company. Opener Angie Johnsoncan't match McBride song-for-song, but girl can sing.B

Saturday, July 27:Will Downing / Lalah Hathaway

Downing is smooth- maybe too smooth to get a grip on. Same deal for Hathaway (yes, Donny's daughter), but at least she's got more of a skip in her step.C

Sunday, July 28:Midwest Rock 'n' Roll Express: Styx / REO Speedwagon

No matter how many original members are in the house, there will be more than enough hits to go around. B-

Monday, July 29:Justin Moore with special guest The Farm

Standard-issue 21st-century country star. Results may vary. C+

Tuesday, July 30:Austin Mahone with special guest Jake Miller

AutoTune as an artistic touch is fine. AutoTune to cover up obviously shaky kiddie-pop vocal performances is as jarring as a teen idol with braces. D

Wednesday, July 31:Carly Rae Jepsen with special guest New Hollow

I can't front: "Call Me Maybe" was my second-favorite single of 2012. Whether it's worth sitting through an entire set of inane garbage (including that godforsaken Owl City song) and an opening set from local cheeseballs New Hollow is a question we all must wrestle with.C+

Thursday, Aug. 1:Steve Miller Band

A classic rock show we can all get behind. B+

Friday, Aug. 2:The Oak Ridge Boys / Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers / Crystal Gayle

The late George Jones was originally scheduled to appear, but the show is going on without him. Its appeal has declined significantly.C

Saturday, Aug. 3:Hillsong Live

I have a lot to say about the concept of so-called "worship music," but I already said most of it. Suffice it to say this stuff shouldn't be codified into an excessively breathy genre unto itself. If I want to go see U2, I'll go see U2.D+