Summer is high season for concertgoing, but tickets can be pricey. Want to hear the Police in Milwaukee's Marcus Amphitheatre July 25? It could set you back a cool $200 per seat, face value, and that doesn't even get you a T-shirt.
But what about seeing Joan Jett & the Blackhearts in scenic Fond du Lac? You're looking at $6 a head, friend, if you show up before 3 p.m.
How is this possible? Jett is headlining the Fond du Lac County Fair July 19, and that fair, like summer fairs around the state, features ultra-cheap, name-brand entertainment, along with corn dogs, nausea-inducing rides and furniture-sized hogs. The fairs are an excellent entertainment option for music lovers on a budget.
Let it be said: Fair programmers look to fill particular niches, so acts do tend to fall into certain precise categories. Among the most common acts are contemporary country artists, many of whom have their charms. I'm especially keen on Little Big Town, who play the Fond du Lac fair July 17 and Elkhorn's Walworth County Fair Aug. 29. The co-ed quartet is like a pop-country Fleetwood Mac, minus the flamboyantly tortured romances. Also superb is Gary Allan, the raspy-voiced crooner who's carrying the torch for traditional country. He'll be in Fond du Lac July 16.
Then there are country stars who not too long ago slipped out of country's notoriously fickle limelight. I'm thinking of the likes of Ricochet (Kewaunee County Fair, Luxemberg, July 20), whose 1996 hit "Daddy's Money" is recalled fondly by some. And no one in this category looms larger than newly relevantBilly Ray Cyrus, father of Miley, who'll get achy and/or breaky in Walworth County Aug. 30.
Speaking of Miley, tweener acts aren't county fair mainstays, but look to Janesville's Rock County 4-H Fair July 26 for her Disney stablemate Corbin Bleu. He sang "Get'cha Head in the Game" in High School Musical, which you know you loved. And if you were a tweener in 1962, don't miss Bobby Vinton at the Central Wisconsin State Fair in Marshfield (Aug. 27).
Another popular genre on the fair circuit is 1970s and 1980s album-oriented rock. Want to check out Australia's Little River Band? You got it. (Northern Wisconsin State Fair, Chippewa Falls, July 12; Walworth County Fair, Elkhorn, Aug. 28.) Loverboy? Check. (Central Wisconsin State Fair, Aug. 29.) REO Speedwagon? You betcha. (Fond du Lac, July 18 and Wisconsin Valley Fair, Wausau, Aug. 1.) Not to mention Blue Oyster Cult (Head of the Lakes Fair, Superior, July 27), Eddie Money (Jefferson County Fair, Jefferson, July 12) and Peter Freaking Frampton (Outagamie County Fair, Seymour, July 26).
As for me, I'm a sucker for classic country of the old school. I still fondly recall being transported when honkytonk great George Jones sang at the Wisconsin Valley Fair a few years back. So this summer may see me trucking down to the Rock County fair for Randy Travis (July 25), or to the Central Wisconsin State Fair for Mel Tillis (Aug. 31). Or even to the Northern Wisconsin State Fair July 10 for - do my eyes deceive me? - Miss Brenda Lee, still breaking it to us gently after all these years.