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lasted a substantial rain shower to make country fans happy with a set of mostly traditional-style tunes, liberally laced with fine fiddling. Newcomer Chris Young picked up where

McGraw left off the following evening of Sept. 4, with a six-song set that stamps this kid as the real deal. His flexible tenor impressed from the outset and stayed strong throughout. With just four musicians backing him, his songs were convincingly honky- tonk in style and refreshingly simple, from “Voices,” a ballad recognizing his life’s influ- ences, to the song that broke things open in his career, the steamy “Gettin’ You Home.” Between songs, the young man in the flannel

shirt and SU cap showed a remarkable way of talking to an audience with natural humility and charm all too rare in modern country. After sing- ing his last song and thanking the audience, he received an extended ovation. Deservedly so. Thus ended the country portion of the

evening. Between sets, the Rascal Flatts corporation unveiled a whole new way to be annoying, broadcasting from backstage two painfully chipper hosts who blabbered non- stop through both breaks while a stream of text messages from fans crawled across the screen with such profound words of love for their favorite boy band as “I’m your biggest fan,” “You guys are soooo cute,” “We love you and “Your my favorite band.” Revolting. The next face up on the big screen was that

of Dolly Parton, who introducedKellie Pickler. The former American Idol contestant has made no secret that she worships Parton and she was attempting to channel the hall of famer through- out her set, her plunging neckline and fluorescent blonde tresses fitting the image. Unfortunately, Picker portrayed the ”Islands In The Stream” Dolly, not the “My Tennessee Mountain Home” Dolly with nine mostly forgettable pop ditties. The gal from North Carolina was at times

tolerable, largely due to a lead guitarist, not introduced, who played a sparkling set, siz- zling at times, but never overpowering. Her voice was fine and her range good, but she doesn’t do much to distinguish herself from a long list of divas who have those qualities, few of them claiming to be country singers. It would have been preferable to listen to Pickler all night than to have to endure the

Leave it to Bieber: Tween heartthrob moonwalked for the Grandstand masses.

response to an emotional song about his late grandpa. Moore gave up some hints on his personal life, stating that “when I ain’t on stage, I’m either hunting or fishing, and drinkin’ Jack Daniels and Bud Light.” And the 26-year-old Arkansas singer had something to say about one of this year’s State Fair Grand- stand headliners: “I don’t have a damn clue who Justin Bieber is {two-beat pause} and I don’t give a shit. If you do know who he is, you’re at the wrong show.” • Regarding the aforementioned Justin

mind-numbing dance tracks of Rascal Flatts. For their fifth appearance at the Grandstand, the boys brought along some new video toys that dominated the landscape, but also the same musical blandness and lack of person- ality that we’ve come to expect. Although shaggy-haired Joe Don Rooney is clearly the only one of the trio with exceptional talent, they would almost be bearable if they had a lead singer who knows how to sing country instead of Gary LeVox, who warbles in the phony style of a preening hip-hop singer. If there’s anything more painful than their

music, from the bubble gum of “These Days” to the counterfeit country of “Mayberry,” it’s their contrived conversations, at one point hamming it up and showing off at center stage while Jay DeMarcus noodled around on piano, teasing the audience to choose what he should play, Bob Seger’s “Old-Time Rock’n’Roll” or the Flatts’ hit “Bless The Broken Road.” It’s hard to picture Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear to these guys, but really no harder than accepting Rascal Flatts as country stars.


FAIR BRIEFS • The country kept comin’ at Chevy Court

with the Sept. 2 afternoon set featuring the Eli Young Band, a quartet of Texas talents fronted by guitarist-vocalistMike Eli and gui-

tarman James Young, plus drummer Chris Thompson and bassist Jon Jones. Ballsy country rock (accent on the latter) kept the guys hopping, with Eli an appealing fella with some neat between-song patter (the love- hate songs that are part of their repertoire are “a glorified way of saying they’re breakup songs,” Eli allowed). The band rolled out their hits, including “Guinevere” and “When It Rains” from their 2008 CD Jet Black and Jealous (Universal South), and showed that even after 10 years in the biz they’re still hav- ing fun.WBBS-FM (B104.7) programming guru Rich Lauber was seen inflating a beach ball prior to the show that somehow ended up being tossed around during the Eli Young Band’s finale; no hot-air jokes please. • The cowboy-hatted Justin Moore and his

outfit rolled into Chevy Court for the Sept. 3 afternoon show, which led Moore to com- ment that “It’s the earliest show we’ve ever done. I didn’t even have time to get drunk.” Moore’s show had a slightly more old-school country feel, with rave-ups like “I Could Kick Your Ass” and “Backwood” riling the crowd. (“Who woulda thought there’d be rednecks in New York state?” he claimed after one song. “Well I’ll be damned!”) Yet Moore’s got star quality to spare, with his Steve McQueen- esque sense of uber-cool, an ingratiating smile and at one point even tipping his hat in a courtly manner following the audience’s

Bieber and his rescheduled sellout Grandstand show on Sept. 1, the YouTube sensation turned current pop star of the millennium certainly excited tween-age girls and their moms, who all lip-synced along with the 16-year-old wun- derkind. But his too-mild stage show might make a tough sell when it is filmed as a 3-D concert flick slated for release next year. The usual ingredients found in every other junior- singer act that has come down the pike in the last decade was in evidence: aerobic-style dancing, home movies as filler, puppy-love anthems ad infinitum, and a dismal attempt to emulate a Michael Jackson moonwalk that looked more like a Clydesdale with a hotfoot. And Bieber’s lack of stage presence, which was slyly parodied during his guest shot on Saturday Night Live, makes one wonder if he can get past his current towheaded, grinning persona. He greeted the crowd with “Wassup, Syracuse!” and every attempt at establishing an honest rapport with the audience turned out to be just another segue into another song. As it stands right now, Bieber’s act makes Aaron Carter look like Frank Sinatra in comparison. • Maybe Justin Bieber needs some more

on-camera seasoning, which is whatMitchel Musso had in spades during his afternoon Sept. 4 set. Best known as a second banana on the Miley Cyrus-Disney Channel sitcomHannah Montana, Musso showed a different aspect to his persona for the brigade of braces-wearing tween gals. In constant motion throughout, and even doffing his T-shirt to showcase his tattoos, Musso leaned toward the heavier side of Dis- ney-commissioned rock. At one point the sound system was mysteriously replaced by State Fair announcer Bob Gibbons’ mellifluous tones, but Musso and his posse kept playing away sans speakers, momentarily sounding like the noisy garage band that they probably are. Unlike Bieber’s prefab bland brand of bubblegum rock, Musso’s music had a surprising urgency. —PHIL D. RAPPER

Sunshine superman: Joe Don Rooney soldiers on with Rascal Flatts.

Tim McGraw: Low-key sartorial splendor mixed with traditional-style tunes.



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