If the North Carolina State Fair were a concert, it would–without question–be the biggest country music festival in history. It would be bigger than Fan Fair, but the friendly staff and those autograph tables that frequenters of that Nashville boot-scoot have come to love and expect would certainly be missing.
Certainly the State Fair wouldn’t be a rock concert. It’s not a revolutionary statement and it doesn’t afford much of an opportunity for sex with strangers like the Woodstock of yesteryear or today’s Bonnaroo. And thinking of it as a 10-day rave where everyone takes lots of drugs, drinks lots of water, and dances around in circles with dopy grins and flashing lights is just a certifiable prescription for a laugh riot.
So it’s no surprise that when Heidi Newfield–the female vocalist for outlaw country trio Trick Pony–told the small crowd clapping along to her outfit’s Hank Williams Jr. covers and Queen intros that she knew that the people of Good Ol’ North Carolina knew how to shake it like a Polaroid picture, some folks smirked, thought and then laughed.
“Hello, Raleigh!” she yelled, shaking her translucent-pants fanny across the wide stage and doing that classic, crowd-rousing and customary overhead clap squarely into the microphone. “If there’s one thing I know about North Carolina, it’s that y’all know how to partaaaaaaaaay.”
Maybe she had the people in the acoustically lame arena mistaken for the people rocking out with The Dynamite Brothers in Carrboro or picking one with Chatham County Line at The Pour House. The Dorton shindig seemed more like a sparse Tupperware sale with a “Bring Your Kids and Get a Free Jell-O Mold” theme than anything else.
But they did have fun with their hyperactive histrionics. Bassist Ira Dean perpetually ran from one end of the stage to the other, losing his cowboy hat more than once, tripping over himself more than twice, and acting like he was field-testing a newfangled sex position for Sting with an unnamed guitar sideman enough times to make anyone who had just eaten a funnel cake and a turkey leg very, very nauseous.
Rock star posing is one thing. Bad rock star posing…well, that’s just sad.
At the fair, though, the country music mania doesn’t end at the doors of Dorton Arena. As the massive Fireball scrapes through the sky–causing two kids under 5 to yell with excitement and nearly driving their mom to tears–Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” booms through a set of massive speakers, followed by a superset pedal steeling clean from Tim McGraw to Shania Twain. Perhaps some drum and bass tracks or some storming crotch rock would have added to the excitement, but–to the 15-year-old kid holding his girlfriend’s hand and imagining their future much like the script of a Dawson’s Creek re-run–life was all smiles and sloppy kisses.
So what if the music at the fair is as run-of-the-mill as everything you eat for an entire week after you spend a night there? The fair has its purpose. It is perfectly billed and fitted for the kid with the backwoods James Van Der Beek dream, or the woman who jiggled it fast on the front row for Trick Pony’s inane set. It’s a slice of modern Americana as consciously corny and confused as any to be found. And, thankfully, it relishes the rank.
Now if we could just get Meg Scott Phipps to do some of that “Jailhouse Rock” on the karaoke stage…