DUNKIRK – While summertime is popular for concerts and county fairs, many counties are combining the two. Many neighboring county fairs offer paid concerts featuring well-known artists. Chautauqua County Fair has not had a paid concert in quite some time.
The last major concert was in 1998 when Patty Loveless performed at the Chautauqua County Fair. In 1996 and 1997 she was the Academy of Country Music’s top female vocalist of the year.
Unlike neighboring county fairs, the Chautauqua County Fair cannot compete with their venues, according to Dave Wilson, fair director. When the county has had paid concerts they’ve had problems filling the grandstand. The fair’s grandstand and bleachers are not covered like other county fair venues.
“The problem with here is that we compete against Erie County and Warren, Pennsylvania,” Wilson said. “We get the people, when we used to do this. Now people stand by and see what’s the weather going to do. We could always sell the seats on the track instantly. … Do you want to roll the dice for open seating or do you want to go to Erie County where it’s under a roof? We just can’t compete.”
While the Chautauqua County Fair does not have a well-known artist, there have been musical performances in the grandstand. This year Sterling “The Impossible Dream,” an Elvis tribute artist, performed on Saturday.
The Cattaraugus County Fair has had concerts since 1998. The grandstand is covered and the track seating is open. Each year the fair schedules at least one concert while two years ago there were two concerts, according to Kristina Charlesworth, fair treasurer. Charlesworth said planning the concerts is always a risk the fair takes and has experienced better years than others. Last year there were two concerts scheduled but one of them was canceled due to a lack of interest. Tate Stevens, the winner of the X Factor, was scheduled to perform. It was the first time the fair has ever canceled a show and Charlesworth described it as a drastic and significant situation.
“Last year we had to cancel one of (the concerts), because we didn’t have any tickets (sold),” said Charlesworth. “It’s taking a risk and last year wasn’t successful.”
This year is the second year the fair will have two well-known acts, Craig Morgan and Scotty McCreery.
Morgan will perform tonight at 7:30. McCreery will perform Thursday night at 7:30.
Previous concerts at the county fair included Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Aaron Tippin, 38 Special and Josh Turner. The majority of the concerts have featured country acts, except for rockers 38 Special.
Since Cattaraugus County is so rural, hosting concerts at the fair gives residents an opportunity to see performers they might not have a chance to see. Compared to venues such as Darien Lake or the New York State Fair, the grandstand is much smaller and does not have a bad seat.
“Definitely around here it’s a good deal to see somebody pretty big so close in such a small town. Our tickets are no more than $35 and people get excited about that,” Charlesworth said.
Across the state line, the Warren County Fair features a paid concert and two free concerts. This year, the paid concert is Tyler Farr, a top 40 national country singer.
Farr will perform Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m.
According to Dave Wilcox, fair board president, the fair has been having concerts since the 1970s. The fair has previously hosted Garth Brooks, Easton Corbin, Gloriana, Lady Antebellum, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Paisley and Tippin in concert. Wilcox said they try to get stars before they hit it big in the music industry.
“We look for somebody that may not be a household name but is on the rise,” Wilcox said.
The fair works with Variety Entertainment to schedule the concerts and recommend musicians. The committee who works on the concerts is already looking forward to 2015 even though the fair hasn’t even started. Most of the concerts, like Cattaraugus County Fair, are country. Wilcox said the fair has tried different types of rock concerts in the past but they did not draw a crowd. Wilcox also noted that male performers tend to sell more tickets than female performers.
The concert venue at the county fair is a covered pavilion that seats about 2,000 people. Wilcox said the county fair would like to build something bigger, but the fair is lacking the space. Tickets for the concert are meant to be kept under $30. The fair is hoping the concert will be successful since Farr just recently hit No. 1 on the charts. Following the Farr concert, there will be free entertainment featuring Lorrie Morgan and Joe Diffie in the pavilion.
“We try to price tickets to cover the cost of the entertainment. As entertainment gets pricier, we aren’t sure if we can keep the free concerts,” said Wilcox. “We’ve been pretty fortunate. We’ve almost sold out every year.”