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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 04:01 pm

State Fair, the musical


International touring star Candye Kane performs at the Illinois State Fair for Bluesday on Aug. 17.

Yes, fair citizens of central Illinois and other creatures making a beeline for the Illinois State Fair, the time is upon us. Once again Springfield buzzes with underlined excitement, all the hotels fill up, the roads become busier (especially around the north end and the fairgrounds), all the flies within a 200-mile radius come to feast and to us here in Now Playing land, live music ramps up a notch.

From the onslaught of beer tent bands to the odd but enjoyable tradition of allowing bars to remain open until 3 a.m. during the fair, the next 10 days of entertainment overload assure anyone the affordable and undeniable possibility of participating in lots of live music events accompanied by alcohol for purchase. While perusing the Illinois State Fair web page ( entertainment listings available at the various stages freely for the watching, I noticed a few interesting things.

First a group called the Honey Bears kept popping up almost every day. A quick search identified this female-only assemblage as a professional dancing and singing troupe from Chicago that, according to their My Space page, perform, “a full production family-oriented variety song & dance show consisting of Broadway 50s, Country, Swing, Tap, Patriotic, Contemporary Jazz, Hip Hop & Crowd Interaction.” The original Honey Bears were Chicago Bears cheerleaders, created at the request of legendary owner George Halas, but retired from sideline service after Super Bowl XX. The fair group only uses the name and has no connection to the football team. You’ll have plenty of fair opportunities (more than 20) to see the talented revue touted as one of the most popular shows at U.S. military bases around the world.

The Northwest Stage near the grandstand hosts several names not familiar to me and through the magic of the Internet I discovered them to belong to youthful area female singer-songwriters and performers, like Gracia Marie Harrison of Virden, Jenni DeMarco and Alison Hannah. Hurrah for the fair for bringing in local talent of a style not usually represented.

At the official beer tents, a similar concept as the last several years is in place. The Budweiser True Music tent offers hard-rocking bands like Joe Cooke, Poprocks, The Oohs, Royal Pain, Roxschool and, interestingly enough, rockin’ country band Still Kick’n. The Miller Lite tent again hosts a variety including Elvis Himselvis, Debbie Ross, another Cats on Holiday final reunion show, the Suns of Circumstance/ Groove Daddies collaboration, the Station, Bustin’ Loose and Still Kick’n, as well.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, blues fans (or anyone for that matter) can rejoice with a Bluesday show featuring local heroes Hipbone Sam and Bad Bill plus the MojoCats, then international touring star Candye Kane, and a top off by Chicago-by-Texas bluesman Dave Herrero. Over at the other main beer tent, sponsored by Coors Light, the tribute bands rule. Along with area bands Sable, 808, and Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters, the next-best-thing groups include, “Who’s Bad” (Michael Jackson), Silver Bullet (Bob Seger), Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi), Paradise City (Guns-n-Roses) and American Fool (John Cougar).

Every year I must give the Twilight Ballroom a plug, just because I think that big band music is cool, plus it’s inside and air-conditioned so even the room is cool and they have Don Smith now playing his 36th straight year at the fair. And that is really cool.

The Ethnic Village hosts the usual array of interesting performers including another personal favorite of mine, Dennis Stroughmatt Et l’Esprit Creole, who performs the other side of the Cajun music coin from Zydeco.

Every year I mention some bands and leave out others, but please, please, don’t take it personally either way. Just do what I do and look ’em up online and pick your favorites. Fair enough?

Contact Tom Irwin at