Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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Cover Story

Rock of Ages


Everybody knows that the Iowa State Fair is the place to go for all kinds of strange and wonderful foods on a stick — or deep-fried and then put on sticks. But the one thing that always changes at the Fair is the entertainment. Sure, there are some things that can be counted on year in and year out, but for the most part, the Iowa State Fair brings you a fresh slate of local and touring talent to enjoy each summer. From the big, hyped Grandstand acts through the litany of free stages scattered throughout the grounds, there’s something for you to tap every toe to. Consider what follows to be our at-a-glance primer to what is happening and when. See you at the Fair.


Anne & Bill Riley Stage (free)


Nathan Osmond, Thursday, Aug. 13, and Friday, Aug. 14, 8 p.m.
Nephew of Donny and Marie Osmond, Nathan Osmond is a country performer who was voted Utah’s “Best Local Country Artist.” An actor, singer and motivational speaker, he calls his street teams “the O-Zone.”

Redhead Express, Sunday, Aug. 16 and Monday, Aug. 17, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Redhead Express is a country act comprised of sisters Alisa, Kendra, LaRae and Meghan Walker whose 2014 debut album, “Remember Your Roots,” was produced by Grammy-winning producer Paul Worley.

Prep Iowa


Bud Light Stage (free)Lita Ford


Lita Ford, Thursday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m.
Lita Ford has lived a life that seems like the template for “rocker girl.” She’s toured the world with a guitar in her hand, been involved in a groundbreaking rock act, dueted with Ozzy Osbourne and lived a life that has been punctuated by alcohol and bad men.

As late ’80s glam rock gave way to early ’90s alternative, Ford saw her place in the musical landscape disappearing. So she stepped away from the stage, settled down and spent the better part of a decade being a wife and mom. After a lackluster return with 2009’s “Wicked Wonderland,” Ford returned to form in 2012 and released the critically praised “Living Like a Runaway.”

“What happened with ‘Wicked Wonderland’ was I was married to a control freak,” Ford said of her rocky marriage to Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette. “They’ve got to have things their way. It’s like ‘Dude, this is a Lita Ford album. If you can’t let Lita Ford do it, how will that work?’ I didn’t know how to relate to an album that I didn’t create.”

“Living Like a Runaway” not only marks a return to the harder-edged pop rock that made Ford popular in the ’80s, but it also serves as a subtle nod to her roots as a member of the all-female group The Runaways, which also produced Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Joan Jett.

As the Runaways’ guitarist, playing behind Jett and vocalist Cherie Currie, Ford never had to worry about playing and singing; it was a skill she only had to hone once she went solo in 1983.

“It was a learning process,” she admitted. “It wasn’t a God-given talent. Some people are just born to play basketball. I had to really bear down and take lessons. I got a warehouse and set up my amps and really worked at it.”

The hard work resulted in four mid-charting albums between 1984 and 1991, including the platinum-selling “Lita” in 1988, which included her two biggest hits, “Kiss Me Deadly,” and the Ozzy duet “Close My Eyes Forever.”

Now, nearly 25 years after her last Billboard-charting album, Ford feels like she is back to her old tricks, even though getting there was has been a difficult journey musically and emotionally. And, much to her chagrin, physically.

“When I was just a mom, I lived in Billabong shorts and tank tops,” she said. “Then I come back, I get on these leather pants and high heels and it was like, ‘What the fuck? I can’t wear these jeans! They’re too tight!’ I don’t remember those problems in the rocker days.”


Naked Eyes, Friday, Aug. 14, 8 p.m.
The British new-wave act, formed in 1982, charted four top 40 singles between ’82 and ’84, with “Always Something There to Remind Me” hitting No. 8.


Gabbie Rae, Saturday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
The 17-year-old, Massachusetts-born pop singer signed to Outkast founder Antwan Patton’s Purple Ribbon Kidz label at age 12.


Hairball, Sunday, Aug. 16 and Monday, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m.
The Rock and Roll tribute act from Minnesota boasts a high-energy stage show that brings more than 40 classic rock acts to life. The group is a State Fair staple and a consistent fan favorite.


Autograph, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m.
Formed in California in 1983, Autograph had three albums in the top half of the Billboard 200 between ’84 and ’87. The single, “Turn Up the Radio,” reached No. 29 in ’84.


Get the Led Out, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m.
The Philadelphia-based rock tribute act is billed as “the ultimate Led Zeppelin concert experience.”


Head East, Thursday, Aug. 20 and Friday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m.
Head East is an Illinois-based rock act, formed in 1969 and 2011 inductees to the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame. The band had three Hot 100 singles, led by 1978’s “Since You Been Gone.”


Steelheart, Saturday, Aug. 22, 8 p.m.
The Connecticut-based glam metal act formed in 1990, and its self-titled debut album produced two Hot 100 singles, led by “I’ll Never Let You Go” at No. 23.


Starship feat. Mickey Thomas, Sunday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m.
Formed as Jefferson Starship by Jefferson Airplane member Paul Kantner in 1985, the band was a mid-80’s juggernaut, producing three No. 1 singles, including “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and “We Built This City.”


MidAmerican Energy Stage (free)


.38 Special, Thursday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m.
A southern rock act formed in 1974, .38 Special has landed 15 singles on the upper half of the Hot 100 in its career, including “Caught Up in You,” (1982) at No. 10. Vocalist Don Barnes is only remaining founding member.

Vocal Trash, Thursday Aug. 13 and Sunday, Aug. 23, noon and 2 p.m.
The Texas-based performance ensemble, described as “Glee meets Stomp,” brings a message about recycling and green sustainability. Vocal Trash uses instruments made of recycled and re-purposed material.

The Nadas, Friday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Des Moines-based Fair stalwarts The Nadas was founded in 1995 and voted Playboy’s “Best College Band You’ve Never Heard Of” in 2001.

Bonne Finken, Saturday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
For most of the past two years, Bonne Finken has been rolling. After the release of her album “Fairytails/Love Affairs,” Finken has seen her music get radio play on college stations around the country (as well as in town on Star 102.5), she’s been on the 80/35 stage, and now her hard work is being recognized with a headlining set at the Iowa State Fair.

“We’ve played the Fair before, on the stages where you submit, then play for free and hope you sell merch,” Finken said. “Last year, I was up for opening gigs for a couple of acts on the Grandstand, so we didn’t apply at all.”

This year, she didn’t have to.

“Last year, I don’t think anyone really knew what I was working on until (the album) was released. So this year, they were pretty quick to get on the offer. It was a nice surprise.”

The offer from the Fair serves as another piece of validation for an artist who has stayed fiercely true to her own vision for her music, turning down record deals and commercial opportunities in favor of releasing an uncompromised album. The end result was one of the best-reviewed local albums of the year and has led to bigger stages, larger crowds and a more confident performer in front of it all. From here on out, Finken’s goal for herself is clear.

“The goal now,” she said, “is every gig to be just like this one.”

Home Free, Sunday, Aug. 16 and Monday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m.
The a cappella act formed in 2000 is the season four winners of NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” The group’s last two albums, “Crazy Life” and “Full of Cheer,” have both charted on the U.S. Country charts, with the former hitting No. 8.

The Village People, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m.Village People
The legendary disco act’s 1978 single “Y.M.C.A.” became a signature song, party favorite and international hit, reaching No. 1 in eight countries.

Kentucky HeadHunters, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m.
The Kentucky-based southern rock outfit was formed in 1968 under the name Itchy Brother. Its 1989 debut album, “Pickin’ on Nashville,” went double platinum and netted the group two CMA Awards and a Grammy.

Sir Mix-A-Lot, Thursday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
Seattle-based rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot likes big butts, and he cannot lie. He is a legendary artist and producer in the Pacific Northwest and has collaborated with Seattle acts ranging from Mudhoney to the Seattle Symphony.

Fran Cosmo, Friday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m.
Lead singer of Boston from 1992 to 2006, including the band’s last platinum selling album, 1994’s “Walk On.” Cosmo currently performs alongside his son, Anton, in the band Cosmo.

The Blue Band, Saturday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Another State Fair regular, The Blue Band draws large and devoted crowds year after year. Front man Bob Dorr boasts a 40-year career with Iowa Public Radio.

Here Come the Mummies, Sunday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m.
A funk/sky/novelty act formed in 2000, Here Come the Mummies perform under heavy mummy costume and makeup, and individual members are rumored to have several Grammy awards among them, though hidden identities make verification impossible.


Susan Knapp Amphitheater (free)


Clare Dunn, Thursday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m.
The Colorado-based country artist was signed to MCA in 2013, and her single released earlier this year, “Move On,” reached No. 55 on the Country Airplay charts.

Jamie Lynn Spears, Friday, Aug. 14, 8 p.m.
Nickelodeon child star and younger sister of pop icon Brittney Spears, her 2013 single “How Could I Want More” reached No. 29 on the Billboard Country charts.

Chris Lane, Saturday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
North Carolina-based country music singer-songwriter Chris Lane’s 2012 album “Let’s Ride,” reached No. 75 on the U.S. Country charts.

Haley & Michaels, Sunday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m.
This Nashville-based duo, formed in 2011, independently released its debut album, which produced the single “Just Another Love Song” that reached No. 59 on the Country Airplay charts in 2014.

Old Dominion, Monday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m.
Old Dominion formed in 2007, and its debut album reached No. 33 on the U.S. Country charts, with the single, “Break Up With Him,” reaching No. 21 earlier this year.

Restless Heart, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m.
Founded in 1984, the band’s 1986 album, “Wheels,” hit No. 1 on the U.S. Country charts. The band produced six straight No. 1 singles between 1986 and 1988.

Dan + Shay, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m.
Signed to Warner Bros in 2013, the debut single “19 You + Me” reached No. 7 on the U.S. Country charts, while debut album “Where it all Began” hit No. 1, selling more than 114,000 copies.

Big Smo, Thursday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
Country-rapper Big Smo began performing in 1999. He has released albums including “Kuntry Kitchen” (2002) and “Kuntry Livin’” (2014), the latter of which reached number 31 on the Billboard 200, and No. 6 on the Billboard Country charts.

Country Gold, Friday, Aug. 21, 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Featuring performances from Leroy Van Dyke, Jimmy Fortune, Rex Allen, Jr. and Barbara Fairchild. Billboard magazine called Van Dyke’s “Walk on By” the biggest country music record in history.

RaeLynn, Saturday, Aug. 22, 8 p.m.
The 21-year-old country singer-songwriter was a quarter finalist on season two of The Voice. She released her debut EP, “Me,” in January, reaching No. 7 on the U.S. Country charts.

Brandy Clark, Sunday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m.
Experienced songwriter Brandy Clark has had songs recorded by Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Darrius Rucker and others. She was nominated for 2015 Best New Artist Grammy.




Casting Crowns, Thursday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m. $32
This Christian rock act, formed in 1999, has produced three consecutive No. 1 albums on the Billboard Christian charts, with its debut album reaching No. 2.

Justin Moore, Friday, Aug. 14, 8 p.m. $35
Moore released three top-five albums on the U.S. Country charts, including two that reached No. 1 — 2009’s self-titled debut and 2011’s “Outlaws Like Me” — both of which were certified gold.

Def Leppard, with Styx and Tesla, Saturday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m. $53Def Leppard
Def Leppard has combined for more than 100 million album sales, including two albums certified diamond, with more than 10 million sales each. Styx produced five consecutive multi-platinum albums between 1977 and 1983, with eight top 10 singles. Tesla has sold more than 14 million albums, including three straight platinum releases between 1986 and 1991.

Reba McEntire, Sunday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m. $45
One of the best-selling artists of all time with more than 85 million records sold, McEntire released an unprecedented 18-straight platinum selling albums between 1987 and 2007. To date, she has released 93 singles, an astounding 90 of which have charted, including 25 Billboard No. 1s.

Carrie Underwood, Monday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m. $60Carrie Underwood by Jeremy Cowart
A country star with crossover appeal, Underwood has sold more than 65 million albums to date. She is the youngest standing member of the Grand Ole Opry and the season four winner of “American Idol.”

YES with Toto, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m. $35
In 1982, Toto released what would ultimately become its most successful album to date, “Toto IV.” Featuring the singles “Africa” and “Rosanna,” which hit No. 1 and No. 2 on the Billboard chart, respectively, “Toto IV” went on to sell nearly 10 million copies, cementing the band as one of the biggest acts of the ’80s.

Thiry-three years and nine studio albums later, the band has released what keyboardist Steve Porcaro has described as the logical follow-up to “Toto IV” — “Toto XIV.” In keeping with the feeling of spiritual succession, “Toto XIV” is the first album since 1982 to use the Roman numeral title designation. It is also the first album since 1992 to feature three founding Toto members and the first since 1984 to have Porcaro on board. For guitarist Steve Lukather, all of that was important when it came to capturing the essence of the band.TOTO

“This is the first time (Porcaro) has sung in one of his own songs since ‘Toto IV,’ ” he said. “We really worked hard on the album.

“We haven’t made a record in 10 years. Is anyone going to care? Is classic rock dead? Is there anything left that we haven’t done? We went into the studio acting like we were 20-year-old kids and just had fun.”

Fun is something that hasn’t always come easy for Toto’s members. After the success of “Toto IV,” the band became the poster child for a growing backlash against the polished, arena rock sound, and follow-ups “Isolation” and “Fahrenheit” were panned critically and performed poorly commercially. The band has also dealt with its share of personal tragedy, as Porcaro’s bandmate brothers, Jeff and Mike, died in 1992 and 2015, respectively. All of the hardship makes the members on stage appreciate their time even more.

“It does bring musical brothers closer together,” Lukather said. “Nobody understands our journey like us. We’ve known each other 40 years. We’ve been through the ups and downs together. Now we’re trying to be there for a broken family.

“Everybody has his or her own individual struggle. So if we get to go play for a few hours, we get to forget about it, and so does everybody else. Everyone’s really healthy now, and we’re grateful to have the chance again. Nobody gets another victory like this at our age. I was 19 years old when we did our first album. I’m 57 now. Who knew?”

Toto’s State Fair stage mates YES has had its share of tragedy lately as well, losing founding bassist Chris Squire in June of this year after a fight with acute erythroid leukemia. His passing rocked the band, but the surviving members felt it was important to continue on.Yes -- photo by Magnus Manske

“Looking back on it, when Chris said he was going to have to have extensive medical treatment, I think we all felt that he wanted YES to continue,” explained keyboardist Geoff Downes. “Of course, he didn’t survive the treatment, but we had already committed to the tour. Obviously Chris’ presence will be sorely missed by everybody. He’s the last original member of the band, as it exists now. Moving on, we feel that it’s important that YES continues.”

Downes joined the band in 2011 for his second stint, the first coming in 1980, a year before the band’s first break-up. For Downes, a founding member of prog outfit The Buggles as well as Asia, rejoining YES was a chance to continue yet another musical legacy.

“It’s actually quite a privilege,” he said. “Obviously I was a part of a bit of it before, but coming back in after a lot of albums have been made has been quite an honor.”

A large part of what fueled Downes’ return to the band was the creation of YES’ 2011 album, “Fly From Here.” That album centered around two tracks that Downes and producer Trevor Horn had written for the band 30 years ago. When YES decided to revisit the material as part of a concept album, bringing Downes back into the fold seemed natural.

“(The title track) was something that we’d worked quite extensively back then,” Downes said. “We felt that my influence was kind of integral to that material. So it made sense to bring me back (into the band).”

The band’s 2014 follow-up, “Heaven & Earth,” reached No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart, and Downes feels that YES will continue to perform and remain creative, even in the face of Squire’s death.

“I think that YES will continue,” he concurred. “I’m privileged to still be a part of it. We’re still reeling from what happened to Chris, but we’re trying to put those pieces together. We still enjoy going on stage at night. That’s all you can really ask for.”

Alabama, Thursday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m. $40
The country/rock outfit, formed in 1969 boasts more than 75 million albums sold, 23 studio albums and 65 singles, including a stretch from 1980 to ’91 in which 30 of 32 singles reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts.

The Fray, Friday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m. $38
This Denver-based pop rock group was formed in 2002 and its debut album sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.

Meghan Trainor with Charlie Puth and Life of Dillon, Saturday, Aug. 22, 8 p.m. $40
Bubblegum pop singer Meghan Trainor’s debut album sold more than three million copies worldwide, and lead single “All About That Bass,” sold more than 27 million units and was nominated for a Grammy.

Rock-a-Thon, featuring Dee Snider, Dokken, Warrant and Firehouse, Sunday, Aug. 23, 6 p.m. $30
Snider has fronted glam metal act Twisted Sister for 40 years, and Dokken released six straight Billboard 200 albums between 1983 and 1997.Warrant has sold more than 5 million albums, and its 1989 single, “Heaven,” reached No. 2. Firehouse released three straight Billboard 200 albums, with more than 3 million albums sold.


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