Music

Northwest Washington Fair

A fair love affair
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It is true that my love of the Northwest Washington Fair is no secret. It used to be a thing I became excited about a couple of weeks out—these were also the days when I would make a single visit per year to the fairgrounds in the heart of Lynden.

Maybe I was more normal back then, but I’m sure I wasn’t as happy as I could’ve been.

These days, I am in an anticipatory state for the 51 weeks a year that the fair isn’t taking place. I wax nostalgic for it during the cold winter months, advocate strenuously for it whenever it comes up in conversation and have been known to posit that it is the remedy for what’s ailing me when I’m feeling blue. It has reached the point where near strangers will approach me, usually either to share a similar love of the weeklong event, or to mine me for info—which I’m only too happy to share. This year, I’m planning no less than three trips to the fair, and no, I do not feel that to be excessive. I think it might be just enough.

I have often been asked why I love the Northwest Washington Fair so much, and my answer is always the same: It’s large enough to have decent rides (Zipper, we will meet again), big-name grandstand entertainment, and all of the fair food staples necessary for questionable culinary decisions (I’ve never met a funnel cake I didn’t want to love). However, it’s also small enough to not be overwhelming, and maintains its proud localism via exhibits of livestock, crafts, collections, etc., all culled from the area surrounding the fairgrounds, while the names of demolition derby and rodeo competitors often go back for generations in Whatcom County. Its grandstand acts may be of national renown, but all the entertainment found on the fair’s other stages (which comes with the price of admission) is sourced from our own backyard. And you can’t beat the Moo-wiches.

By the time this issue goes to press, the Northwest Washington Fair will be in full swing, with nearly 100,000 people already having visited the fine fairgrounds in Lynden. The demolition derby will have taken place (mine will be just one cheering voice in the sold-out crowd), and the PRCA Rodeo, which was rolled into the fair just this year, will be at least half over (I’m coming for you next year, rodeo).

Which leaves us with one of the fair’s biggest draws, the grandstand’s musical entertainment.

Along with many other people, I look forward with great interest to the lineup announcement for each year’s grandstand acts. The powers that be at the Northwest Washington Fair recognize fully the need to cater to a broad range of audience tastes, and have also displayed a willingness to take a chance here and there. Both of these things combine to create the feeling that nothing is off the table when it comes choosing acts and the results are sometimes remarkable.

This year, to accommodate the two nights of the rodeo, the grandstand’s musical entertainment will be compressed from four nights into three, with each act speaking to a separate part of the music-going public.

First, on Thurs., Aug. 14, is country superstar Gary Allan. The 46-year-old came to Nashville by way of California, where he began playing music as a teenager. During the nearly two decades Allan has been a professional musician, he’s amassed three platinum albums, seven gold albums and four number-one hits on Billboard’s Hot Country chart (“Man to Man,” “Tough Little Boys,” “Nothing On But the Radio,” and last year’s “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).” His raspy voice and outlaw country sound are a welcome departure from today’s poppier country music radio fodder, as is his ability to write lyrics that range from wrenchingly personal to stories of the everyman.

After Allan departs the fairgrounds, the grandstand stage will be taken over by none other than Huey Lewis and the News, a booking choice that only serves to reaffirm that my love of the fair is not misplaced. For 35 years, 30 million albums sold, Grammy nominations (including one win) and more chart-topping hits than a single band has any right to hope for, Lewis and his ever-present News have been entertaining fans worldwide with their user-friendly blend of rock ’n’ roll, doo-wop and blue-eyed soul. And if you think I’m not going to be in the grandstand audience singing along to “The Power of Love,” “If This Is It,” “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “Do You Believe in Love,” and more, well, you don’t know the first thing about me.

Closing out this year’s run of worthy grandstand entertainers on Sat., Aug. 16 will be Georgia rockers Collective Soul. When they first burst onto the scene with 1993’s chart-ruling single “Shine,” they seemed to be just another of the bands signed to a deal during the post-grunge frenzy that saw acts like Candlebox and Bush nab major-label deals and brief success before falling off precipitously in both album sales and general public regard. But Collective Soul quickly distinguished itself with six more number-one hits, including “December,” “The World I Know,” and “Where the River Flows.” They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and the Northwest Washington Fair is just one stop on their celebration tour.

At press time, tickets were still available for all three grandstand shows (the fact that Huey Lewis is not currently sold out is an error of ticket-buying omission by the show-going public that will be rectified at any moment, I’m sure), and since admission to the fair itself is included in the price of your concert ticket, no reason not to make a day of it and explore the incredible bounty the fair has to offer. Or you could make three days of it. I certainly won’t judge.

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