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By Casey Christie/ The Californian
By SCOTT COX, Contributing columnist
Fair time means two things: Corn dogs and live music. I'm sure there's some other stuff too, but for me, those are the big draws.
I don't eat corn dogs for 51 consecutive weeks, only to see that streak end spectacularly at the fair. And corn dogs aren't really that good unless they're consumed at the fair. Corn dogs are also the only foodstuff that's better with regular yellow mustard than the spicier brown kind. They're served on a stick, like any proper fair food would be, which makes them highly portable, and easy to consume while walking around. I have found that eating a corn dog takes about the same amount of time as walking to the next thing you want to do at the fair, and also about the time you'll wait to do it. Conveniently enough, if you get a corn dog on your way out of the fair, you should finish it about the time you get to your car.
Kern County Fair
Kern County Fairgrounds, 1142 S. P St.
Hours: 1 to 10 p.m.
Admission: $9 adults, seniors (55 and above) $8, $5 children (6 to 12), free for active military w/ID, children 5 and under are free. $5 parking.
REO Speedwagon, 8 p.m., Budweiser Pavilion
People always talk about wine and cheese, or burgers and soda, but the best combination in the culinary world is corn dogs and beer. They're both elegant and simple, like the best food always is. Corn dogs are also the most American of foods. The hot dog is an enduring symbol of our culture, and wrapping it in cornmeal is just a tribute to the heartland of America. And what says U-S-A like deep-frying stuff? Nothing, that's what. So get out to the fair, and feel free to try all of the deep-dried fare that it offers: baked potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese -- you name it, they'll deep-fry it. But as for me, a couple of corn dogs and a cold beer are all I need.
The other fair staple is the live music scene. From small-time local artists to big-time touring acts, there's much to see and hear at the fair. And bands love playing there. If you're a local band just starting out, a spot on one of the smaller stages gives you a chance to be heard by the public in an oddly artist-friendly venue. See, people at the fair are always walking from place to place, and a lot of them hear you playing. They then have the option of hanging around to hear you or walking on. Either way, your feelings aren't hurt like they would be in an enclosed venue with just a couple of listeners. Everybody wins.
Even the big touring acts love playing fairs. There's a guaranteed crowd there, a decent paycheck, and nearly everyone there is in a good mood. Take REO Speedwagon. At one point they were one of the biggest rock bands in the business. Even today they can pack decent-sized halls around the country, but those tours are time-consuming, expensive and financially risky. So when your manager books you on the fair circuit, it's more of a plug-and-play deal. The stands will be packed, the crowds will be jazzed, and you will get paid without any hassle. These guys have been touring for decades, and they have it down cold.
The fans are happy, too: The audience gets all the songs they love right there at the Budweiser Pavilion. It's perfect. Only occasionally does a band make the mistake of trying out new material on a fair crowd. Kansas did that a few years ago (the band, not the state). They decided to surprise the crowd with some of their "new stuff." Even the most ardent Kansas fan will wait only so long for "Dust in the Wind."
If you're a band, you have to realize that fair concerts are the only shows where you're competing with corn dogs and Ferris wheels. It's rarely an issue, though. These guys are pros, and they didn't get where they are without knowing how to wow the crowds. Anybody who was at the Charlie Daniels show last year knows exactly what I mean.
Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the fair. Rock out (or whatever you do at a country show) to the live music. Play some games and ride some rides. Eat wildly inappropriate food. Heck, eat three corn dogs and follow them up with a cinnamon roll. It's the fair. It's all about excess, and it's one of the last pure slices of Americana left these days.
And if you're going to the REO Speedwagon show, bring an extra corn dog.