The Kentucky State Fair prides itself in tradition, right down to the music it presents.
At first glance, the 14 concerts slated for the fair’s 11 day run in Louisville seem no different. The roster is heavy with popular country acts, classic rock staples and a lineup of free performances showcasing guitar rock, contemporary Christian music, ‘60s pop and, yes, still more country.
But something unusual – and, perhaps, unintentionally planned – will highlight the fair’s opening on Thursday. Simultaneously, two pop stars from different generations who obtained chart-topping popularity in very contrasting ways, will play that night on stages separated only by a few thousand feet and stalls filled with prize mules and bovine.
Outside at Cardinal Stadium, the site of the fair’s free concerts, ‘70s pop-rock poster boy Peter Frampton performs. Across the grounds in the indoor Freedom Hall, the very first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, will hold court.
If nothing else, the single-night billing enforces how differently pop “idols” have ascended to stardom over the decades.
Frampton’s reign at the top of the pops was brief but substantial. His 1976 concert album Frampton Comes Alive! was released at a time when live records were essential to a major label rock act’s commercial life span. It hit No. 1, sold six million copies and scored three Top 20 singles.
But by the time the 1977 studio follow-up I’m in You emerged, the writing for Frampton’s time in the limelight was on the wall. By the end of the decade, he was a spent commercial force despite strong early ‘80s albums like Breaking All the Rules.
Upon winning the inaugural American Idol competition in 2002, Clarkson hit the pop charts with a No. 1 hit called A Moment Like This. She would score another eight Top 20 singles by early 2007 and amass worldwide record sales in excess of 20 million.
While there have been misfires in recent years (openly aired managerial shakeups and a substantial slip in record sales until the not-so-demurely titled My Life Would Suck Without You took her back to No. 1 this year), Clarkson remains one of only two Amercian Idol winners (Carrie Underwood being the other) to sustain a career with any kind of lasting commercial stamina.
But a look at the bigger picture evens the score a little. Clarkson entered her 20s when her career took off. When Frampton was 20, he was wrapping up a three year stint with the British post-psychedelic pop and boogie band Humble Pie to embark on a solo career and the recording of the landmark All Things Must Pass with George Harrison. Frampton Comes Alive!, with material pulled from four early ‘70s solo albums, was still six years away.
In short, one attained stardom after years of incessant recording and touring only to lose it in a critical – and, eventually, commercial – backlash. The other was the nearly instant creation of a wildly popular television program with no prior professional performance exposure at all.
Today, Frampton lives just to our north in Cincinnati with his third wife and maintains a still active touring career. The surprise, though, came in 2006 when his often overlooked skills as a guitarist were spotlighted on an instrumental album called Fingerprints. Amazingly, the record won Frampton his first and only Grammy. Perhaps, then, a better name for his next album might be Frampton Stays Alive
Clarkson won a pair of Grammys in 2005 for her single Since U Been Gone and its corresponding album Breakaway. But it’s hard to imagine a late career renaissance for Clarkson 30 years from now that would compare to Frampton’s recent success with Fingerprints. Despite the initial popularity of My Life Would Suck Without You, Clarkson’s current single, I Do Not Hook Up, sits at No 70 this week on the Billboard Hot 100 (it peaked at 20). And while it hit No. l, All I Ever Wanted remains the weakest seller of Clarkson’s four albums.
Suggesting possibly that Clarkson’s strength as a concert act might be suffering as a result is the fact the fair offered half-price tickets last week for two days to her Thursday concert.
It’s a fickle existence this pop star business. Whether you come to life on a TV screen or celebrate the commercial afterlife with a record where you keep your mouth shut, it remains a field where performers are embraced and disposed of as readily as chewing gum.
But on Thursday, the fair will show us which surface two pop giants of the present and past are still sticking to.
The Kentucky State Fair runs from Aug. 20 through 30 at the Kentucky Exposition Center, 937 Phillips Lane in Louisville. Daily admission is $8 for adults and $4 children and seniors. Call: (502) 367-5001, (502) 367-5002 or visit www.kystatefair.org.
Here is the full State Fair concert lineup. All free performances will require admission to the fair itself. Plan also on a $6-per-vehicle parking fee. Tickets for the Clarkson, Journey and Urban concerts are available through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000.
Aug. 20: Kelly Clarkson/Gavin DeGraw. Freedom Hall.. (8 p.m., $47, $52).
Aug. 20: Peter Frampton/The Afters. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 21: Journey/Heart. Freedom Hall. (8 p.m., $50, $55).
Aug. 21: The Commodores. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 22: Keith Urban/Pat Green. Freedom Hall. (8 p.m., $52, $67).
Aug. 22: Shinedown/Rev Theory. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 23: The Oak Ridge Boys. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 24: Jeremy Camp/Southeast Worship Band. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 25: Gary Allan/Candy Coburn. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 26: Bobby Vee/Fabian/Shirley Alston Reeves/Johnny Tillotson. Cardinal Stadium, (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 27: Pam Tillis/Mel Tillis. Cardinal Stadium, Louisville. (8 p.m, free).
Aug. 28: The Wallflowers. Cardinal Stadium, Louisville. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 29: Billy Currington/Heidi Newfield. Cardinal Stadium. (8 p.m., free).
Aug. 30: Taylor Swift/Kellie Pickler/Gloriana. Freedom Hall, Louisville. (7 p.m., sold out).
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