With a lineup that includes recent Grammy nominees and Billboard chart toppers, music fans may be feeling pretty good about this year’s Sangamon County Fair, which begins Wednesday and continues through June 21.

Conventional wisdom has it that the county-fair circuit is the domain of artists and bands past their prime.

Conventional wisdom, welcome to Sangamon County.

With a lineup that includes recent Grammy nominees and Billboard chart toppers, music fans may be feeling pretty good about this year’s Sangamon County Fair, which begins Wednesday and continues through June 21.

Country star Jason Aldean wraps up the fair’s concert series on June 20. Aldean, the voice behind the ubiquitous No. 1 single “She’s Country,” is known for his energized live shows.

The Macon, Ga. native thrives in front of crowds — always has.
“When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I just got started playing some clubs in my hometown and being on stage and trying that out. And I did that a couple of times and that was it,” Aldean said during a recent phone interview.

“I always compare it to people that go to a karaoke bar. You’re a little shy the very first time. And then after that first time, you want to keep getting back up there. It’s the same sort of deal.”

Aldean first earned national acclaim in 2005 with the release of his self-titled debut album, which featured the No. 1 single “Why.”

He has steadily increased his fan base since then, only to be catapulted into full-blown country stardom with the release of “She’s Country” in December.

The song, which cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in addition to its perch atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, wasn’t even intended to be a single.

“First of all I wasn’t even thinking of it as a single. I just thought it would be a great song for our show,” Aldean said of “She’s Country,” which his producer found for him. “But once we got the studio cut of that song, we knew there was something pretty cool about it.”

A paean to sultry country women, the song features some heavy guitar riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Guns n’ Roses track.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with twanging country music and twanging it a little more drastically than a lot of people do,” said Aldean, who grew up listening to Hank Williams Jr. but took in his fair share of 1980s rock as a teenager. “In my mind, (“She’s Country”) is still country music, but it’s just a little edgier probably than some of the other country music out there.”

Lady Antebellum co-lead vocalist Hillary Scott can relate to her friend Aldean’s gut instinct of knowing if a song has hit potential.
Scott, whose band is headlining the fair on June 18, said she thinks Lady Antebellum might be on the verge of something big with its latest single, “I Run to You.”

In many respects, Lady Antebellum, which infuses classic country with tinges of 1960s-era soul, has already arrived.

Fresh off a Best New Artist nomination at this year’s Grammy Awards — not to mention the Best New Artist honor Lady Antebellum picked up at the 2008 Country Music Awards — it’s hard to imagine a band not being satisfied after reaching that level of success.

But Scott said she and bandmates Charles Kelley (co-lead vocalist) and Dave Haywood (guitars) have pretty big hopes and dreams.
“We just have so much more to say and so many more places to go,” she said during a recent phone interview. “We want to tour the world.”

And that journey, she said, starts with fairs.

“Fairs are actually the majority of shows we play,” she said. “A fair brings in a built-in audience for us, plus we end up playing for a whole lot of people.”

She makes a good point. What with livestock judging and other agricultural events, it’s doesn’t get much more country than a fair.
Lady Antebellum should be feeling right at home.

The band, which writes its own material, is currently working on songs for a new album.

Scott has a solid pedigree for a songwriter. Her mother, Linda Davis, is a country singer who scored a Grammy with the 1993 single “Does He Love You,” a duet with Reba McEntire. Scott’s father, Lang Scott, is a Nashville musician who now runs a company specializing in Web site design for record labels.

Growing up in Nashville, Scott said she wanted to work in anything but the music business for a long time. But fate intervened.

“Without knowing it at the time, this is what I was destined to do all along,” she said.

The Sangamon County Fair’s other headliners are Hells Bells, an all-female AC/DC tribute band that plays on Wednesday; and the Oklahoma country quartet Cross Canadian Ragweed (“Fightin’ For”), which takes the stage June 19.

Phil Davidson can be reached through A&E editor Brian Mackey at brian.mackey@sj-r.com.

Sangamon County Fair

Lineup

Wednesday, June 17: Hell’s Bells (AC/DC cover band)
Thursday, June 18: Lady Antebellum with opening act Still Kick’n
Friday, June 19: Cross Canadian Ragweed with opening act Lee Brice
Saturday, June 20: Jason Aldean with opening act Eric Durrance

When

All shows begin at 8 p.m.

Where

Sangamon County Fairgrounds, New Berlin

Tickets

Admission to fair includes concerts: adults $10 Wednesday and Sunday, $15 Thursday, Friday and Saturday; seniors and children ages 3-10  $5 everyday; children under 3 free. Adult five-day passes cost $50.