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  • Silvia Mautner

    Look for Kool & the Gang on the Golden 1 Stage at the State Fair on July 25.

  • John Shearer / Associated Press

    LeAnn Rimes will appear at the State Fair on July 23.

Booking California State Fair concerts a balancing act

Published: Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6TICKET
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013 - 4:46 pm

They're fun, entertaining and often beloved by fans.

But they're usually not the latest, greatest thing at the height of popularity.

We're talking about the musical acts playing nightly at the California State Fair, a family-friendly mix of classic rock, country, Top 40, nostalgia, tribute and breaking acts.

"There is some confusion about concerts at the State Fair," said Rick Pickering, the fair's CEO and general manager. "Somebody will say, 'When will you bring the big concerts you used to have, like the Grateful Dead and Metallica?' "

Those concerts took place during the fair, Pickering said, but they were booked by Bill Graham Presents, not fair organizers.

According to Pickering, venue plays a significant role in who will – and won't – play the fair.

"If you're going to do a major act, you have to have the seating available for 18,000 people," he said, adding that the fair's main Golden 1 Stage accommodates 4,000 attendees.

Selecting bands to play Cal Expo in July is a balancing act, Pickering said – a mix of want, need and availability, all governed by economics.

Here's how it works: The fair's board of directors annually adopts an operating budget that includes an amount for musical acts.

Fair organizers then look for groups that appeal to a wide audience while seeking input from local radio stations about acts that they might help promote.

The fair's free concert format – offering the majority of seats at no charge to fair attendees – also shapes the roster, as does the desire to book acts with built-in recognition and appeal.

While many performers on this year's lineup likely sound familiar, there are also new faces to watch, including sultry pop singer Ana Victoria, who was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2012 for her sophomore album, "AV."

"I'm better known in the Latin market," Victoria said in a phone interview, adding that she recently played in front of 50,000 people at a music festival in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Performing at Cal Expo on July 21, she said she hopes to earn new stateside fans.

"It's my first time playing on that big of a stage in the U.S.," Victoria said.

When securing acts, fair organizers also look for performers already touring the West Coast to help save on travel costs. That's how Grammy-winning funk stalwarts Kool & the Gang ended up on the July 25 bill.

Touring with Kid Rock for the first leg of his Rebel Soul Tour, Kool & the Gang happen to be in Northern California at the right time. And that's cool with the band that's sold more than 70 million albums worldwide.

"Everyone always has a good time with Kool & the Gang," said Robert Bell, a.k.a. Kool, via phone.

But when coordinating schedules for more than a dozen well-known acts, fair organizers have to prepare for some frustration and disappointment.

Artists will occasionally accept an offer to play the fair, but later change plans.

This year, "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips was scheduled, but he later decided to accept an opening slot on John Mayer's tour instead.


Toyota Concert Series at the Golden 1 Stage.

Shows start at 8 p.m.

Night Ranger: Tonight

True2Crue (Mötley Crüe tribute band): Saturday

Weird Al: Sunday

The Four Tops: Monday

Third Day: Tuesday

Hoobastank: Wednesday

Lonestar: Thursday

Evolution (Journey tribute band): July 19

Grand Funk Railroad: July 20

Ana Victoria: July 21

En Vogue: July 22

LeAnn Rimes: July 23

Air Supply: July 24

Kool & the Gang: July 25

Queen Nation (Queen tribute band): July 26

Zendaya: July 27

Randy Houser: July 28

Call The Bee's Kristopher Rivera, (916) 321-1101. On Twitter: @kgrivera

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