The last several weeks have seen a proliferation of fairs, especially the one at the Fairgrounds in Essex, the Champlain Valley Fair. Over the two weekends, six grandstand shows where produced, four of which I viewed, and for which I found entertaining, even though one of the shows ran quite a bit over time (which over time probably didn't annoy anyone overly much, except for the fact that it was on a Sunday and they had to get up to go to work or get the kids off to school the next day).
The first weekend I saw the band Chicago on Saturday, Aug. 29. This group has been around since its 1967 debut as Chicago Transit Authority and the guys had a multiplicity of hit records and hit albums over those years. The amazing thing to me is how much of Chicago's brassy jazz-rock work I knew without specifically knowing that it was their work. The band gave a solid evening of entertainment much appreciated by the audience and their appearance ended with a fireworks display.
The next night, Sunday, Aug. 30, I saw a triple show: Jimmy Wayne, who opened before Dierks Bentley, who led us (after a wait for a change of set ups) to the star of the evening Brad Paisley, who produced one of the most vivid and exhaustive evenings that showed him both as singer-composer and as painter-video maker. Wayne was the most direct of the performers, and his show was simple to mount and simple to hear. He was extremely energetic, and the audience enjoyed him immensely. Bentley's show was slightly more sophisticated, slightly less active, and extremely enjoyable. When he came Paisley's turn, the two screens that are permanently a part of the grandstand show plus three other screens all were filled with cartooning from his own hand. His show, American Saturday Night Tour 2009, was indeed more appropriate for a Saturday night than a Sunday evening, but he lived up to his word-he didn't stop performing until he thought the evening was over. There's no complaint actually, since his music is attractive, lyrical, and he is a terrific performer. His entire performance was self-centered in the best sense of the word, it gave us his worldview, the world of country music at its most communicative. I thoroughly enjoyed the show in all its aspects.
On Sept. 4, I saw Kelly Clarkson, one of the winners from the television show American Idol. Her show to was spirited, although, since many of her fans are preteen and teenage girls, perhaps or references to beer during one of her opening monologues was slightly off center and off key -- you should have seen how many young girls and women there were who had purchased the yellow souvenir T-shirt for her concert.
Finally, on Sept, 5, I saw Jeff Dunham, the ventriloquist, in a show, Spark of Insanity. He used four of these puppets, the older grump (whose name escapes me), the skeletal Ahmed-the dead terrorist-his smart-mouthed alien, and his country bumpkin. He was genuinely hilarious, and he was well accompanied by a guitarist who opened for him and was part of the main show. One of the astonishing things for Dunham was to see how well the audience knew his routines, especially those involving the country bumpkin. He was really blown away by the audience response.
One other matter: I use an orange handicapped sign and I was surprised to find that I was allowed to park free during each is a concerts. I was also offered aid by a woman who invited me to sit in a handicapped area for each of the concerts; I took her up on three of the four, especially because the first weekend there was rain. I also found people volunteering to help me get through crowds or do other small services for me, since my right hand was encased in a cast, and was obviously unusable. One young lady even ask me if she could go to get any food or drink for me, and when I tipped her, because I asked her to do that, she returned the tip to me, saying she couldn't take anything for offering a service. After the show, her mother, who is handicapped, spoke to me to explain that she didn't want her daughter to feel that she had to be compensated for every act of charity that she did. I told the woman not to feel concerned; I had not been affronted by her daughter's refusal of the tip.
Sometimes when I go to concerts I come away with not only the experience of the concert, but with a feeling of the kindness of the people around me. I was very moved by these actions.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.