Brad Coombs doesn’t like to whine. But booking the music lineup for this year’s Michigan State Fair was as, if not more, challenging as winning a giant stuffed animal on the carnival midway.
And it’s to his credit that the 11-day fair, which may well be the last held at Detroit’s Michigan State Fairgrounds, will be rocking 10 of its 11-day run.
Coombs, who runs Holt-based Meridian Entertainment and has been the fair’s director of national entertainment since 1997, faced a variety of issues this year. Most pressing was a budget that’s dropped more than 75 percent during the past decade. “And it’s not just that it’s down,” Coombs notes, “but the cost of entertainment has gone up so much. Those dollars just don’t have the buying power they used to.”
Add to that State Fair leadership that’s changed three times during the past four years, as well as the event’s widely reported dire straits. “I think there was some initial confusion. A lot of people thought it had gone away this year,” Coombs says. “There were some artists that were worried — Is it really going to happen? Are they going to cancel midstream? There was a lot of negativity. We had to convince everybody it was real and we’d be able to play this year — and maybe in the future. We just don’t know.”
What’s certain is there will be plenty to hear at this year’s State Fair. Former Grand Funk Railroad frontman Mark Farner opens things Friday (Aug. 28) on the State Fair Bandshell, the first show in a rock lineup that also includes the Classic Rock All-Stars — opening for Motown favorites Dennis Edwards & the Temptations Review on Monday (Aug. 31) — modern rockers Red, Cavo and Pop Evil on Sept. 1; Starship featuring Mickey Thomas on Sept. 4; Survivor on Sept. 5; and Billy Squier, a booking Coombs says he “pushed and pulled” with other promoters to get, closing the Fair on Sept. 7.
Country fans will be served this year by Joe Nichols and Chuck Wicks on Sept. 2 and by Jake Owen and Love & Theft on Sept. 6. A gospel show featuring a lineup of Detroit and Michigan artists will take place from 4-9 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 30).
Stalwart State Fair Alice Cooper could not play this year’s event due to a scheduling conflict; he’s performing Sept. 16 at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre instead.
All of the concerts except the gospel show start at 7 p.m. The shows are included as part of the State Fair admission price, and this year there are no reserved seats sold for an extra amount. For information, call (313) 369-8250 or visit www.michiganstatefair.com.