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Fair Friends

State fairs are undeniably the home of country music. Artists of this genre, well aware that they are unlikely to sell out large arenas, stick to the familiar. And rockers know better than to try to get their leather jackets and loud guitars through fair gates. The redneck crowd just don't cotton to them long hairs, 'less they's of the mullet variety.

So it comes as no surprise that, following last week's Jamie O'Neal/Toby Keith lineup, this week's entertainment at the South Florida Fair is a combo of Kenny Chesney and Sara Evans.

About a year ago, like many country artists, Chesney released a greatest-hits album. And, like some of the others whose careers in no way justify hits anthologies, Chesney issued a somewhat debatable compilation. His discography includes but five albums produced over the past decade, and Chesney has never gained the widespread acclaim that some of his contemporaries have enjoyed. This is mainly because of his traditional style, which more successful cowboy crooners such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were more than willing to forego in favor of commercial success. Of course, being able to claim a decade-long career in the topsy-turvy world of Nashville is impressive. Music City U.S.A. tends to throw out old artists the way most people toss spoiled milk. And it says something about Chesney that he's carried on without compromising to commercialism. So, if straight-ahead country-western is your thing, then so is Chesney.

Evans, on the other hand, is one of the many female country vocalists to emerge in recent years who tosses elements of folk, pop, and rock into their country stew. And while the scene may appear to be a fight over who gets to be the next Shania, many of the new artists have managed to put their own spin on the country-chick thing. Evans is certainly one of these. Her latest album, Born to Fly, is her best yet, and fans of female country-pop should be well-pleased. Evans seems to be taking more control of her career, as Born to Fly includes Evans's name in songwriting credits for more than half the tunes. The singer gets coproduction credit as well. The only place Evans seems to falter is when she dips too deeply into schmaltz, as on her recent single "Saints and Angels" or the filler tunes on every one of her three solo albums. Born to Fly even includes gurgling from her new baby on one track, a move that should please Kathie Lee Gifford and no one else.

But one must forgive new mothers for doting, and besides, the folks who attend the show will likely know what they're in for. Country-music fans tend to be diehard about their music, and places like the South Florida Fair present country performers a home-field advantage.

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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