For a couple drizzly weeks each year, one of the biggest gathering places in the state is in Palmer. We're talking of course about the Alaska State Fair, and there are plenty of annual treats that keep the masses coming year after year: rides, games, contests and fried food galore, to name a few. You know, state fair-type stuff. The same is often true of the concert series at the Borealis Theatre -- yearly lineups that are often diverse enough to entice most tastes for at least one night, but nothing really unexpected.
That isn't necessarily the case this year. Sure, there are plenty of options that fit with the tried and true. You've got your classic rock (Foreigner played the first night of the fair Thursday), your country music (Aaron Tippin, Brantley Gilbert, Love and Theft), some comedy (Bill Cosby, Brian Regan), hair-metal nostalgia (Bret Michaels) and a reality-TV-contestant-turned-budding-pop-star (Phillip Phillips). But Kendrick Lamar is a genuine surprise.
The likelihood that a not-insignificant number of people are reading this and thinking "who?!" is exactly the point. For readers who are familiar, don't let that kill your vibe.
For the uninitiated, Lamar is a very of-the-moment rapper. He's a Dr. Dre protege, but his style is a lot more obtuse than you'd think. His most recent album, last year's "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City," offers a warped narrative on growing up in Compton, Calif. It's gritty, uncompromising and edgy, but also introspective and confessional. It doesn't demand attention either -- the production doesn't lend itself to club bangers, and the hooks are often indistinct. Somehow it went platinum. BBC, Pitchfork and New York Magazine listed the album No. 1 in each of their best-of-2012 lists.
But Lamar also has something of an Alaska connection. A nonprofit organization called Get Schooled held a campaign promoted by MTV earlier this year that promised a celebrity appearance for whichever school in the country achieved the highest Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rate. Bethel Regional High School took the top prize, and Lamar held a chat session with the student body via Skype.
Still, hip-hop shows aren't the sort you'd normally expect at a state fair anywhere. The first two hits in a Google search for "state fair rapper" are two stories about Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller playing the Minnesota State Fair a year ago. One of them noted that it was the first rap act featured at that fair since '91 -- when Vanilla Ice performed.
A brief cautionary tale, though: Organizers in Chattanooga, Tenn., recently booked Cee-Lo Green to play a free show at its waterfront. A lot of concert-goers only knew Green from his gig as a judge on "The Voice" and didn't know the former Goodie Mob member's hit song "Forget You" isn't really called "Forget You." So when he did the album version that features a different word that starts with F, Chattanoogans complained, and the organizers eventually issued a statement lamenting their decision to book Green in the first place. The Internet wasted little time in cracking jokes about a small town festival booking a not-so-family-friendly artist for a family-friendly event.
The point is this: Alaska, don't let Kendrick Lamar be our Cee-Lo Green. By all means go. He's worth the trip. But don't be surprised if the language is a little salty. The Internet would never let us hear the end of it.
COMING UP AT THE STATE FAIR
Foreigner kicked off this year's series of Alaska State Fair concerts Thursday, and whether you think that's "Hot Blooded" or "Cold as Ice," maybe at least one of the other shows slated for this year's concerts at the Kendall Toyota of Anchorage Borealis Theatre will encourage you to make an "Urgent" trip to the box office.
Here's a look at what's in store for the rest of this week. Tickets are available at alaskastatefair.org. (Note: Ticket prices do not include the cost of fair admission, which is extra and required to attend each concert.)
This hard-rock outfit from Pennsylvania makes for another edgy entry to the Borealis Theatre lineup. The band also sports a resume that includes huge hits like "I Miss the Misery," "Love Bites (So Do I) and "Freak Like Me," and a Grammy for Best Hard Rock / Metal earlier this year.
Recommended if you like: Evanescence, Shinedown, Pat Benatar
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $30 general admission, $55 reserved area (no seating)
Singer-songwriter Brantley Gilbert has penned hits for artists like Jason Aldean, but his own records straddle heartland rock and outlaw country.
Recommended if you like: Dierks Bentley, Steve Earle, John Cougar and/or Mellencamp
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $35 general, $50 reserved (no seating)
His name is synonymous with iconic sitcoms, classic comedy albums, legendary stand-up routines and pudding pops.
Recommended if you like: Bill Cosby
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: $40 general, $80 reserved seating
John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $30 (limited seating available)
Love and Theft
Love and Theft got its start as a trio -- lovingly thieving the name from a Bob Dylan record -- but have operated as a duo since 2011, following the tradition of fellow pop-country duos like Brooks and Dunn, Montgomery Gentry and the Judds.
Recommended if you like: Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $30 (limited seating available)
Tenth Avenue North
Named after a street in Palm Beach, Fla., this Christian rock band couches its message in sunny melodies and pop sensibilities.
Recommended if you like: Jars of Clay, Third Day, Jesus
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $35 (limited seating available)
Making a name for himself in the '90s as a proponent of country music's neo-honky tonk, Aaron Tippin offers rowdy anthems and patriotic ballads that champion the working class.
Recommended if you like: Clint Black, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $20 general, $40 reserved seating
A little further into the future, the last four days of the fair will be rounded out by modern rockers 3 Doors Down (Aug. 30), stand-up comedian Brian Regan (Aug.31), Poison singer and reality TV star Bret Michaels with Terry McDermott and The Bonfires (Sept. 1), and the winner of "American Idol" season 11, Phillip Phillips (Sept. 2).
Outside of the AT&T Concert Series are a couple noteworthy free options. Multiinstrumentalist John McEuen, probably best known for his stint in the country-folk act The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, performs with his trio 8 p.m. Saturday at the Colony Stage, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Sunday and 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Sluicebox. He also performs at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Borealis Theatre, $30 general admission.
You can also catch the classic harmony-laden country group Pure Prairie League with Alaska's own Lulu Small on the Borealis stage 1 p.m. Saturday and at the Sluicebox, 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1. Free with fair admission.