Music News

The State Fair Is All About Nostalgia -- and That's Not a Bad Thing

I'm going to be totally honest with you here: I love state fairs, but I'm mostly in it for the lemon shake-ups. That's not to say I don't enjoy the concerts — it's just that I enjoy them only after I've eaten a lot of unconventionally fried food and then spun it around in my stomach on the Gravitron.

But it's important to know what your options are after you've done all that. This year's Arizona State Fair has a full complement of acts in every state fair genre. But the closer you look, the more you come to this unnerving realization: Everything is a nostalgia act.

The weird thing about state fair concerts is that the biggest hits have been '70s rock bands since the '70s; they get older, and the state fair just stays the same age. That means nostalgia acts are now the backbone of every state fair; this year's is no exception.

ZZ Top, playing October 13, is this year's most conventional nostalgia act. They've been playing their blues rock for 40 uninterrupted years now. They've still got the beards, they've still got the songs — they're the Platonic ideal of state fair bands, rivaled only by Cheap Trick (October 16.)

If you're not a huge fan of either band, it's easy to dismiss them as nostalgia acts and go on with your life, convinced of your impressive devotion to modernity. But consider, if you will, this alternate nightmare scenario: All these acts are nostalgia-focused, and you are as much a slave to the past as people who really love "Dream Police."

Because here are your other options:

Genre Nostalgia: Megadeth is playing October 20; they're an obvious-enough metal equivalent to ZZ Top or Cheap Trick. But genre nostalgia is a little different from simpler rock nostalgia — this isn't just about going back to a time when a band was big, it's going back to a time when a genre was big, and Megadeth seemed somehow both vital and dangerous. Megadeth is not even a little dangerous now; Dave Mustaine is now a stone-sober born-again Christian.

But they're still Megadeth. If you can bring the memories of metal being primary debaucher of the nation's youth — if you're young now, you can even bring them secondhand — they'll bring the music.

Even Alabama Shakes, this year's concession to the kind-of-indie set, is participating in this. They weren't around for the first wave of southern rock, but they play like they were.

'90s Kid Nostalgia: It's happening, you guys. Just four or five years ahead of Buzzfeed announcing its first state fair booths, Snoop Dogg a.k.a. Snoop Lion — formerly Snoop Lion a.k.a. Snoop Dogg — is at the Arizona State Fair, performing October 23. He'll be performing as Snoop Lion, reportedly, which could cause a sudden nostalgia backlash. On a more local (and somewhat safer) level, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers will play October 18.

Future Nostalgia Opportunities: The Wanted, One Direction's most formidable boy band competitor, isn't a conventional nostalgia act, but that's exactly the point — our culture, since ZZ Top started playing state fairs in the '70s, has reoriented itself toward a permanent nostalgia.

Watch any music video on YouTube that's more than five years old and look for the crew of self-styled hold-outs pushing comments like "Thumbs Up If You're Listening to Real Music Like Beverly Hills in 2013" to the top of the list. As we do things, we're already imagining the Facebook album we'll page through years later.

Seeing The Wanted at the state fair is a momentary high, sure, but it's also the chance to say you saw them 40 years from now, when they're playing at the state fair again. Remember that your tween cousins can't wait to be curmudgeons.

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Dan Moore