Reba, Ronnie, Ricky and Toby Keith: It's State Fair time!

The Cleverlys

The Cleverlys

The Minnesota State Fair kicks off its entertainment schedule today, and as every good fair should be, it's jam-packed with country acts big and small. And bonus? It features the return of my bud Ronnie Dunn (dun dun dun)...

Bob Wootton
Thursday and Friday August 25-26, 10:30 and 11:45AM
Leinie Lodge, Free

If you get on out to the fair early, catch Bob Wootton on the free stage of the Leinie Lodge. Wootton is called "the man behind the man in black," and played lead guitar for Johnny Cash from 1968 to 1998, appearing everywhere from Folsom Prison to Buckingham Palace.

Reba (sans McEntire?), with Ronnie Dunn
Thursday August 25, 7:30
Grandstand, $45-55

Opening the Fair's Grandstand lineup Thursday night is multi-decade country superstar Reba - just "Reba" though you may know her as "Reba McEntire," M.O. acts in all her own music videos, had her own television show called, you know, Reba, and loooooves them Fritos-brand "Texas Grill" corn chips.

Reba's first solo album came out in 1977, and since then she's released over thirty albums, has held on to the record for the most Academy of Country Music Top Female Vocalist Awards, and has starred in one of the best examples of bad early-90s junk food marketing. In other words, she's one cool chick who might have really bad taste in chips but probably just got paid a whole heck of a lot of money to sing that Bobbie Gentry song shilling crispy crunchy junk.

And, serious bonus, our favorite good-humored musician Ronnie Dunn will be opening for Reba, now fully embarked on an already successful solo career after separating with his Brooks & Dunn counterpart Kix Brooks. Follow my Ronnie Dunn saga here for some background. And no, nothing more exciting has happened to me short of meeting Loretta Lynn's brother Herman Webb and getting a tour of their real, honest-to-gosh coal miner's home in eastern Kentucky last summer. Speaking of Mr. Webb, send your prayers out to his daughter Madonna Webb, Loretta Lynn's niece, who is recovering from a stroke. We met her at Webb's Grocery in Van Lear last summer, and she was sweet as pie.

The Quebe Sisters Band
Saturday and Sunday August 27-28, 10:30 and 11:45AM
Leinie Lodge, Free

The Lennon Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, the McGuire Sisters...sister bands are the greatest. Fiddlin' trio Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe of Fort Worth, Texas have been taking the Americana scene by storm for a decade now, performing a blend of western swing, vintage country, bluegrass, jazz and swing standards, and Texas-style fiddling alongside the rhythm guitar of Joey McKenzie and bass of Drew Phelps.

Ricky Skaggs
Saturday and Sunday August 27-28, 8:30
Leinie Lodge, Free

He's just a country boy, country boy at heart. Kentucky country boy Ricky Skaggs started playing mandolin at the age of five, by six was playing with Bill Monroe (featured in the video below), and the year later appeared on a country music variety television show alongside Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. However, the Grand Ole Opry turned him away when he tried to audition; he was just too young. Today, he's one of the favorites of the Opry stage, and Saturday and Sunday he plays the free stage in the Leinie Lodge Bandshell. Don't miss it - I don't know what he sounded like when he was five, six and seven, but I reckon he's only improved with age.

Oh dear, but of course YouTube has a video of him playing at seven with Flatt and Scruggs! And he was a heck of a little player back then, too.

Paulette Carlson (of Highway 101)
Monday and Tuesday August 29-30, 1:00 and 2:30PM
Leinie Lodge, Free

First renowned as a founding member of hitmakers Highway 101, Paulette Carlson hits the free stage of the Leinie Lodge Monday and Tuesday afternoons with a collection of new songs.

Wednesday and Thursday August 31-September 1, 3:30 and 4:45 PM
Leinie Lodge, Free

They don't make good honky tonk bands like they make 'em in Austin. Heybale has been performing in Austin for over decade, and features a lineup of musicians who have shared the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, the Byrds, and Merle Haggard.

Toby Keith, with Eric Church
Wednesday August 31, 7:30
Grandstand, $39-59

Sponsored by Ford F-Series (grab crotch and spit), Wednesday night Toby Keith takes over the Grandstand stage to perform the best and worst of his jingoistic, good-timin' hits. Opening the show is newer hit-maker Eric Church, who loves Faulkner books and anything his mama cooks, beer, barbecue, honky tonks, Nascar, George Strait, scuffed-up boots, tore-up jeans, four-wheel drives, dogs, Jack D, and his truck. Also, smallmouth bass have got him hooked on Sunday afternoons.

Junior Brown

Friday and Saturday September 2-3, 3:30 and 4:45PM
Leinie Lodge, Free

Head over to the Leinie Lodge Friday or Saturday afternoon as the fair approaches its final days to check out Junior Brown's "guit-steel," the standard 6-string guitar and steel guitar combo of his own invention.

The Cleverlys
Sunday and Monday September 4-5, 1:00 and 2:30PM
Leinie Lodge, Free

What a clever name! This Nashville-based bluegrass quintet perform humorous renditions of unexpected contemporary pop songs... see below. Enough said. Don't miss it.