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Big names brought in big crowds in Canfield

Brooks & Dunn, Lassie, Bob Hope and others have graced main stage

CANFIELD — The Hickville Rube Band played the grandstand at the Canfield Fairgrounds in 1926.

If that name isn’t familiar, plenty of acts that followed the Rubes over the last 94 years are.

The grandstand will remain empty as the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to scale back its 174th edition, but the fair has played host to some of the biggest names in entertainment — both human and canine.

Local and regional talent was the norm at the fair until the 1950s. One of those first stars in the ’50s wasn’t a singer or a comedian. It was a performer known better for his skills at rescuing Timmy from a well.

Lassie, the collie who starred in the popular television series of the same name, appeared at the fair in 1956, and other guests in the ’50s include the Cisco Kid (a popular western character from radio, movies and television) and veteran western character actor Gabby Hayes.

The Lennon Sisters appeared in both 1957 and 1958, and the fair has a long history of sticking with acts who proved to be popular with local audiences. Bobby Vinton, who grew up in nearby Canonsburg, Pa., played the fair in ’68 and ’69 and then returned in 1973. Both Bob Hope and The Lettermen made back-to- back appearances in ’78 and ’79.

Brooks & Dunn may have been called back for more “encores” than anyone. The country hit-making duo played back-to-back in ’95 and ’96, and made two more appearances in 1999 and 2001.

While the fair has dabbled in other musical genres over the years, country acts like Brooks & Dunn remain the most popular offering since the late ’70s. Many of the biggest names in country music have played the Canfield Fair, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, The Judds, Oak Ridge Boys, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Toby Keith.

Kenny Chesney, who usually plays stadiums these days, played the Canfield Fair in 2002. Blake Shelton, who filled Stambaugh Stadium last summer for Y Live, played consecutive years at the fair in 2011-12. Chris Young, who opened for Shelton in 2011, is one of the acts who graduated to headliner status at the fair, topping the bill in 2017.

The fair didn’t book arena rock in its late ’70s / early ’80s heyday, but many of those acts have been featured in the last 22 years, including Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Sometimes, acts originally scheduled weren’t able to perform — an abscessed tooth kept Gabe Kaplan from doing his standup comedy act in 1976 and a lung infection sidelined Willie Nelson in 1981. (He came back in ’84 and ’85.)

And the weather didn’t always cooperate. A torrential downpour cut short last year’s concert featuring a cappella act Pentatonix. A power outage occurred during Boots Randolph’s 1971 appearance, but he continued to play his saxophone without amplification to keep the crowd entertained during the blackout.

This year’s Mahoning County Junior Fair is Wednesday through Sept. 7 and is closed to the public, but virtual.

agray@tribtoday.com

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