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Ranking the top fair lineups of the past 25 years

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fair ranking

Among the acts playing in 1997 were, from top left, Willie Nelson, Weird Al Yankovic, Glen Campbell and Little Richard. (courtesy photos)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- This year’s Central Washington State Fair lineup is a good one, featuring R&B stars En Vogue, rockers John Kay & Steppenwolf, and country singer LeAnn Rimes, among others.

But it’s got nothing on 1995 (Smokey Robinson, Phyllis Diller, Clint Black). That’s just opinion, of course, but part of the fun in looking back at past fair concert lineups is deciding which was your favorite. The list is loaded with some of the biggest names in American music history. There’s Little Richard in 1997, Los Lobos in 2000, Cheap Trick in 2003, The Beach Boys in 2015.

It got me wondering how this year’s lineup stacks up against the best of the past 25 years. So I looked at every lineup going back to 1993 and ranked them using a highly complex, super-secret formula. Here, without further ado, are the results of that project, starting with the worst and going to the best.

No. 25

2002: Chris Cagle, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Tony Orlando, Townsend, Tracy Byrd, Gallagher, Carmen Jara

(There’s just nothing here worth seeing.)

No. 24

2009: Jaime Lee Thurston, Phil Vassar, Juice Newton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Boyz II Men, REO Speedwagon, Curtis Salgado & Too Slim, Little River Band, Graciela Beltran

Curtis Salgado is cool, I guess. But that’s it. Also, points deducted for Billy Ray Cyrus.

No. 23

2008: Live Wire, Foreigner, Manhattan Transfer, Blackhawk, Family Force 5, Elvin Bishop & Curtis Salgado, Neal McCoy, Raven Symone, La Tetanic Federico Villa

(No, no, no, no, no, maybe, no, no, no.)

No. 22

2011: Trace Adkins, Gloriana, MC Magic, Hinder, Kellie Pickler, Boyz II Men, Uncle Kracker, Brett Eldredge, Tiranos del Norte

(Adkins is all right. And Boyz II Men is a nostalgia trip. But Hinder? Pickler?)

No. 21

2013: Styx, Riders in the Sky, Plain White T’s, Sean Kingston, Kutless, Lonestar, Williams & Ree, Sawyer Brown, Bobby Pulido

(Lonestar were the lone stars worth seeing in 2013.)

No. 20

1999: Big House, Chris Ledoux, Country Showdown, Key West, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Casey McGill & the Spirits of Rhythm, Foghat, Jennifer Page, Grupo Antifaz

(My soft spot for Paul Revere & The Raiders keeps this from the No. 25 slot.)

No. 19

2005: Williams & Ree, Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Milsap, Sugarland, “Bee Hive” the musical, WAR, Smash Mouth, Jennie Rivera

(This would by higher if WAR had Eric Burdon at the time.)

No. 18

2006: The Shreds, Paul Rodriguez, The Oak Ridge Boys, Keith Anderson, “Forever Plaid” the musical, Teddy Geiger and Alexa Rae Joel, Loverboy, Lorrie Morgan, Yesenia Flores

(It’s great that solid local band The Shreds got a slot, less great that they’re the best act on the bill.)

No. 17

2010: Cody Beebe & The Crooks, The Guess Who, Williams & Ree, Bill Engvall, Clay Walker, Collective Soul, Pablo Cruise, Bucky Covington, El Puma de Sinaloa

(Again, great that a local band made the lineup. Again, they were the only act worth seeing.)

No. 16

1994: Zhane, All 4 One, Randy Travis, Juan Gabriel, REO Speedwagon, Tim McGraw, Williams & Ree, Anne Murray

(Some solid ’90s R&B here, plus Randy Travis. Point deducted for REO Speedwagon.)

No. 15

1996: Brandy, Jamie Walters, Goo Goo Dolls, Wynona, Blackhawk, Three Dog Night, Williams & Ree, Little River Band, Weird Al Yankovic, Monica, Brenda Lee, LeAnn Rimes, Kingston Trio

(I like a lot of this lineup, but it’s poisoned by Goo Goo Dolls. And for a comedy team, Williams & Ree aren’t very funny.)

No. 14

1998: Starship, Lila McCann, Banda Pachuco, Jamie’s Rock & Roll Revue, The Kingsmen, Merrilee Rush, Derringer & Winter, Steppenwolf, Williams & Ree, Grupo Antifaz

(Jack Ely, the lead vocal on “Louie Louie,” was gone from The Kingsmen for 35 years by 1998. Still, though: THE KINGSMEN.)

No. 13

2003: Andy Griggs, Cheap Trick, Chubby Checker, Jaci Velasquez, Neal McCoy, Uncle Kracker, Maribel Guardia

(Cheap Trick and Chubby Checker aren’t quite enough to outweigh the presence of the very terrible Uncle Kracker on this bill.)

No. 12

2007: Full Throttle, John Michael Montgomery, Tanya Tucker, Mark Wills, Eddie Money, Bowling for Soup, Kenny Loggins, Weird Al Yankovic, Yolanda del Rio

(Tanya Tucker is outstanding. Bowling for Soup was fun for a minute in the 1990s, but looking back was pretty bad.)

No. 11

2004: Bellamy Brothers, Weird Al Yankovic, Bjorn Again, Gary Allen, Joan Jett, Carrot Top, Yolanda del Rio

(Joan Jett is unassailable. The rest of this lineup: assailable.)

No. 10

2016: Foghat, Clay Walker, Los Rieleros del Norte, Boyz II Men, Hinder, Rachel Platten, Grand Funk Railroad, Clint Black, Michael Salgado y Grupo Control

(Grand Funk, baby! Also, Clint Black.)

No. 9

2001: Sawyer Brown, The Tokens, Neil Sedaka, Wylie & The Wild West Show, Grand Funk Railroad, Dennis Quaid & The Sharks, Graciela Beltran

(This one rises to the Top 10 on the strength of Wylie & The Wild West Show, which the fair wisely booked for three straight nights.)

No. 8

2012: Danny Austin Band, 38 Special, Rick Springfield, Theory of a Deadman, Charlie Daniels Band, Craig Morgan, Paul Revere & The Raiders, WAR, Maribel Guardia

(I hate half of this lineup, but I cannot deny Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” one of the most perfect pop songs of the 1980s.)

No. 7

1993: Shai, SWV, Brooks & Dunn, Righteous Brothers, Smothers Brothers, Hank Williams Jr., Tom Jones

(A couple of top-notch 1990s R&B acts, a country outlaw before he went totally nuts, the best blue-eyed-soul duo of the 1960s and Tom By God Jones. It’s just a solid lineup all the way.)

No. 6

2014: George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Kansas, Kumbia Kings Allstarz, Joe Nichols, Neal McCoy, Trapt, Joan Jett, Louie Anderson, El Coyote y su Banda Tierra Santa

(Again, Joan Jett carries the bill. She has help this time from Kumbia Kings and Thorogood. Not from Trapt, whatever that is.)

No. 5

2017: Williams & Ree, LeAnn Rimes, La Original Banda el Limon, Tanya Tucker, Smash Mouth, John Kay & Steppenwolf, En Vogue, Mark Chesnutt, Roberto Tapia

(En Vogue ruled the 1990s. If they were able to bring Salt-N-Pepa along, this year would be No. 1.)

No. 4

2015: The Beach Boys, Three Dog Night, Blue Oyster Cult, Loverboy, Parmalee, Maddie & Tae, John Anderson, Conjunto Primavera, Graciela Beltran

(No, Brian Wilson wasn’t there. But it was still The Beach Boys. I mean, come on. John Anderson can still bring it, too. And Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” is about as good as radio country gets anymore.)

No. 3

2000: Kansas, Blaque, Country Showdown, Amy Clawson, Texas the Band, Collin Raye, KC & The Sunshine Band, Los Lobos

(KC & The Sunshine Band is always a good time. But the 2000 lineup gets this spot on the strength of Los Lobos, one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years and one of the best. I’d sit through Kansas and Blaque every year if I got to see Los Lobos.)

No. 2

1995: Brandy, Jamie Walters, Clint Black, Jose Jose, Eddie Money, Loverboy, Smokey Robinson, Phyllis Diller

(Smokey Robinson isn’t just the best act to play the fair in the past 25 years, he might be the best American pop song writer of all time. And, yeah, he was getting long in the tooth already by 1995, but respect must be paid. Also Clint Black is solid, and Phyllis Diller was hilarious.)

No. 1

1997: Weird Al Yankovic, Sawyer Brown, America, Willie Nelson, Carmen, Glen Campbell, Little Richard

(There’s nothing here I need to deduct points for. And on the plus side of the ledger, we have Willie Nelson, whose face belongs on country music’s Mount Rushmore; Glen Campbell, whose work has benefited from a critical re-evalutation the past few years; and Little Richard, one of the pillars of rock ’n’ roll. This is the apex of the fair concert series.)

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