The city of Lancaster, Antelope Valley Fairgrounds and Lancaster Auto Mall will present this afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m. its annual Pro Bullriders Tour followed by the yearly Fireworks Extravaganza tonight beginning at 9 at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, 2551 W. Avenue H. Grandstand tickets for the rodeo range from $5 to $20 and may be used for the otherwise free fireworks show.
The festivities are a warm-up to one of the state’s most popular county fairs, the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, coming Aug. 15-24 and featuring the best in Soul, Rock and Country music, automobile racing, monster trucks, livestock competitions, the popular “Rural Olympics,” practically every type of fast food imaginable and, of course, the famous midway. Tickets to the fair next month are $10 for adults, $7 for juniors age 6 to 11 years, $7 for seniors, and free admission for children 5 years and under. Parking is $5; no alcohol or pets are allowed.
The musical acts are a perfect ending to a day at the fair as the warm, scented summer nights will showcase some of the legendary acts in Soul, Funk, Rock and Country sounds.
Kool & The Gang/Commodores
Certainly two of the biggest selling groups in the Soul and Funk genres, Kool & the Gang and the Commodores will share the stage beginning at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15.
Hailing from Jersey City, NJ, Kool & the Gang formed in 1964 as the Jazziacs. They began with an early “purist” jazz sound, but switched by the early ’70s to Funk and R&B. They have sold more than 70 million albums. Core members over the years include founder and bassist Robert “Kool” Bell; Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone; James “J.T.” Taylor, lead vocalist; George Brown (drums), Dennis Thomas (alto saxophone) and Claydes Charles Smith on lead guitar.
The Bell brothers were influenced at an early age by jazz legends Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis who were family friends. Kool & The Gang also excels in Jazz, Soul and Disco. Among their biggest hits of the 1970s were “Funky Stuff,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swingin’” and “Summer Madness.” Their top albums then included “Wild & Peaceful” and “Spirit of the Boogie.” Kool and the Gang can also be heard on the “Saturday Night Fever” album with “Open Sesame.”
The group changed their sound in 1979 with the addition of lead singer Taylor who can be heard on ’80s hits such as “Ladies Night,” “Celebrate,” “Big Fun,” “Fresh” and “Cherish.”
The Commodores met as freshmen in 1968 at Tuskegee University in Alabama. After signing with Motown Records in 1972, the group was an early opening act for the Jackson 5. They had a string of hits in the 1970s and early ’80s including “Machine Gun,” “I Feel Sanctified,” “Sweet Love,” “Fancy Dancer,” “High On Sunshine,” “Flyin’ High,” “Just to be Close to You,” “Brick House,” “Easy,” “Zoom,” “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” and “Nightshift.” Their biggest albums in the 1970s included “Caught in the Act,” “Movin’ On,” “Hot On the Tracks” and their mega-selling self-titled album from 1977 which brought them international acclaim.
The group won a freshman talent contest in college and, to select a name, bandmember William King reportedly flipped through a dictionary and randomly picked a word. “We lucked out,” King laughed years later. “We almost became ‘The Commodes!’”
Today the group is composed of original members Walter Orange (lead vocals and percussion), King on trumpet and new member J.D. Nicholas. Former original members include Lionel Richie (saxophone, piano and lead vocals), Thomas McClary (lead guitar), Ronald LaPread (bass and trumpet), and the late Milan Williams on trombone.
The mid-1970s saw a “softer” sound from the Commodores that included several top 10 ballads with Orange and Richie alternating on lead vocals. Richie left the group in 1982 for a successful solo career. “Easy” from 1977 reached No. 4 in the U.S., while “Three Times A Lady” rose to No. 1 in 1978. “Sail On” and “Still” each made the Top 40 in 1979.
Montgomery Gentry with John Michael Montgomery
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry comprised the original Montgomery Gentry and by 1992 had added John Michael Montgomery.
John Michael Montgomery went solo in 1994 and received the “Favorite New Artist” honor from the American Music Awards. He has amassed more than 30 singles on the Billboard Country charts of which five have reached No. 1 including “I Love The Way You Love Me,” “Be My Baby Tonight,” “If You’ve Got Love,” “I Can Love You Like That” and “The Little Girl.” The singles “I Swear” and “Sold” were Billboard’s “Top Country Songs” in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18.
John Michael Montgomery has released 11 studio albums; “Let’s Dance” from 1992, “Kickin’ It Up” (1994) and his self-titled album, “John Michael Montgomery” (1995) each went quadruple platinum. Montgomery formed his own label, Swingtown Records, in late 2008.
They took the band name from a high school teacher in Jacksonville, Fla., a Mr. Leonard Skinner, in the mid-1960s. Lynyrd Skynyrd will present the very best in “southern” Rock ’N Roll at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was among many new groups in the early- to mid-1970s to adopt the “southern” Rock sound, among them the Allman Brothers Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Dixie Dregs, Black Oak Arkansas and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils each known for “lighting-fast” guitar work and a combination of the Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. “boogie.” At the height of their fame, three band members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were among six people killed in a plane crash in Mississippi in 1977. Most songs heard on the radio today feature the late Ronnie Van Zant on lead vocals. The group reformed in 1987 with brother, Johnny Van Zant, on lead vocals. Among their most famous songs is “Sweet Home Alabama” which has a double meaning: it was originally a take on the Blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago” as well as a good-natured retort to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” Lynyrd Skynyrd was elected to the Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Their biggest hits include “Free Bird,” “Gimme Three Steps” (a factually-based song about the youthful exploits of Ronnie Van Zant), “Call Me The Breeze,” “That Smell,” “What’s Your Name” and “Saturday Night Special.” Top albums include “Street Survivors” from 1977 which went double platinum; their self-titled debut album from 1973, “Second Helping” (1974) and “Nuthin’ Fancy” (1975) each achieved double platinum status.
The O’Jays and Keith Sweat
Classic Soul is on tap at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20. The O’Jays formed in 1958 in Canton, Ohio, and consisted originally of five members. By 1972, they had become a trio featuring Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and the late William Powell. The O’Jays achieved perhaps their greatest success under producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Philadelphia International Records. Both singles “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train” were No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The O’Jays were elected in 2005 to the Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame.
The O’Jays had some minor hits in the 1960s with “Lipstick Traces,” “Stand In For Love” and “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow. ” The 1970s saw them break into the ultra-competitive Soul and R&B charts with such songs as “992 Arguments,” “Sunshine” and “Time To Get Down.” In 1972, they began recording a string of hits featuring the rhythmic and lush “Sound of Philadelphia” in songs like “Survival,” “Give The People What They Want,” “For the Love of Money,” “I Love Music,” “Livin’ For The Weekend,” “Message In Our Music,” “Darlin’, Darlin’ Baby (Sweet Tender Love),” and their last Top 10 single “Use Ta Be My Girl” from 1978.
Original member Powell died in 1977 and was replaced by Sammy Strain formerly of Little Anthony and the Imperials. The O’Jays’ biggest selling albums included “Back Stabbers” (1972), “Ship Ahoy” (1973), “Survival” (1975), “Family Reunion” (1975) “Message In Our Music” (1977) and “So Full Of Love” from 1979.
Keith Sweat is considered a contemporary leader in Soul and R&B and is also a producer and radio personality. Sweat began his music career as a member of the Harlem, NY, band Jamilah. He honed his craft through the tri-states area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and began his solo career in 1984, when he signed with Stadium Records. His big break came in 1987 with the release of his debut album, “Make It Last Forever,” which sold three million copies. This was the beginning of the “New Jack Swing” era that featured the hits “I Want Her,” which reached No. 1 on the Pop charts in 1989, and the follow-up tune “I’ll Give All My Love To You” from 1990.
His song (“There You Go) Tellin’ Me No Again” was featured in the film “New Jack City.” Two albums, “Get Up On It” (1994) and “Keith Sweat” (1996) reached the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 list. Sweat also co-founded the supergroup LSG in 1997 with the late Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill; their first album reached double platinum status.
In addition to the music, there’s always fun and excitement at the Antelope Valley Fair. Figure 8 racing at 7:30 p.m. is free with admission on Aug. 21. Monster trucks will roar into the night at 7:30 on Aug. 22. Ticket prices are $10, $15, $20 and $25. The popular Rural Olympics and Fireworks show will take place at 6 p.m. Aug. 23 and are free with admission. The demolition derby begins at 6 p.m., Aug. 24; tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $25.
The daily livestock exhibit is one of California’s best displays of domestic animals and is designed to develop positive character traits in youth and to encourage community involvement and service. Most of the shows will be conducted at the R. Rex Parris Arena and will include the popular 4-H Dog Show on Aug. 16 as well as exhibitions of sheep, goats, swine, beef, lambs and horses each day during the fair’s two-week run.
The Antelope Valley Fair attracts upwards of 250,000 visitors each year and has evolved from a two-day event in 1895 to today’s 11-day festival. The hours are 4 p.m.-midnight Aug. 15, 2 p.m-midnight Aug. 16-17, 4 p.m-midnight Aug. 18-22, 2 p.m.-midnight on Aug. 19 (special hours for seniors), 2 p.m.-midnight Aug. 23, and 2-11 p.m. on the final day Aug. 24.
Guests with disabilities can receive assistance each fair session. Just speak with one of the many staff members or visit the “InFAIRmation” booth (near the main entrance) regarding available services.
For more information about the Antelope Valley Fair, call (661) 948-6060.