Don’t tell anyone I told you this: I’ve never heard an Adam Lambert song. I will shortly — because I’m doing a story about this year’s Mid-State Fair acts. But before this, I’d never seen him on “American Idol,” never heard one of his songs on the radio and never YouTubed one of his videos. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, but I’m just not into reality show singers.
Now Van Halen — those boys rock! And John Mayer — he’s a little weird some times, but have you heard him play guitar?
I guess I’m feeling a little judgmental and curmudgeonly. So for this year’s fair preview, I’m going to rate this year’s biggest fair acts on a scale of 1 to 10 corn dogs.
7:30 p.m. today, $30-$50
Today’s country music seems disingenuous compared to the old timers, but this guy is intriguing. First of all, he’s more resilient than Rasputin, having survived a head-on collision with a bus and a bullet through the heart. He’s a former college football player, he’s been in several movies, and he’s a past winner on “The Apprentice.”
With all that, who cares about the music?
OK, forget I said that.
Adkins’ modern, macho honky-tonk is lyrically predictable — gun rack, don’t take no crap, hard-working this and that. And, musically, songs like “Ladies Love Country Boys,” “Rough & Ready” and “Just Fishin” sound contrived for Wrangler commercials. But, of course, this is a fair, where a 6-foot-6 butt-kicker who doesn’t hold back is as welcome as a deep-fried Snickers.
Corn dog tally: 6
7:30 p.m. Friday; $25
While listening to several of Lambert’s songs on YouTube, I noticed the Commodores’ “Brick House” listed as a suggestion on the side. After detouring to that, I then clicked on the suggestion of “Fire” by The Ohio Players, which somehow led me to Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” And just like that, I had wandered far from my Lambert playlist.
Lambert does have a great vocal range — listen to him belt out Zeppelin on “American Idol,” and you’ll be impressed — he incorporates theatrical elements during his live shows and has a sense for fashion. But I’m guessing the only people over 18 at this show will be parents of those under 18.
Corn dog tally: 4
Goo Goo Dolls
7:30 p.m. Sunday, with Matchbox Twenty; $35-$80
I’ve always been a little annoyed with singer John Rzeznik’s carefully styled hair. And I just don’t like dudes with chin dimples.
Probably has more to do with jealousy than anything.
Still, when I saw these guys open for the Gin Blossoms back in the ’90s, my first thought was: “I really like the Gin Blossoms!” And while I thought this post-grunge band of pretty boys would be done quickly after “Iris” stormed the charts, I was way off, which is why I don’t bet on sports or predict the weather.
Led by Rzeznik — who suffered the loss of both parents when he was a teen — The Goo Goo Dolls had a string of hits, including “Name,” “Slide” and “Here Is Gone,” making them one of the biggest “adult alternative” groups of the ’90s and early 2000s. And I’m pretty sure Rzeznik’s chin dimple has helped more than hurt him.
Corn dog tally: 6
7:30 p.m. Sunday, with Goo Goo Dolls; $35-$80
The best thing to happen to Matchbox Twenty was that Santana song.
Okay, maybe not the best thing. But after Matchbox singer Rob Thomas sang and co-wrote “Smooth” for Santana’s comeback album “Supernatural,” he got instant cred — not to mention three Grammys — giving his band respect and newfound momentum. So what seemed like a potential flash in the pan has now been around for close to two decades.
Not as hard-edged as the grunge that preceded it and not as shallow as the pop that followed, songs like “3 a.m.” and “Push” were quintessential late-’90s fare, helping us conjure an era as soon as we hear them in 2013.
Corn dog tally: 7
7:30 p.m. Monday; $45-$95
It’s hard not to recall those interviews in 2010 where it seemed like Mayer had gone off the deep end.
He called Jessica Simpson “sexual napalm,” described his love for porn and called his penis a racist. We’ll spare you the details, but go ahead and roll your eyes anyway.
It’s not that he needed the publicity. Mayer has won seven Grammys, dated multiple Hollywood hotties, and in 2007 he was on the cover of Rolling Stone for its story “New Guitar Gods.”
He sure can play guitar. And he’s a competent, versatile songwriter with catchy tunes like the poppy “No Such Thing” and the more bluesy “Gravity.”
I’m not one of those just-shut-up-and-sing guys, but if I were Mayer’s manager, I might be. He’s too good for dumb distractions.
Corn dog tally: 8
6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Monday; free
“All for You” was a good tune. But if you think they had any other hits, you might be confusing them for Third Eye Blind, Dog’s Eye View, the Verve, the Verve Pipe, Dishwalla or Tonic.
Still — free stage.
Corn dog tally: 5
7:30 p.m. Wednesday; $50-$110
Dude, it’s Van Halen.
Granted, David Lee Roth probably can’t do the same flying karate scissor kicks he did in the ’80s. And what’s up with Eddie Van Halen’s kid playing bass? Long live Michael Anthony!
Still, these guys are giants of rock — former stadium acts you get to see in Paso Robles — thanks to Diamond Dave’s magnetic stage presence, Eddie Van Halen’s prodigious guitar playing and Alex Van Halen’s over-the-top drum set.
Even if they skip the Sammy Hagar-era hits, they still have a bounty of classics to choose from. And with the band’s trademark instability, any show could be Roth’s last with them.
Corn dog tally: 10
Huey Lewis & The News
7 p.m. July 26; $40-$60
When I saw these guys at the Chumash Casino a couple of years ago, Lewis had trouble singing the high notes on songs like ”Heart & Soul” and “Power of Love.” But so what — it was still “Heart & Soul” and “Power of Love.”
Featuring soul-driven doo-wop harmonies, a bold horn section and Huey’s bluesy, honky tonk harmonica, these guys, like the J. Geils Band, are all about the party vibe. Even a more serious tune, like the Vietnam-inspired “Walking on a Thin Line,” makes you feel good. And there are so many big hits — “Workin’ for a Living,” “I Want a New Drug,” “Heart of Rock & Roll,” etc. — even if you have to endure some less-worthy new ones, there’s still plenty to dance about.
Corn dog tally: 8
8:30 p.m. Friday, free
Mo’ Keb! — 7 corn dogs
6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; free
Please tell me he’s arriving in the Partridge Family bus. — 4 corn dogs
Sail Rock 2013
7:30 p.m. Saturday; $15
Christopher Cross, Orleans, Al Stewart, Firefall, Player — also known as “wuss rock.” — 5 corn dogs
7:30 p.m. Tuesday; $50-$100
If you dig Taylor Swift — a country act for the young’ns. — 3 corn dogs
6:30 and 8:30 p.m. July 27; free
If you liked his cover of “Drift Away,” you can hear it twice. — 3 corn dogs