WALLA WALLA -- "You guys sound good tonight," chart-topping country artist Gary Allan told Wednesday's Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days concert crowd. The sizable crowd sang along word-for-word to most of Allan's songs, concluding the Fair's first day on a high note.
"I'd seen him before in Salem, Oregon. So I got Gary tickets for my birthday," said Dasha Montgomery, who traveled from the Tri-Cities for the Fair. Montgomery reported that, having recently attended the Benton-Franklin Fair, she thinks Walla Walla's is better.
Allan commanded the audience with his rock-star bearing, chucking picks to fans throughout the show, and during many songs allowing fans to carry the chorus on their own. After the show, fans chanted Allan's name and stomped in the grand stands for an e
ncore. The band returned, closing the set with the song "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey," which included a pedal steel guitar solo played with a bottle of Jack Daniel's.
For concertgoer Mike Fredrickson, a Walla Walla native and Port of Walla Walla commissioner, the annual Fair is a big deal. He said he was pleased to see musicians in their prime had been selected for this year's big opening night.
Fans flocked Allan's tour bus afterward, hoping for a chance to meet the performer. "We've followed him since his first CD," said one fan, thrilled that Allan for the first time put Walla Walla on his tour map.
Opening for Allan was the duo Bomshel, backed by a full band, which elicited wild cheers for their song "Cheater, Cheater." Bomshel -- so named not because they're blond, they told the audience, but because they want to redefine what it means to be a bombshell in the business -- displayed some rock star antics of their own: near the end of their set, fiddle player Kristy O. climbed the stage scaffolding and delivered a solo while hanging off.
According to ticket controller Kelli Shane, ticket sales were up over 20 percent this year, with 3,655 people in the audience. "That's a pretty big night for us," Shane said, crediting the show's popularity to good timing.
Allan recently released an album and new single, so "the excitement was there," Shane said.
Find a schedule and watch for photos and videos throughout the weekend at ubne.ws/wwfair.