Three acts rock Walla Walla's annual fair kickoff concert

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The Band Perry erupts on stage with lead singer Kimberly Perry belting out a song while flanked by her brothers Neil, left, and Reid Wednesday night at the 145th Annual Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days. The sister and two brother band has emerged as one of the top country groups of the year and played before a record-breaking crowd at Washington state's oldest fair. August 31, 2011

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A night of cowboy hats and LoCash Cowboy---among others---as 3 shows lit the Fair Concert to kick off the 145th Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days. August 31, 2011

Fair officials could not have ordered a more perfect evening for the traditional kickoff concert at this year's Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days.

After weeks of heat, the Valley air was kissed with the lightest of breezes, softly ruffling American flags and fuzzy toddler hair alike and inching the thermometer downward for several hours.

"This couldn't be more perfect," noted Cory Hewitt, fair manager.

The weather was matched by ticket sales, which were second to the record of 4,501 tickets sold set by country western star Trace Atkins in 2006.

Five minutes after grandstand gates opened, the fair's main office was jammed with people hoping against hope to secure seats on the ground in front of the stage, to no avail. As well, fair personnel worked the phones, patiently answering the pleas of additional ticket seekers.

It may have been the triple-threat line up, Hewitt said later. Almost 4,000 tickets were sold, leaving only about 300 empty seats out the number available for this show, she said. It's the first time the fair has featured three bands in the opening concert.

These were not just any bands, either, judging from the electricity that rippled through the crowd as the night opened with husband and wife duo, Joey+Rory.

The audience was treated to Rory Feek's version of the chart-topping hit he wrote for Easton Corbin, "A Little More Country Than That." Thousands of people roared in recognition of the song.

As fans consumed heaps of curly fries, clouds of cotton candy and quarts of frozen lemonade, Joey Feek's voice soared with the couple's new single, "I Feel a Headache Coming On."

As the ladies in the audience hooped and clapped in appreciation of the message, students from Walla Walla High School Latino Club weaved in and out of seats with trays of treats for sale. Business at the beer garden boomed, as it would for the remainder of the evening.

Concertgoers notched their attention higher as LoCash Cowboys next brought their brand of energy on the stage. Beginning with a recorded cowboy rap -- if there is such a thing -- a blend of rock, blues and country music vibrated through the willing crowd that watched the stage intently for the first sighting of the duo of singer-songwriters Chris Lucas and Preston Brust.

Wearing baseball caps, sunglasses and high-wattage grins, the young men bounced into view, looking just about anything but traditional county.

The audience was more than ready. As young women screamed, tiny buckaroos in colorful cowboy boots stomped and twirled next to their hand-clapping mamas.

"How you doing out there," Brust shouted to fans. "We're gonna start with a little song we wrote for Keith Urban."

While more than 30 beer garden residents leaned expectantly into the fence, their beer cups still for the moment, LoCash Cowboys launched into "You Gonna Fly" to loud appreciation from the audience.

In the next breath, they had women on their feet and clapping in time for Oakridge Boys' 1981 hit, "Elvira."

At this point in the evening, carnival lights on the midway vied with stage lighting and stars in the navy blue sky. The pinnacle of the fair pavilion glowed in the distance.

Brust and Lucas seemed brighter than all those sources as they twisted and jumped and ran into the crowd, coaxing "volunteer" soloists and taking temporary possession of the impossibly-bright orange cap belonging to Jim.

With "You Got Me," a country-pop blend released in early summer, the entire audience was on its feet, from the top of the grandstands down to the front row. Rows of denimed legs swayed in time while Lucas and Brust showed the ramped-up listeners a bit of fancy rear-end choreography. Cowboy hats, which seasoned the night like white pepper, bobbed and ducked as their owners invested themselves in the music.

LoCash Cowboys knew just how to seduce the crowd, from slipping "Walla Walla" into a number of lyrics to praising Main Street's Hot Poop music store. "We went to a store today that had the word 'poop' in it. That's the only time we can say 'poop' on stage," Brust shouted. "Don't let that store disappear!"

After slowing things down with the duo's first Top 40 hit, "Keep in Mind" and the classic version of "Lean on Me," the cowboys wound everyone up once more with "Here Comes Summer," a bubbly concoction of fun and sun.

The clock had nearly reached 9 p.m. before concert headliner The Band Perry took command of the night. With the appearance of the two-brothers-one-sister group, the tween crowd surged forward in a wave of cellphone cameras. Concert security staff hopped to attention, keeping walkways clear and warning against any kind of recording equipment.

In white-blond hair cut in chunky layers, a fringed vest and frilly little Western dress, lead singer Kimberly Perry resembled an anime character as she dove into "All Your Life," her voice like stick-to-your-ribs granola with pure maple syrup poured on top.

And that's when middle-aged men were on their feet, swaying without embarrassment as the night deepened into sweater weather.

"We're from East Tennessee," Kimberly tells everyone, with a nod to brothers Neil and Reid flanking the center. "Where the hillbillies and banjo players come from."

With "Independence," she lets her voice command the show, sending it into the greater Walla Walla Valley, then switches emotions with a medley of vintage rock songs, sending men and women alike to dance on the seats of their chairs.

At last people got the elixir they had waited for when The Band Perry handed over "When I Die Young," the breakout hit that brought the siblings to the attention of critics and fans earlier this year.

In emotions made physical, the crowd swarmed beneath the stage, lovers clutching and young teens looking somber.

"If I die young, bury me in satin. Lay me down on a bed of roses. Sink me in the river, at dawn, send me away with the words of a love song."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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