Oldtimers Boston, Styx, Earth Wind & Fire, The B-52’s and Dolly Parton lead the top tier talent pool headlining the grandstands and amphitheaters at this year’s fairs. 
“Acts that are good solid names that people are aware of are this year’s hottest talent trend,” said Clay Campbell of Triangle Talent. “Hard ticket sales are booming for acts that people already know and love.”
“The biggest draws are getting big money to show up,” said Dan Gaines, director of Entertainment for the OC Fair, Costa Mesa, Calif. “The highest paid artists this year, like Earth, Wind & Fire, are getting quite rich from appearances and Train now demands three times what they used to cost.”
Other big players this year include country stalwarts Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson and Rascal Flatts, the latter getting renewed attention because their hot hooky single ‘I Like the Sound of That.’ R&B star Charlie Wilson, Kid Rock, Kiss and ‘All About The Bass’ singer Meghan Trainor are also on this year’s hot talent list.
“Meghan is selling phenomenally when you can get her,” said Campbell. “The hard ticket category is getting harder and harder to book. The main challenge is competition from all the festivals. The festivals have become aggressive in booking and what they will spend on talent. They have the luxury of raising ticket prices because of the ancillary spending and other revenue streams that the fairs just can’t do.”
Gaines sums up the fight for talent this way: “You’ve got to get in early to get the best talent. Even though this year’s fair is still a month and a half away we are already scoping out and booking talent for our 2017 line up. Trends are defined by our customers. Big stars with longevity are always a good bet. People love classic stuff. In this competitive market you want to pull in the big guns that will drive ticket sales and attendance.  Anything that is strong in the market we will look at and go after.”
So far Gaines’ 2016 instincts are right on. OC Fair’s amphitheater line up for 2016 is selling briskly. “Boston and Styx are already sold out. Earth, Wind & Fire and Train are nearly sold out. So far sales are doing really well across the board. It’s definitely shaping up to be one of the OC Fair’s best ever years in terms of concert ticket sales, if not the best of all time. It’s hard to tell right now because some genres, like reggae, pull in their ticket sales in the last week before they appear.”
Concerts are crucial to any fair’s success. The pre-fair take at the ticket office is often a good prognosticator of how well a fair will do in any given year.
“Concerts drive the fair gate,” said Gaines. “As amphitheater sales go so goes the fair. Concert sales are the best indicator of fair revenue and how successful or not our marketing has been.”
“Two-thirds of our concert goers come to the fair before the concert and seeing their favorite artists is the grand finale. Ending their day with the concert seems to emotionalize the whole event for them.”
“Classic rock, country and reggae are always good draws.” This year, reggae crowd pleasers Ziggy Marley and Steel Pulse are pulling them in.
Christian rockers and comedy round out the list of hot talent hitting the stage this year. “Contemporary Christian stars King & Country and Casting Crowns are doing especially well this year,” said Campbell.  Michelle Romeo, scion of the Romeo Entertainment Group dynasty, said, “Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias is killing it this year in the comedy category.” Campbell said comedian Jim Gaffigan is on fire.
Hitting the heights in the newer artists category are hot country sensations Kelsea Ballerini and Hunter Hayes. Romeo’s father, Bob Romeo, who just stepped down from his job as CEO of the Academy of Country Music, said, “Kelsea is on the verge of popping just like Taylor Swift.  You won’t be able to book her for fairs for much longer.
“Hunter Hayes is huge this year,” said Gaines. “He’s blowing up and the fans love him.  He’s selling a lot of tickets.”
Newer rock bands 3 Doors Down and Three Days Grace are also doing quite well this year, according to Michelle Romeo.
Romeo was also buzzing about the stunning comeback and reemergence of ‘Love Shack’ hipsters The B-52’s. “B-52’s heyday was in the late 80s and they sort of disappeared for a while. But they are back with a vengeance and doing really well on the fair circuit this year. It’s amazing how old acts become new again on the fair circuit.
The economic environment this year seems ripe. “People seem ready to spend money and open up their wallets on concert tickets this year,” said Gaines. “The economy is good right now and that means hard ticket sales are good. And when ticket sales are good, the fair’s overall take is good; they go hand-in-hand.”