THE ACTS gracing the Indiana State Fair’s Hoosier Lottery Free Stage this month include tribute bands, country stars, Christian groups, and a genre that’s become something of a Free Stage specialty: formerly big-name musicians long past their primes. In a flagrant example of looking a gift horse in the mouth (these shows are “free,” after all), we gauged how time has treated this year’s balding, Medicare-eligible lineup, and who’s still worth a listen.
Who’s got the most heartwarming/triumphant/downright scary backstory? If you’ve been in the music biz for decades, chances are you’ve got some history to share. For instance, in an industry known for volatile romance, Pat Benatar and her lead guitarist, Neil Giraldo, have stayed married since 1982. They’re very cute together, both onstage and off. At the age of 69, Chaka Khan still tours relentlessly, and possesses more than enough stamina to do a hot, humid outdoor Indiana concert. She also still fills arenas, just like she did in her “I Feel for You” heyday. Finally, country music perennial Trace Adkins looks remarkably well for a man who (among other misfortunes) was severely injured in a car accident at age 17; shot in the heart and both lungs by his second ex-wife; and in 1989 had to ride out a hurricane while trapped on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Heck, he’s lucky to be with us at all.
Do they still sound like themselves? Chaka Khan sounds almost exactly like she did back in her 1980s prime. Seriously, it’s kind of scary. Pat Benatar still belts out a stadium rock–quality version of her signature hit, “Heartbreaker.” And even though their “minimalist” (to put it charitably) stage setup would embarrass a garage band, the heavy metal hair group Autograph does a serviceable job with their lone Top 40 hit, “Turn Up the Radio.”
How many original members remain? Autograph almost didn’t make this list because it features none of the original group. And it’s tough to say how many of the legion of performers in KC and the Sunshine Band were around when it debuted in 1973. But who really cares as long as Harry Wayne Casey (KC) is still among them (which he is)?
How much do their ticketed shows usually cost? When Pat Benatar finishes performing for the corn dog crowd, she’s got a paying gig scheduled at Seattle’s Moore Theatre (tickets $36–$76). Trace Adkins plays the Rhythm Section Amphitheater in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, shortly after his Indy stop (tickets $45–$75). KC and the Sunshine Band’s post-fair itinerary includes the Crown Theater in North Carolina (tickets $49–$99). A couple of months after she graces the Free Stage, Chaka Khan’s got an arena show in Houston (tickets $49–$129). Not surprisingly, poor Autograph provides the least band for your buck. Tickets for their next gig, about a month after the fair, would only set you back $21–$36. The sad part (well, one of the sad parts) is that they aren’t even the headliner. They open for another 1980s artifact, Skid Row.