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Paul Mann: California Mid-State Fair Opens with Lionel Richie, Blue Oyster Cult

An animated Lionel Richie performs his greatest hits at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. Click to view larger
An animated Lionel Richie performs his greatest hits at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles opened its biggest year yet of musical entertainment on July 19 with performances by classic rockers Blue Oyster Cult and R&B icon Lionel Richie.

The lineup for the 11-day fair includes rockers Matchbox Twenty, Counting Crows, Kid Rock and John Mayer. EDM stars The Chainsmokers lit up last weekend with their massive light and sound show. Country music is represented by the Zac Brown Band and Keith Urban, and the fair will culminate with two concerts by country music icon Garth Brooks.

Blue Oyster Cult was the first main act at the fair on the Frontier Stage, free with fair admission. One of the most enduring bands in American rock, the group is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

The band played two sets, mixing it up a bit with early songs and some from later albums. Both sets culminated with the band's two biggest hits, the classic metal song from their first album, "Cities Aflame with Rock and Roll," and "Godzilla."

The main arena featured an opening night headline set by Richie, with the R&B star playing some of his greatest hits. The concert was the first in several months for the 68-year-old Richie, but from the moment he bolted on stage, the animated performer pranced about with the energy of a teenage artist.

Richie launched into a hit parade from his vast catalog of solo hits along with classic songs from his years in the Commodores. With more than 50 years of pop music experience and five Grammys, the R&B legend has no shortage of material. In fact, Richie is known as one of the most famous singers of all time, selling more than 100 million records worldwide.

The 15-song set not only showcased Richie’s singing and songwriting prowess but the enormous talent of his band of veteran musicians as well. The group would vacillate from heavy rock beats to R&B funk rhythms with skillful ease, at Richie’s behest.

The singer seemed in good spirits after his extended vacation and joked with the audience frequently. After opening with the hit song "Running with the Night," Richie joked about his first trip to Paso Robles, the beautiful agriculture hub nestled in the mountains.

“I had a manager, Ken Kragen, who lives here,” Richie said. “I came to visit. I decided to walk around in the backyard of this beautiful ranch, and while I was walking around Ken just happened to mention, ‘Watch out Lionel, it’s rattlesnake season.’ I ain’t been back here ever since.” The crowd erupted after that and swarmed the stage, with the entire floor standing for the rest of the show. Richie also would frequently sip a glass of what he said was local red wine, which he called “that good Paso juice." He referred to the pleasing beverage throughout the set.

The set ended with the classic party song, "All Night Long," while a cool breeze blew across the stadium and a beautiful starry night enveloped the large stage. With a slew of beverages available, the audience was in a jovial mood and ready to party all night long as well. It was a perfect opening night for one of the most American traditions: a trip to the summer fair.

The fair runs through Sunday, from noon to midnight. Click here for more information.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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