UTAH STATE FAIR, September 5-15, Utah State Fair Park

A lot of folks think I'm joking when I speak of my love of the Utah State Fair, but there is nothing ironic about it. The event full of bizarro culinary treats, questionable entertainment choices, and carnival rides and games was one of the first things I experienced upon moving to Utah in 1986. And while I couldn't appreciate how quintessentially "Utah" the fair was that first time around, I've come to love its displays of local crafts and oddball artistry, its demolition derbies and rodeos. The fact that it is a family-friendly event that also allows me to enjoy a cold beer certainly helps.

For a while during my years going to the fair, the programmers actually tried to book concerts that were far from your typical state-fair level talent. I reviewed Britney Spears the night after she had won numerous awards at the VMAs in New York (she did the worst cover of Journey's "Open Arms" I've ever heard, and I've heard a lot of bad karaoke in my time). I got to see Destiny's Child at the height of their popularity in a show the night before the 9/11 attacks. I got to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts kill it, as always, to a frustratingly small audience, as well as Nickelback suck it, as always, to a frustratingly large one.

This year's grandstand musical lineup doesn't have much in the way of "hot" attractions, although some will love seeing Plain White T's doing their pop-rock tunes on opening night, or Amy Grant bringing the pop-gospel to town Friday night. For me, .38 Special offers the best bang for the buck. I went and saw the Southern-rock crew at the Peppermill Concert Hall back when it opened, and I was shocked how many of .38 Special's songs I remembered from the '80s. Those guys were hit machines, and you can do a lot worse at a state fair than hear "Hold On Loosely," "Caught Up in You" or "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys." And did I mention there's beer? You'll want to have a few before the show.