POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Fair means different things to different people, but no one can dispute the history that has taken place on its main stage.
People sometimes forget the country music royalty the fair has welcomed, like Dolly Parton, George Straight, Keith Urban, Marie Osmond, Roy Acuff and many more over the years.
Keeping track of every performer at the fair has become a hobby of Brian Billings, involved with the fair since 1978 as a fair board member, a board of director and is currently the fair’s first vice president and entertainment chairman since 1982. Years ago, Billings began typing up the fair’s lineups, until he ran out of room and starting writing them in by hand, to preserve a little piece of history. Much like a family’s history, if no one asks, and no one writes it down, it becomes forgotten.
Billings has come up with some interesting statistics about fair entertainment, calculating 273 performers have graced the main stage through the 2016 event, held this year Aug. 8-13.
Going back to 1967, the first national performers to grace the fair’s main stage, based upon records provided by the Willis Brothers Grand Ole Opry Show, were Porter Wagoner and the Wagon Masters, with Norma Jean.
Since becoming involved with the fair and booking its entertainment, Billings estimates the biggest crowds attended when the following country performers graced the stage (listed in order of appearance at the fair): Marie Osmond, The Charlie Daniels Band, David Ball, Kevin Sharp, Michael Peterson, Don Williams, Sammy Kershaw, Lorri Morgan, Billy Currington, Tracey Lawrence, Phil Vasser, Diamond Rio, Joe Dee Messina, John Michael Montgomery. The following gospel performers drew the largest crowds: Florida Boys, Hinson’s, The Speers, Conrad Cook & The Calvery Echos, Hoppers, Jeff & Sherri Easter.
As for the overall biggest stars as of this date who have performed at the fair, Billings guessed those to be Parton, Strait, Urban and Osmond.
When it comes to repeat performers at the fair, Bill Anderson has played four times, Gene Watson three times, The Hinsons four times, the Florida Boys three times and holding the record for the most appearances is Rick K. and the Allnighters who have taken the stage five times.
Of course, not all the fun happens on stage; back stage can be an interesting place to be at any venue and the Mason County Fair is no different, which Billings knows all too well.
“Back stage is not always a rosy place to be, you want everything to go as planned, which a lot of times it does not,” Billings said. “But we make it happen. Artists travel all over this great country and perform day after day. They don’t know us or our surroundings. Yes, things get a little testy at times, but as they say, the show does go on.”
Billings said the fair’s entertainment committee has cooked out with the Charlie Daniels Band and Tracey Lawrence, and have played several games of cornhole with many artists, Lo Cash Cowboys being the most memorable.
Then again, not all the great (or not so great) moments are contained to back stage with Billings having some of his own memorable moments in front of an audience.
“I have had some embarrassing moments on stage,” Billings said. “I knocked over Lew Dewitt’s guitar (former Statler Brother member) as I approached the mic to introduce him. I was bringing on Moe Bandy and we just had Freddie Hart and the Hart Beats the night before when and I welcomed Moe and the Heart Beat Rodeo Clowns, which was Moe Bandy’s band’s name. My classic memory was the Charlie Daniels Band. They played at the front of the stage and I had to enter on the right side of the stage to introduce them. My feet were hanging off the front of the stage as I stood in front of the keyboard player. I went on to give the welcome and introduce them and I forgot the name of the band. I froze and turned my head to the left to the keyboard player and said, ‘I forgot the name of the band.’ He said ‘Brian … Armadillo Band.’ I said, ‘That’s right, Armadillo Band.’ I think I crawled off the stage that afternoon.”
Billings has also compiled some interesting facts about the performers who have performed on the Mason County fair stage, listing years of performances and breaking them down by males, females, duos and gospel greats, among others.
Biggest male country artists who have performed at the fair: Roy Acuff (1968), Del Reeves (1969), David Houston (1970), Faron Young (1974), Conway Twitty (1976), Eddie Rabbitt (1978), Jim Stafford (1981), George Strait (1982), Gary Morris (1985), Johnny Paycheck and Lew DeWitt (1988), Vernon Gosdin (1989), Joe Diffie (1992), David Ball (1995), Hank Williams III (1997), Gary Allen and-Kevin Sharp (1998), Cledus T. Judd and Michael Peterson (1999), Doug Stone (2000), Keith Urban and Bobby Bare (2001), Don Williams (2002), Rodney Atkins (2004), Sammy Kershaw (2005), Dan Seals (2006), Tracy Lawrence (2007), Phil Vaser (2008), Marty Stuart (2010), John Michael Montgomery (2014). Mentioned earlier were Porter Wagoner (1967), and Bill Anderson who first appeared in (1969).
Biggest female country artists who have performed at the fair: Dolly Parton (1970), Dottie West (1971), Brenda Lee (1982), Sammi Smith (1986), Marie Osmond (1987), Janie Frickie and Patty Loveless (1989), Connie Smith (1996), Lorrie Morgan (2006), Stella Parton (2007), Georgette Jones and Pam Tillis (2012), Jo Dee Messina (2013).
Biggest Duos or groups in country music who have performed at the fair: Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelieus (1977), Dave and Sugar (1984), The Whites (1985), Exile (1986), The Charlie Daniels Band (1988), Sweethearts of the Rodeo (1990), The Bellamy Brothers (1991), Pirates of the Mississippi (1993), Asleep at the Wheel (1994),Warren Brothers (1999), The Nelsons (2000), The Honky Tonk Tailgate Party (2003), Lo Cash Cowboys (2007), Diamond Rio (2009), The Band Perry (2010), Little Texas (2010), Swon Brothers (2015), and to appear this year Confederate Railroad and Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers.
Gospel greats who have performed at the fair: Jerry & The Singing Goffs (1972), The Lewis Family (1979), The Fox Brothers (1985), The Gospel Harmony Boys (1986), The Rex Nelon Singers (1987), Dixie Melody Boys (1989), The Speer Family (1994), Steve and Annie Chapman (1997), Conrad Cook & The Calvery Echos (1999), The Hoppers (2000), Jeff & Sherri Easter (2001), Gold City (2007), Mark Trammell Quartet (2012), The Talleys (2013), Ricky Adkinson & Compassion (2015), and The Jim Brady Trio this year. The Florida Boys (1974) and The Hinson’s (1975) were mentioned earlier.
Rock and 50/60’s groups with national recognition who have appeared at the fair: Phil Dirt & the Dozers (1987), The Grass Roots (1997) and Sonny Geraci (2004), along with Rick K. & the Allnighter’s (1995) mentioned earlier.
The biggest bluegrass group to appear at the fair: Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition (2003).
Of course, many more country, gospel and 50/60’5 stars have graced the Mason County Fair stage who were not listed from 1967 to the present, and, greatness is in the eye of the beholder.
This year’s entertainers will be performing on a revamped main stage and those entertainers include Jim Brady Trio, Among the Thirsty, Shania Twin (Shania Twain tribute artist), Confederate Railroad, Darryl Worley and Larry Gatin and The Gatlin Brothers.
Since 1985, Bob Gallion Productions began booking acts for the fair and continue to do so to this date. The late Bob Gallion was a former country music disc jockey, songwriter (worked for Acuff Rose in Nashville) and country artist who appeared at the Mason County Fair in 1975 with Dave Dudley, Dickey Lee and Patty Powell, his duo partner.
“Bob’s daughter Melody took over the business and has continued to bring top stars from Nashville to our fair each year as her father did,” Billings said.
Billings added none of this could happen without all of the fair board members and volunteers helping to put on this annual event. He also talked about those who are back stage each year, to keep the shows going smoothly, like Carol Lowe, Shorty Woomer, Gala Hammack, Mike Rogers, Becky Baldwin, Wayne and Peggy See and Bev Forbes. Billings also mentioned the late Patty Thomas for her help.
In addition to saving information on who has played the fair, Billings has countless, in fact hundreds, of photos with the fair entertainers, promotional fair tri-folds, and fair posters with 98 percent of those posters autographed by the artist who appeared that week of the fair.
Billings has created quite the archive not only for himself to remember those memories, but in case anyone who also cares to remember, forgets.
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.