The Alameda County Fair is one of the best places to see live music in the Bay Area.
The concert lineup is bountiful and diversely appealing. The setting -- the cozy, shady Safeway Amphitheater -- is attractive. And the price is most definitely right, given that shows are free with regular fair admission.
All that and cotton candy, too.
The fair, which runs through July 8 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, is celebrating its 100th anniversary by offering one of the biggest concert lineups in its illustrious history. It's also cutting back from two shows a day to one evening show, which allowed organizers to hire more impressive headliners.
"We are excited about the new concert format of one free show at 7 p.m. nightly," says April Mitchell, the fair's marketing manager. "The new one-show format enables the booking of artists like Kellie Pickler, America, Salt-N-Pepa, Rick Springfield, the Temptations and Hoobastank that previously would not play two one-hour shows."
Here's a breakdown of the 2012 fair concerts:
Tower of Power (June 20): Why make concertgoers wait when you can just kick off the whole shebang with a true fan favorite? The fair opens its doors with this legendary East Bay soul-funk band, known for such hits as "You're Still a Young Man", "So Very Hard to Go" and "What Is Hip?"
Wonderbread 5 (June 21): For more than a decade, Wonderbread has been one of the Bay Area's most delightfully wacky
38 Special (June 22): This Florida troupe was one of the biggest Southern rock acts of the '80s, thanks to such smash singles as "Hold On Loosely," "Caught Up in You" and "If I'd Been the One." The band is still led by vocalist-guitarist Donnie Van Zant, who helped found 38 Special in 1974.
Lonestar (June 23): This Nashville outfit is certainly no stranger to the country singles chart, having fashioned approximately 30 hits, including the chart-toppers "What About Now," "Tell Her" and "I'm Already There."
Salt-N-Pepa (June 24): The trio, consisting of Cheryl "Salt" James, Sandra "Pepa" Denton and Deidra Roper ("DJ Spinderella"), truly ranks as one of rap's most legendary crews. Fans will turn out in hopes of hearing such longtime favorites as "Push It," "Shoop" and "Whatta Man."
Evolution (June 26): You don't need to go see Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages" to get your fill of classic-rock covers. Just go watch this popular Journey tribute act. After all, the popcorn is usually better (and cheaper) at the fair.
Jars of Clay (June 27): There was a time -- a fairly lengthy period of time, actually -- when this Nashville act ranked as arguably the biggest deal in Christian alt-rock. Its first five albums (released between 1995 and 2003) were all certified gold/platinum in the U.S.
Rick Springfield (June 28): The renaissance man is equally known for his recording career, highlighted by the early '80s No. 1 hit "Jessie's Girl," and for his work on TV's "General Hospital." He also penned an autobiography, "Late, Late at Night: a Memoir."
America (June 29): Nobody defined '70s soft-rock quite as well as America. Plus, the group's best tracks -- "A Horse with No Name," "Sister Golden Hair," "Ventura Highway," etc. -- still sound great in 2012. It's no wonder that the America songbook has aged so well, given that Sir George Martin (Beatles) produced so many of the band's records.
Con Funk Shun (June 30): Straight out of Vallejo, Con Funk Shun became an international sensation with such '70s-'80s hits as "Shake and Dance With Me," "So Easy," "(Let Me Put) Love on Your Mind" and "Chase Me."
Carmen Jara (July 1): The vocalist, one of the new generation of Mexican folkloric singers, has produced several popular albums, including 2005's "Soy Una Loca" and 2008's "Amor Ilegal."
Heartbreaker (July 3): This Bay Area Led Zeppelin tribute act performs such fan favorites as "Stairway to Heaven," "Whole Lotta Love" and "Black Dog."
Red, White and Blues Festival (July 4): Spend your Independence Day enjoying America's greatest gift to the arts -- blues music! Ronnie Stewart and his Bay Area Blues Society always put on a great festival featuring some of the best local blues artists.
The Temptations (July 5): It should be a night of pure Motown magic when this legendary vocal troupe comes to town. Who wouldn't want to hear such classics as "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" performed live?
Hoobastank (July 6): The SoCal act has sold more than 10 million records and delivered such alt-rock anthems as "Crawling in the Dark" and "Running Away."
Morris Day and the Time (July 7): The charismatic funk master is best known for his role in the Prince film "Purple Rain." It will be worth the price of fair admission just to see all the fans dance "The Bird."
Kellie Pickler (July 8): The closing night concert features this talented country singer who came to fame as a contestant on the fifth season of "American Idol." She finish sixth and quickly went on to score several Top 20 country singles, including "Red High Heels" and "I Wonder."
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
When: Fair runs June 20-July 8. All concert begin at 7 p.m., except for the all-day Red, White and Blues festival
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
Tickets: Concerts are included in regular fair admission -- $10 adults (age 13-61), $8 seniors (age 62+), $6 kids (age 6-12). Children (ages five and under) get in for free.
Information: 925-426-7600, www.alamedacountyfair.com