On September 1, 2010, rising country act Lady Antebellum drew a record crowd of 30,000 at the New York State Fair‘s Chevy Court. Almost exactly a year later on August 31, 2011, pop/R&B singer Bruno Mars broke the record with an estimated 35,000 watching him perform on the same stage.
How?? And why doesn’t anyone believe a pop act could get a bigger crowd than a country artist at the NYS Fair?
Let me give you some background information, for those not familiar. The New York State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S., drawing about 1.1 million people over the 12-day event in Syracuse. The concerts held at the fair are always a hot topic and a crowd magnet (besides the fried food, wine, animals, rides, games and people-watching) and traditionally country artists like Rascal Flatts have pulled in the biggest audiences.
There are two main concert stages at the NYS Fair. The Mohegan Sun Grandstand tends to host the big-name artists and requires paid admission (tickets ranged from $35 to $65 this year though prices were reduced for two underselling concerts to $15), seating 17,000 people. The Chevrolet Court stage (also known as Chevy Court and formerly known as Muffler Court) has two different acts daily, free with admission to the fair, and has seating for 5,000 people — but many more can stand in the aisles and pack the surrounding area. The Grandstand used to have entertainment on all 12 nights of the fair but officials changed that to 7 concerts recently and put more emphasis on getting bigger acts at Chevy Court.
When Lady Antebellum played at Chevy Court last year, they were on their fourth consecutive #1 country song and chart-smasher “Need You Now” had just recently crossed over to pop and adult contemporary radio. So it surprised absolutely no one when Hilary Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley drew 30,000 fans and set a record for crowd attendance.
Bruno Mars, on the other hand, has six top 5 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 all within the past 15 months, including “Grenade,” “Just The Way You Are” and his appearances on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.” He’s sold more than 15 million singles, wowed everyone at the Grammys this year with his lively doo-wop rock performance, and made headlines again this week with his soulful tribute to Amy Winehouse, performing “Valerie” at the MTV Video Music Awards (even though it’s actually a Zutons song that Amy covered on a Mark Ronson record). It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he drew 35,000 fans but it did. Why?
Here’s the rub. When Lady A was on the Chevy Court stage last year, two things limited their crowd from being bigger than it was — one, Justin Bieber was performing a sold-out show on the Grandstand stage at the same time that night; and two, anticipation for the record crowd at the fair that day may have drove some people to avoid the mob and stay home altogether. No one was on the Grandstand stage when Bruno Mars performed Wednesday, so he had no competition for an audience. Also, media didn’t fuel as much hype so very few people expected a crowd so large that some might want to avoid.
Plus, country fans (like any genre-specific group of fans) tend to think their music is bigger than it is. Yes, country music is hugely popular and has a lot of loyal fans, but pop music is more popular because that’s the very nature of the genre — it’s for the mainstream masses. And for further perspective, Lady Antebellum played at the New York State Fair Grandstand again this year, drawing only 9,800 people. Four other Grandstand concerts this year pulled in bigger crowds — Train/Maroon 5, Journey/Foreigner, Selena Gomez and Sugarland/Sara Bareilles — three of which had pop acts on the bill. Just saying.