It was the late 1990s, probably the summer of 1999. When I think of Alameda county, California, I think of Oakland, with all its urban charm and grit. But Alameda county also has farmland, and a very large county fair. My good friends Joanie and Connie lived in the county (and still do), and we all had gone through drama with members of the opposite sex that summer. We needed a “girls’ day.” Joanie suggested going to the Alameda county fair, saying that an up-and-coming country singer was giving a concert there that Saturday night.
I wasn't thrilled at the idea of a concert by a country singer, and how good could someone be who was singing at a county fair?
A county fair wouldn’t have been my first choice. I remember going to only one other, in San Mateo county, and was more interested in the arts and crafts booths than anything else. However, this fair was a revelation. We had a blast walking around, just to see what we could see. The afternoon highlight was persuading the attendants to let us into the petting zoo, which was supposed to be for children–but we had arrived at a down time and were admitted. The animals relieved our stress, and the softest and most beautiful was a tiny joey (no mama kangaroo, though). After the past 18 months, more of us could use a petting zoo.
We had dinner and made our way to the concert stage. I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of a concert by a country singer, and how good could someone be who was singing at a county fair?
“I keep hearing great things about this Brad Paisley,” Joanie said. “Who?” I asked. “Never heard of him.”
Shortly a wiry, pleasant-looking man and his band took the stage. Brad was kind and engaging with the audience and gave interesting introductions to the songs, explaining that he wrote them all. As a writer of prose and poetry, though not songs, that perked me up.
As I listened, I thought, “These are good … no, really good.” And a few were exceptional. Brad Paisley gave a terrific concert, and he was building his reputation at lightning speed, putting out a hit album that year. Although I didn’t continue to follow his career closely, I gained a new appreciation for country music, and the day at the fair turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered.
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.
Wonderful memories. And Brad certainly did become a star! How great to have that introduction to something unexpected. The petting zoo resonated too–our connection with animal friends is never enough. I don’t think I ever made it to the Alameda County fair, but did get to their fairgrounds one labor day when Bill Clinton visited and gave a speech in his best folksy populist style. He was famous too.
Thanks, Khati. I hadn’t expected such a wonderful fair in an urban place, nor such a great songwriter in action. Glad fairs treated you well, too.
Clearly this was just what you needed at the moment in your life, as unexpected as it was. Petting zoo and Brad Paisley on the rise – how perfect! He did turn into a superstar (I’ve even heard of him). Great that you were able to see him on his way up. And that joey sounds so sweet. I agree, we all need a petting zoo right now.
Let’s hear it for petting zoos and anything else that’s comforting, Betsy. I enjoy seeing Brad Paisley on television commercials occasionally–brings back a smile.
Terrific story, Marian. I particularly loved how you tied it in so well with uplifting your collective moods over recent past experiences. (On behalf of my entire, stupid gender, I apologize!) And your reference to “petting zoos” is brilliant.
I too, am not a big C & W fan, though I am not entirely dismissive. And even I have heard of Brad and have actually enjoyed a few of his tunes — just don’t ask me their names. That said, when I first read your title, I thought it said “parsley,” and that you were going to make some reference to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Then I read it more carefully and it all made sense.
Thanks, John, Parsley/Paisley pun partially intended.
Sorry, Marian. I should have realized you intended that.
I actually considered Scarborough Fair for my title, which would have gone well with your parsley/paisley. This is a great story about how a trip to the fair was the perfect thing for that moment in time for you and your friends. I have been to a few county fairs in different California counties, because the Fair Board used to be one of my clients. They are always delightful in a much smaller way than the State Fair – you can cover everything in a couple of hours, instead of needing all day.
Well said, Suzy, and I agree about the county fairs. The one in San Mateo that I went to many, many years ago had an ikebana display. Very reflective of the local cultures in the area.
I loved this simple, honest and surprisingly moving story Marian. It’s always a delight to see how these Retro prompts evoke such wonderful memories for us all.
I do like country music but don’t seek it out, I should give it another try, it was a balm for you, thanx Marian!
Every once in a while I will come upon country music that I like, Dana. It’s fun to experience something really different from the other genres.
Yes, open-mindedness is a good thing!
How lucky were you to hear Brad Paisley. I really enjoyed reading your description of making fair-going into a real bonding treat for you and your friends.
Yes, Laurie, although it would be a lot of fun to go to a fair with kids, going with friends is really good, too.
Lovely story, Marian. And thanks for making the point about fairs and country music. They go together like fried dough and powdered sugar. Because I was on site for the full fair week on two occasions I had the opportunity to see and hear some damn fine musicians. Sonny James and the Southern Gentlemen. Wow, sometimes the memories pop out of nowhere.
Thanks, Tom, this prompt yielded memories that did indeed pop out of nowhere!