Booking entertainment at fairs and festivals is high stakes gambling at best, with the participants at the mercy of Lady Luck and Mother Nature.

Organizers at the Williamson County Fair played it conservatively last year, assuming a low-risk posture and scheduling local favorites, the LoCash Cowboys. This year, they have taken a seriously more aggressive approach and booked a solid one-two punch of nationally prominent Nashville stars.

Joe Nichols and Greg Bates will serve as co-headliners at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7 at the renovated Entertainment Barn at the Williamson County Fair. Tickets are $25 and will be available at the door. Williamson County Fair Secretary/Treasurer John Fosse said tickets will be available in the very near future from a link on the organization’s website, www.williamsoncounty

“Last year, we got started a little late with our planning. We thought we had a couple of big-name acts, but things fell through at the last minute,” Fosse said. “We started getting things together a little bit earlier this year, and we are extremely pleased with our lineup.”

Nichols used his silky smooth delivery to attract national attention with debut single “The Impossible” in 2002. He has topped the charts with tunes like “Brokenheartsville,” “What’s a Guy Gotta Do,” “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and “Gimmie That Girl.”

Bates is one of the young guns in Music City, climbing to No. 5 last year with his scorching George Strait-tinged first single “Did It for the Girl.” He followed up in February with “Fill in the Blank,” the most added song on country radio the week it was released.

Bates is a country music oddity. He was born and raised in Nashville. Intent on making a career in the music business, he graduated from Belmont University, the popular institution of higher learning in Music City that polishes the songwriting and performing skills of aspiring talent, a virtual honky tonk finishing school.

Carefully stringing together a few simple words that collectively pack a punch powerful enough to bring tears of joy or sadness to the listener’s eyes quickly had the 25-year-old Bates addicted to country music. After college, he rapidly earned a publishing contract and a record deal.

“The first day that I figured out that you can tell a story with three chords in three minutes and just kill somebody emotionally, I was hooked,” he says. “The stories are what really drew me to country music.”

With a sound that is tight and twangy, he has toured with George Strait and Alan Jackson, shared the stage at CMA Fest earlier this month with Easton Corbin and Dustin Lynch and two day ago performed on the Grand Ole Opry.

An Arkansas native, the 36-year old Nichols survived two failed record deals and a job selling steaks door-to-door in Nashville, before legendary session guitarist Brent Rowan helped him land a record deal that would ultimately lead to his first major hits.

Nichols has been nominated for four Grammy Awards and is a past winner of the New Vocalist of the Year from the Academy of Country Music. He has recorded seven albums, with “Man With a Memory” being certified platinum for selling more than 1 million units.

He released his first single in almost two years, the critically acclaimed “Sunny and 75” in April and also has released a new duet single with Randy Travis. The pair of hard core traditionalist pays homage to the late George Jones on a song appropriately titled, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum.”

“Nichols and Bates play a little different styles of music, so we are hoping for a bigger, more diversified audience,” Fosse said.

After a few years of experimenting with fair dates, Fosse said it has been moved back to its traditional slot in August.

“We tried having it in June but decided to move it back to August,” Fosse said. “We are using a new carnival company and it was the only date that was available.”

Four years before the start of the Civil War, the first Williamson County Fair took place in 1857 on a 10-acre tract of land on the east side of Marion. Dignitaries attending the event through the years include President Theodore Roosevelt, Scopes trial lawyer William Jennings Bryan, Sen. Alben Barkley and Gen. John A. Logan.

Music superstars Lady Antebellum and Justin Moore have appeared at the fair in recent years.

A wide range of activities have been scheduled for the fair, including harness racing Aug. 5, motocross Aug. 6, a monster truck show Aug. 8, a tractor pull Aug. 9, and a demolition derby Aug. 10.

“There are a few more finishing touches that we’re working on, but everything is looking real good,” Fosse said. “The catalyst for bringing in the funds is good weather and thirsty people in the entertainment barn.”

VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@yahoo.com.

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