Parmalee lead vocalist-guitarist Matt Thomas knows county fairs — he and his band mates have performed at too many to keep track of.
And they'll continue to book fairs as long as they're asked.
"We love them because we always love trying out the rides and eating all the food," Thomas said earlier this week by phone. "We always give each other an amount of money and say, 'Go see what you can find.' Then we always take everyone back to the No. 1 food before we leave."
Thomas said every fair is different. But one thing runs through them all.
"Fairs are great crowds because you get such diverse groups — people who are just coming to the fair stop by to hear us. We make new fans that way."
Thomas describes Parmalee as a "rock band with country lyric and melodies, three-part harmonies and loud guitars."
Now based in Nashville, Parmalee is an up-and-coming act that's been climbing the charts.
The band that formed in home state North Carolina several years ago will perform at at least two Illinois fairs this summer: the Ford County Fair in Melvin and the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
You can hear them in Ford County at 7 p.m. June 24, with the John King Band as opening act. Tickets are $20. At the State Fair, Parmalee will be one of two opening acts Aug. 16 for Jake Owen, a country musician who signed to RCA Nashville in 2006.
Actually, county fairs are good places to hear up-and-coming acts like Parmalee, as well as local and regional acts.
And state fairs book major stars who are on summer tours: Coming this summer to a fair near you are Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Foreigner, Steely Dan and Robin Thicke.
And Lorrie Morgan, who 30 years ago this month became the youngest country musician to enter the Grand Ole Opry, will be at the Moultrie-Douglas County Fair in July.
The Illinois State Fair apparently considers Robin Thicke as its Grandstand lead act for the 2014 edition of the fair this summer, Aug. 7-17. The singer-songwriter performs on Aug. 17.
Most Grandstand acts begin at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Other State Fair Grandstand acts: American Idols Live, Aug. 8; Pitbull, Aug. 9; Florida Georgia Line, with Colt Ford, Aug. 10; Million Dollar Quartet, (7 p.m.) Aug. 11; Boston, with Sweet and April Wine, Aug. 12; Hunter Hayes, with Sam Hunt and Dan + Shay, Aug. 13; Emblem 3, MKTO, and Midnight Red, Aug. 14; Steely Dan, Aug. 15; and Jake Owen with Parmalee and The Cadillac III, Aug. 16.
Like the state fair, the Duquoin State Fair — Aug. 22-Sept. 1 — books big-name artists. This summer — most of the shows in Duquoin begin at 7:30 p.m. — are Foreigner, Aug. 23; Kenny Rogers, Aug. 24; two-time Grammy winner Travis Tritt, Aug. 25; Jon Henninger Band, a contemporary Christian group, Aug. 26; .38 Special, a country rock band, Aug. 28; country star Rodney Atkins, Aug. 29; and the funk KC and the Sunshine Band, Aug. 30.
Now let's look at some area county fairs:
— The 162nd Champaign County Fair July 18-26 at the fairgrounds in Urbana will offer three evening concerts: Blackjack Billy, with guests Ryan Ideus and the Feudin' Hillbillys, July 18; Blackberry Smoke, with guest Matt Poss Band, July 24; and Scotty McCreery, with guest Gracia Harrison, July 25.
McCreery, a country music singer, won the 10th season of "American Idol" in 2011. His debut studio album, "Clear as Day," went platinum after its release in October 2011.
Tickets to the Blackjack show are $5; for Blackberry Smoke, $10 to $25; and for McCreery, $10 to $30. Go to http://bit.ly/1oDYPD4.
— The Piatt County Fair June 17-22 in Cerro Gordo (free admission) will showcase Midwest bands in its Beer Barn: Autumn Zero, 8:30 p.m. June 20; White Whiskey Coalition, 4 p.m. June 21; and Riverbottom Nightmare, 8:30 p.m. June 21.
— The Vermilion County Fair and Expo on June 24-28 at the fairgrounds west of Danville won't bring in any big-name acts this year but will have its traditional Annual Talent Show at 7 p.m. June 28. Earlier that evening, at 5, the Chicago Honey Bear Dancers will perform. At 6 that evening the Honey Bears will lead a workshop for children.
— The Moultrie-Douglas County Fair on July 6-12 in Arthur will feature country music singer Lorrie Morgan at 7 p.m. July 12. Other Moultrie-Douglas fair music acts include the central Illinois band Battle Creek at 7 p.m. July 11.
— The Georgetown Fair Aug. 2-9 in southern Vermilion County will present live music nearly every evening. Most of the concerts are free except for Manic Drive at 6 p.m. Aug. 3; admission is $10. Manic Drive is a Canadian Christian rock band currently signed to Inpop/Capitol Records.
Rodman Rail, an area Americana group that performs cover songs by artists such as Dan Fogelberg, John Denver, the Eagles and the Moody Blues, will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 in Georgetown. The local country-bluegrass-gospel group Mike Ellis and the Midnights Sons are there at 7 p.m. Aug. 5.
At 7 p.m. Aug. 6, there will be an open stage for musical acts with experience; the audience will vote on which act it thinks is best. The first-place winner gets $500 and the runner-up gets $250.
The first 15 acts who sign up get into Open Stage; the deadline for applying is July 15 via email@example.com. Signup forms also are available at some music shops in Champaign, Urbana and Danville. Admission is $3 for adults and $1, children.
And in Georgetown, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 8, the Illiana-based Highway 341, a bluegrass-Americana band, will perform.