As Neal McCoy rushed onto the Fan Fair stage for the first performance of the 29th annual event, Gary, 37, a house painter from Lee, Mass., grinned and laughed, "This is what it's all about!"
The lyrics to McCoy's opening song, "Wink," seemed
appropriate to the day. Even at 10 a.m., many in the grandstand were sweltering as he sang, "My brain starts smokin' and I
can't even think."
McCoy was one of several artists looking to re-enter the country music spotlight during the 2½-hour
showcase of acts who record for the Giant and Atlantic Records labels. Because both imprints are distributed by the WEA company,
they shared the morning performance slot.
Along with Confederate Railroad and John Michael Montgomery, McCoy soon will
release some new recordings. For many years an Atlantic artist, he now works for Giant. Wearing a ball cap turned backwards,
he challenged the crowd, stylistically, treating them to a medley of "The Banana Boat Song" and a Beverly Hillbillies
rap that, despite its break from country tradition, had many in the audience smiling.
McCoy also had a barb for artists
who are no-shows at Fan Fair. "Some people are getting where they think they're just too dang big to come to this thing,"
he said. "We figure, y'all are out there 51 weeks a year. We can be here one week."
Giant's show also featured Keith
Harling, mandolin ace Johnny Staats and newcomer Georgia Middleman.
The Wilkinsons performed last and were clearly
a favorite with the younger set. Giant officials presented the group with a gold record. "Y'all are going to make me cry and
I've gotta sing 'Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend,'" Amanda said before the trio's final song.
Atlantic featured the return
of Confederate Railroad, led by Danny Shirley, shorn of his trademark black, curly locks. The group soon will release a greatest
hits album. They included a new number, "Toss a Little Bone to the Workin' Man," in with a mix of favorites including "I Like
My Women a Little on the Trashy Side."
Newcomer Craig Morgan gave an energetic, four-song performance, South Sixty-Five
blended their voices in big-band-style harmonies, but the star of the show was black-hatted John Michael Montgomery who previewed
his forthcoming album, A Brand New Me, with several selections including the title track.