The Olmsted County Free Fair will be a lot louder this year.
Fair officials brought concert music back to this summer’s get-together and organizers weren’t looking for acoustic singer-songwriters to fill the bill.
Arena rock tribute act Hairball kicked off three nights of concerts on Wednesday night. Joe Diffie, who had 35 country hits in the 1990s, will play on Friday night.
Things will get really loud on Saturday, when metal veterans Filter and Helmet rock the grandstand.
The rock bands have paired up this summer for a tour that will keep them on the road, along with opener Local H, through August.
In many ways, the tour with Filter, which was first discussed last year on a rock ‘n’ roll cruise, is a warm-up jaunt for the members of Helmet, who, after the current tour ends, will head to Europe to headline an international tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of the album “Betty.” When “Betty” was released in 1994, Helmet’s lineup looked a lot different. In fact, only lead singer and founder Page Hamilton still remains. He started the alternative metal band 25 years ago in New York City.
“I never anticipated that Helmet would last 25 years,” Hamilton said. “I know the original lineup said we would play for as long as we felt good about it and each other, and that was 10 years.”
It was the original lineup — Hamilton, drummer John Stanier, guitar players Peter Mengede and Rob Echeverria and bass player Henry Bogdan — who found major commercial success with albums like double platinum “Meantime” and “Betty.” The albums produced the band’s biggest commercial hits, including “Unsung,” “In the Meantime,” “Milquetoast,” and “Wilma’s Rainbow.”
By 1999, Helmet had split up, but Hamilton pieced a group back together. Fifteen years later, the band continues to put out new music and tour with bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Fans of all ages have been packing venues for Helmet’s current tour with Filter, Hamilton says.
“We’re seeing all ages,” he said. “I expected to see people in their 30s and 40s, because they were our fans in the 1990s when both bands got started and got going. But there were a lot of young fans. We just played a show in Arizona, and the crowd was amazing.”
While Helmet normally takes the stage before more well-known acts, like Filter, Hamilton said playing early helps him concentrate more on the music.
“We try to fire up the audience just naturally,” he said. “When we’re in the opening slot, people don’t always know or dig what you do. At that point, it’s all about the music. I judge a show by how well I play.”
While the band is preparing for its “Betty” 20th anniversary tour, Hamilton said Helmet will still play music off “Meantime,” “Monochrome,” “Aftertaste,” “Seeing Eye Dog,” and other Helmet discs on the current tour.
Filter keeps packing in fans more than 20 years after the metal band was formed under lead singer Richard Patrick and guitarist/programmer Brian Liesegang in Cleveland, Ohio. The band has released six albums, including last year’s “The Sun Comes Out Tonight.”
Filter’s first album, “Short Bus,” was released in 1995, and included the group’s first big hit, “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” In 1999, after four years of only recording songs for soundtracks, Filter released “Title of Record.” The disc contained, “Take A Picture,” the group’s biggest commercial hit.
But, like Helmet, only the lead singer, Patrick, remains from Filter’s original lineup. Guitar players Jonathan Radtke, Tim Kelleher; drummer Greg Garman and keyboardist Bobby Miller have all joined the band since 2011.
Famous shout out
Joe Diffie was a big country music star in the early to mid 1990s, releasing No. 1 singles “Home,” “If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock from The Sun,” “Pick-up Man,” and “Bigger Than The Beatles,” as well as top-10 hit “John Deere Green.”
Diffie was also very influential to 24-year-old rising country star Thomas Rhett, whose own tour takes him through Minnesota and Wisconsin this week and next. (The closest he comes to our area is Albert Lea on July 31.)
Before Rhett got a record deal and released No. 1 hits “It Goes Like This,’ and “Get Me Some of That,” he was a songwriter for other country music stars. One of his songs, a tribute to Diffee titled “1994,” was recorded by Jason Aldean and became a top-20 hit last summer. That song helped put Diffie back into the present-day country music mix.
“It’s really an honor,” Diffie said of the tribute song in an interview with Country Music Television. “It’s kind of flattering, yet uncomfortable at the same time. Talk about unexpected, you know? Someone told me that Thomas Rhett had co-written a song that mentioned me. And I thought, ‘I wonder what he said about me in there?’ Because we’ve all heard songs in the past that mention Haggard or Jones, so I thought it might be something like that.”
If you go
Grandstand events at the Olmsted County Free Fair
Joe Diffee with David Kroll and Altered Vision
Helmet and Filter with Local H
Order tickets at www.tempotickets.com