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Champlain Valley Fair goes big with "Last of the Breed"

ESSEX JUNCTION When country music artists open their hearts to an audience, says Willie Nelson. Theyre sharing their deepest feelings. Music is a motivator. It will make you leap up and move. It will make you dance. It will make you do jumping jacks. Country music gets people to feeling good.

Opening their hearts to a hugely receptive Champlain Valley Fair audience on Sept. 2, country legends Ray Price, 81, Merle Haggard, 70, and Willie Nelson, 74, got people to feeling mighty good. The Last of the Breed perfectly culminated the Fairs advice to Go Big!

Ray Price was first up with his set. Joined by his fabled Cherokee Cowboys band, he demonstrated his trademark 4/4 shuffle (the Ray Price Beat) with classics like San Antonio Rose, Crazy Arms (20 weeks at #1 in 1956), I Wont Mention It Again, Heartaches by the Number, Please Release Me, Spanish Eyes, and City Lights. Looking dapper in a sport jacket, Price said it was his first time in Vermont. His intense honky-tonk sound got the crowd moving and dancing. He finished-up his set with Hank Williamss sorrowful Mansion on the Hill.

By the time Merle Haggard arrived on stage, the audience was ready to do jumping jacks. Sharing music shaped by prison time (including 3 years in San Quentin), bouts with alcoholism (Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down), and just plain hard experience, the Hag elated fans with tunes like Working Man, Silver Wings, and Rainbow Stew. While he was singing Okie From Muskogee (We dont smoke marijuana in Muskogee), Willie Nelson joined him.

Nelson brought good feeling to a crescendo. In addition to performing hits like Crazy (a song he wrote but which will always be associated with the late Patsy Cline ), Funny How Time Slips Away, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Whiskey River, he had the audience laughing with You Dont Think Im Funny Anymore and the self-effacing Superman. The crowd roared when he sang his favorite songMoonlight in Vermont.

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