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Craig Morgan Will Open Merced Fair

One of country music's hottest stars, Craig Morgan, is bringing his act to the 2008 Merced County Fair.

Morgan will kick off the six-day fair with a concert on Tuesday, July 15, Opening Day, in the Merced County Fair's Outdoor Theatre.

He's been keeping company with some of country music's biggest names on the charts -- Morgan is country music's stealth star. His current album, "Little Bit of Life," has been riding the top country album charts for over a year. One of the singles on the album, "International Harvester," also had a long ride on the country charts.

Each night a headline entertainment act will perform in the fairgrounds' Outdoor Theatre. The line-up is: Wednesday, July 16, Rooney, a five-man band from Southern California, known for their rock/pop sound, The Guess Who and their classic rock hits, Thursday, July 17, The Spinners' timeless R & B sound, Friday, July 18, country music's rising star, Terri Clark, will entertain fairgoers Saturday, July 19 and Yolanda del Rio, one of Mexican regional music's biggest stars, wraps up the fair on Sunday, July 20. All Outdoor Theatre concerts are at 9 p.m.

As always, all fair headline acts are free with the price of admission. The 2008 Fair theme is "Come Rock With The Flock," a salute to sheep, one of the county's top agricultural products. The fair is July 15-20.

Morgan has had back-to-back No. 1 singles, huge radio airplay, country music's biggest hit of 2005, solid album sales and was nominated as the Academy of Country Music's new male vocalist of the year in 2006 and 2007. Despite all those accomplishments, his recognition factor hadn't quite caught up to the scope of his popularity and his level of success. That all is changing with his latest CD, "Little Bit of Life."

The artist sees his career as a catapult that has been stretched all the way back through extensive touring, steady radio airplay and media exposure. He is now poised to heave that career forward with projectile force. He has two secret weapons in his arsenal: As a singer, Morgan has a clearly identifiable voice -- as a songwriter, he displays a distinct point of view.

"Little Bit of Life," is Morgan's fourth album. His previous albums launched hits including "I Got You," "Redneck Yacht Club," "Almost Home," and "That's What I Love About Sunday," which spent five weeks at No. 1 and ended 2005 as country radio's most played song of the year, surpassing hits by Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, George Strait, Sugarland and Faith Hill.

Morgan finished 2005 in the top 10 on Billboard magazine's top male country artist chart ahead of Alan Jackson and Josh Gracin and in the top 20 on the magazine's overall list of top country artists, besting Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Big & Rich and several other big names.

Billboard has called Morgan "a writer and interpreter of highly visual story songs," something he acknowledges in his specialty. He's known as the singer-songwriter who writes songs "about the little things in life," a reputation he's grateful for. "As an artist you strive to have an identity at all. I'm proud that that's the one I've been stamped with. I have a passion for making little things very visual and big, stuff that can be easily overlooked," Morgan said.

"Little Bit of Life," which features four of Morgan's own compositions, is more personal than any of his work to date. In songs like "I Am," which Morgan co-wrote, listeners get a glimpse of the real Morgan, a down-to-earth family man and Army veteran who grew up poor and still values hard work and pastimes like hunting and racing his off-road motorcycle.

"We grew up tough: dirt road, singlewide trailer," he said of his childhood, recalling that his mother would milk a neighbor's goat to make butter. Perhaps because of his upbringing, there's a genuine air of what he calls "positive gratefulness" that pervades Morgan's demeanor, even coming across loud and clear in his high energy live shows.

And he's not afraid of hard work. Morgan still sometimes helps his crew load gear on show days. "I don't want to be so good that I can't help lift boxes," he said. "I don't think we should ever get so far away from the people that are out there paying the good hard-earned money to come see us."

For the new CD, Morgan and his longtime co-producer Phil O'Donnell brought in producer Keith Stegall – best known for his work with Alan Jackson and Terri Clark. Morgan said Stegall brought his "experience and an ear for great songs," to the recording process.

For the first time with "Little Bit of Life," Morgan feels like he's closely captured the sound and energy of his live shows on a CD. Vocally, he said, "I really opened up," in the studio resulting in an album that's "a lot more me and a lot more relaxed. After doing this for a while you get a little more comfortable and confident.

"There's nothing more rewarding as an artist and more discouraging as a producer than to have people come out to shows and say ‘You're even better live than your record.' I just want people to hear on the record what they hear live," Morgan said. " We try not to manipulate in the studio too much. When you go to tweaking and changing and tightening and cleaning you take away from the personality that's in the vocal."

The father of four children aged 8 to 17 years, he routinely does more than 200 dates a year. He is a fan favorite on the legendary Grand Ole Opry, where he has been invited to perform more than 150 times in his career. In addition to his Opry appearances and regular touring schedule, Morgan frequently entertains at military bases in the U.S. and abroad, remembering how much those visits from entertainers meant to him during his 10 years of active duty. He's glad to have achieved enough notoriety in his career that his appearances can now boost the morale of his fellow armed service members.

Through all of his successes, one thing that hasn't changed about Morgan is that he IS his audience. A grounded, regular guy, the artist enjoys his downtime at his home near Nashville as much as he loves hitting the road and singing for thousands of fans at a time.

Morgan is not just having some fun with his fans. In an album chock full of songs reflecting the rural themes and everyman issues the artist has become known for, it's fitting that actual tractor sounds are featured on "International Harvester," an album track named for the iconic farm equipment brand.

For information, call the fair office at 722-1507 or email to Info@MercedCountyFair.com or fax at 722-3773. Visit the 2008 Merced County Fair's award-winning website, www.MercedCountyFair.com.

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