The annual Union Fair is under way at the fairgrounds off Route 17. Featured performer this year is Craig Campbell, a young practitioner of traditional country music whose star is definitely on the rise. He will perform Friday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. on the grandstand.

Being on the rise, Campbell is spending a lot of time on the road. After paying his dues doing van and truck traveling, he is in a tour bus these days and, occasionally, flying.

“It’s a new thing for me. We’ve rented the bus from April to the end of October,” he said a week before his Maine appearance during a brief stop home.

Home is Nashville from a professional standpoint, but Campbell and his young family actually live in the small town of Eagleville, Tenn. Campbell grew up in a town of some 4,000 in Georgia, so he is more comfortable in that setting.

“To do what I do, I need the things I’m familiar with, a one-stop town,” he said.

What Campbell does is write and perform a very traditional form of country music. The singer, writer and pianist grew up listening to a lot of gospel and that heartfelt approach informs his music, especially the ballads. The first single off his April-released, self-titled debut album is his own “Family Man,” a classic ballad about a hard-working man and the home life he puts in those hours for. It was a Top 15 hit and could be heard last month during an episode of HBO’s “True Blood.”

“I want my songs to tell a story and that’s really my story, family is a big motivation for me now,” he said.

Campbell got his first notice at age 15 when he took first place in his local Jimmy Dean/True Value Country Showdown. For a number of years, he toured with his own cover band. When Campbell moved to Nashville in 2002, “I wanted to sing, be a singer, become a star,” he said.

He does have a fine, smooth baritone but he also plays piano and it was as a keyboard player he found work, landing a regular band gig at the legendary honky-tonk The Stage on Nashville’s Broadway. He also played in Luke Bryan’s band and worked the studios as a demo singer. One day, during dinner, Campbell asked Bryan if he had any advice for him as far as launching his own career.

“He said yeah man, you should try writing your own songs. I started doing that and it really opened some doors,” Campbell said.

Another thing that opened more than one door was when fellow musician Mindy Ellis hired Campbell to play keyboards in her band. One of her friends recommended him to Tracy Byrd, which led to 15 months of touring with Byrd’s band, playing bigger venues than Campbell had ever done before. The Ellis band connection, however, led to an even longer lasting partnership: he and Ellis married in 2005 and now have two daughters.

“She performs occasionally on songwriter nights, is still part of the music scene,” Campbell said.

In fact, earlier this day, he and his wife and songwriting partner Arlos Smith had worked on some new material. Campbell said he has yet to do any writing while on the road.

“I haven’t figured out a routine yet. Every day is different,” he said.

“Fish,” currently on the rise on the country music charts, was written by Campbell with Smith and Ashe Underwood. Filled with light-hearted double entendre, the song celebrates the joy of sneaking away with his girl and, well, fishing. The video, which currently is being shown on both the GAC and CMT, features Campbell and someone already a star of the cable network galaxy — Mariko Izumi, host of World Fishing Network’s “Hooking Up With Mariko Izumi.”

“That was my father-in-law’s idea. He’s a huge fisherman, watches all the shows. He said, ‘Maybe you can get this girl, she’s cute and bubbly!’ I brought the idea to Bigger Picture Group [a new artist development company] and they made it happen,” Campbell said.

The video was shot at an isolated pond just west of Nashville. It and the video for “Family Man,” which features his own daughters, can be seen online as well as on cable TV.

“Country western is I think the only genre that video actually helps your radio [play],” Campbell said.

Writing songs and making videos are still relatively new to Campbell, who grew up playing piano in church and spent his later teens and early 20s singing Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, but he thinks it is all part of the package.

“It all comes from the creative side. God blesses you with a talent and you’ve got to make the best of it,” he said.

Also relatively new is playing to large crowds; earlier this summer, Campbell was part of Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour, and he has been opening for Alan Jackson as well as doing his solo band gigs. Before heading to Maine, he and his band will play a couple of shows at the Illinois State Fair. In whatever venue they play, he said that he and his fellow musicians, some of whom have been playing with Campbell for years, always have a good time. He wants to be clear about one thing, however.

“We do a traditional country show. I don’t want people to think they’re going to see rock ‘n’ roll or acrobats,” he said.

Actually, Union Fair can meet any desire for rock ‘n’ roll and acrobats:  Maine faves Rustic Overtones will play Thursday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m.; and aerial team The Flying Pages will perform twice daily Wednesday through Friday, Aug. 24 through 26, and will perform three times Saturday, Aug. 27 — their 6 p.m. performance closes the fair.

All entertainment is included in fair admission of $8, $4 for children 12 to 14 and free for those younger. For a complete schedule of events, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to