It was 8:40 p.m. on Thursday, and playing simultaneously on stages across the Minnesota State Fairgrounds were: Barenaked Ladies (the Grandstand); Nooky Jones (Schell’s stage); Belinda Carlisle (Leinie Lodge Bandshell); the Big THROWDOWN, a cover band doing Rolling Stones songs in a gyros joint; and several others lighting up the night up and down Dan Patch Avenue.
It all made for one extremely joyful noise at the end of the first day of music at the Fair, which started at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and won’t stop until Labor Day.
MinnPost took in the first day sounds, in words and photos:
“My name is Sarah Morris, and I love the Minnesota State Fair,” Morris told the overflow crowds for her and her band’s Thursday sets on the Schell’s stage. She later elaborated: “I got to the Fair today at 8:45 a.m. I played the Fair in 2014 and 2016, and I played it with the Home Fires in 2017 and 2018. I’m playing this year, today, and Friday at the Wolf 102 stage, and then with the Home Fires on Sunday. You see people you don’t expect to see, it smells good, and the Fair people treat us all so well. I grew up six blocks from the Fair, so this is a very big deal to me.”
Minnesota music ephemera can be found everywhere at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, including Lizzo seed art.
Ninety-two-year old Minnesota piano legend Cornbread Harris played Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” at the AFL-CIO stage Thursday morning.
Mark Mallman and Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillmann fight over the last Sweet Martha’s cookie in the cone. “I just love the Fair in general” said Tillman. “I love all the insane foods; I love the deep fried ravioli and the corn, and there’s so many free stages scattered across the Fair with all great music.”
Said Mallman: “My favorite food are these Sweet Martha cookies, and for lunch I had something called a peanut butter and jelly sausage, which was actually really good. We just went in a haunted house, a rock and roll-theme funhouse, and another funhouse that will remain nameless. I’m playing here three times this year, and I love the sound systems here, the fans, and the diversity of the crowd. Everybody’s happy here, and it’s great to play for happy people.”
Rock and roll funhouse on the Midway.
Nate Dungan, the Fair’s live music booker, talent buyer and leader of local honky-tonk heroes Trailer Trash. “Right now it’s like, top of the rollercoaster,” he said. “It’s everything we’ve done all year long in preparation for this moment, and staying on top of what comes up. We’ve got all our stages up and running, and there’s nothing like a free stage at a fair because some people don’t get to hear live music. Their idea of entertainment is American Idol, The Voice, going to the mall. This is a chance to see some amazing music in a really fun setting. I think music sounds best outdoors.
“Highlights? Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, transcendent. Belinda Carlisle, on the bandshell stage, just consummate. The Polka Family Band. Tommy Emmanuel, one of the greatest guitar players in the history of the world, and he played here two years. This year, there’s a group you’ve got to see: The War and Treaty, Monday and Tuesday. It’s gospel rock, South Carolina. That’s the one off the top of my head, but that’s just a start. Actually, in this day and age, when people are so overly-entertained, it’s nice to be able to reach people at the Fair with the power of live music.”
This year’s Grandstand line-up includes concerts by Hall & Oates, Brandi Carlile, Lionel Richie, ZZ Top with Cheap Trick, and Thursday’s kick-off: Barenaked Ladies and Hootie and The Blowfish.
Like the sign says, part of what makes the Great Minnesota Get-Together great is the abundance of live music stages, many of which are free.
Zydeco vets Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band got fairgoers swinging at the Leinie Lodge.
Joyann Parker and band at the Schell’s stage on the West End Market.
Indie-swank rockers The Intoxicats revved up the Schell’s stage.
Lee Marcucci, retired sound engineer and Conrad Sverkerson, First Avenue manager. “You gotta love the free music,” said Sverkerson. “I remember seeing Los Lobos and so many… It’s great to be outside checking out the music. It’s not in a black box, as our [Live Nation] friends would say.”
“I worked the [Bob] Dylan show at the Grandstand in ’92 or ’93, and he wanted no lighting on so it was basically like looking at a shadow the whole show,” said Marcucci. “I remember working this small stage with this act called Two Jacks and John. They were like a comedy-music act and they were hammered every time they were on. They were very entertaining.”
Tributes to Prince can be spotted throughout the Fair, including a Prince tree, seed art, and crafts in the Agriculture building.
University of Minnesota teacher Tim Gustafson played folk and rock songs at the Golden Gopher stage Thursday afternoon.
Gary West played country standards at the Frontier Saloon.
Nooky Jones lit up the night as the Ferris wheel’s lights came on at twilight.
The Big THROWDOWN got dancers outside the Space Tower rocking to their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”
Fairchild waves in another few thousand fairgoers through the gates as Belinda Carlisle takes the Leinie Lodge stage Thursday night at the Minnesota State Fair.