It’s hard to believe the Minnesota State Fair opens today (Thursday, Aug. 22). But it does. Right now, as you read this, someone is eating a Pronto Pop or tucking into a bag of Mini Donuts or scarfing a Sweet Martha’s chocolate-chip cookie, still warm and melty from the oven.
But we’re not here to talk about the food at the Fair. We’re here to talk about the arts at the Fair, which are abundant, varied and (except for the Grandstand shows) free with admission. Along with the pigs and cows, tractors and RVs, Giant Slide and Great Big Wheel, Mighty Midway and Pet Pavilions, et cetera and ad infinitum, the Fair delivers on the arts. All kinds.
Fine Arts Center. Home of the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition, the state’s largest juried art show. Hundreds of paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, sculptures, and more were selected from thousands of entries. Here is where you can also see a large (28″ x 60″) limited-edition print of this year’s commemorative art, fine art photographer R.J. Kern’s “Minnesota State Fair Supreme Champion Pairings from 2018.” (In the 16 years of State Fair commemorative artists, Kern is the first photographer.) Each day, a different artist will turn part of the gallery into a studio, with artist talks at 1 and 5 p.m.
Creative Activities Building. A juried show of handcrafts, needlework, and more from talented Minnesota makers. New this year: work by artists with Foci Center for Glass Arts, and presentations by award-winning chefs in the Cambria Kitchen. Many guilds and societies are on the schedule, including knitters, lace makers, weavers, quilters, wire artists, porcelain artists, stained glass artists, polymer clay artists, beaders, needlepointers, needle felters and wood carvers.
Grandstand. This year’s line-up features big names from A to Z — from country star Trace Adkins to bearded Rock Hall of Famers ZZ Top. A few more that caught our eye: Mavis Staples (part of the Current’s Music On-A-Stick show with Brandi Carlile), Weird Al Yankovic (he’s on his Strings Attached tour, with background singers and a full symphony orchestra) and Logic, the rapper whose hit single “1-800-273-8255” references the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. Tickets are required for all shows except the Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Contest Finals.
Free live music and shows. If you’re feeling cranky about forking over $15 at the gate, read this list: Dessa, Belinda Carlisle (formerly of the Go-Go’s), Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone, Lonestar, Tony! Toni! Toné!, One Night of Queen Performed by Gary Mullen & The Works, aka the “World’s Premiere Queen Tribute Band.” All will perform free for two nights at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell. Several more stages across the Fairgrounds will feature live performances. The Schell’s Stage at Schilling Amphitheater in the recently reimagined West End has a strong line-up for its Sunset Concert Series; go there to hear Nooky Jones, Aby Wolf and Pert Near Sandstone. Check out the Festival of Nations Demo Stage for dance and the International Bazaar Stage for dance and music (Kat Perkins, ILLism, Malamanya). And we hear the Ramberg Stage is the place to go to escape the State Fair craziness. All told, the Fair will offer 900 shows by more than 100 acts.
Arts A’Fair. When you’re shuffling along eating something on a stick and art suddenly appears, you’ve discovered Arts A’Fair, the Fair’s annual pop-up performing arts series. This year’s artists and groups include COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company, Black Storytellers Alliance, James Sewell Ballet, Twin Cities Trapeze Center, Mixed Precipitation, Open Eye Figure Theatre and Zorongo Flamenco. At the West End Market and the new North End.
Agriculture Horticulture Building. Here’s where you’ll find the winners of the popular and beloved crop art/seed art competition – art created using Minnesota-grown seeds. Pretty much anything is fair game to be portrayed: celebrities, politicians, famous works of art, landscapes, abstracts, sayings, and whatever else artists feel like depicting in tiny seeds, one after another after another. Also at this location: the Minnesota State Florist Association’s rotunda exhibit, “Floralpalooza: Minnesota Grown,” a rotation of flower shows.
Dairy Building. For the biggest, baddest, creamiest malts … no, wait, this isn’t about food. For the famous and strange Princess Kay butter sculptures, head for the Dairy Building. A State Fair tradition since 1954, this is a live event – you can actually watch a sculptor and a princess, together in a rotating 40-degree display cooler, and ask them questions. Each sculpture starts as a 90-pound block of butter. By the end of the Fair, there will be nine: Princess Kay and her court. We’ve always wondered what happens to the butter sculptures after the Fair. Do the princesses take them home and store them in big freezers? Should we try to find out?
4-H Building. As part of the Minnesota 4-H State Arts-In program, talented 4-H youth from across the state have prepared musicals to perform several times daily during the Fair. Each year, State Arts-In kids put on at least 35 shows for more than 12,000 audience members – learning and playing the music, singing, dancing, acting, making the costumes, building the sets. That’s huge. 4-Hers will also give fashion shows, modeling clothing they designed and made.
Amateur Talent Contest. Selected from more than 400 acts who auditioned this summer, 120 semifinalists will compete for more than $20,000 in cash awards and Jack’s Pizza prize packs. At 6 p.m. each night on the Leinie Lodge Bandshell Stage.
Giant Sing Along. We’re stretching our subject just a bit, but this makes you a performer at the Fair, so why not? Step up to a mic and join in on singing along to this year’s voted-on hits, karaoke-style. Software helps everyone sing in unison. We think that’s the polite way of saying You Will Be Autotuned. A 90-minute show tunes playlist cycles through twice daily at noon and 6:30 p.m. Otherwise, just stop by, stick around and maybe you’ll get to join in on Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the top song of the summer.
History Walking Tour. This is more on the side of culture than arts, but what a great way to get started and grounded. Created in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society, this two-mile, self-guided stroll takes you to some of the Fair’s most historically significant spots. Pick up a tour brochure at any tour stop on the fairgrounds or the Minnesota Historical Society booth in the Education Building.
OK, one food thing, because it’s so special, and it brings in history, culture, tradition, and performing arts.
The Sioux Chef Presents the Indigenous Food Lab at Dan Patch Park. A day-long program on Sunday, Sept. 1, includes a cooking demonstration and discussion by James Beard Award winner Chef Sean Sherman, as well as traditional drumming, singing and dancing. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
The 2019 Minnesota State Fair runs Aug. 22 through Labor Day, Sept. 2. Hours are 6 a.m. to midnight most days, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Labor Day. Buildings and attractions open later and close earlier. Here’s the schedule.