Minnesota State Fair grandstand history, by the numbers

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Teens getting turnt at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand in the early 1960s. STAR TRIBUNE

[This story was originally posted in 2016]

228: Miles from St. Paul to Bemidji. That’s where actor/singer Jane Russell was born before going on to become a Hollywood sex symbol in the ’40s and ’50s. Her surprise 1954 hit, the churchy girl-group number “Do Lord,” entered the Billboard top 30, and Russell would eventually co-headline the fair’s first major grandstand lineup in 1962 alongside Jimmie Dean and Dennis Day.

18: Number of times Alabama has performed. This year the country-rock vets will make it a cool 19 when they play Thursday; the freshly retired Garrison Keillor will perform for his 12th time Friday. Other double-digit fair stars include Willie Nelson (11) and the Oak Ridge Boys (10).

13: Comedians have headlined the grandstand stage, including Redd Foxx, Bob Newhart, Red Skelton, Steve Martin, Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Rodney Dangerfield, Jeff Foxworthy + Bill Engvall, Dana Carvey + Dennis Miller + Kevin Nealon. Bring back standup comedy! How cool would it be to see contemporary stars like Louis C.K., Chris Rock, or Aziz Ansari at the fair? Side note: Fuck Bill Cosby.

26,000: Number of attendees The Johnny Cash Show drew over two nights in 1969. That huge turnout would help usher in the modern grandstand era, featuring larger lineups and brighter star power. The Man in Black’s popular variety show returned to the fair four times from 1970 to 1980; he arrived solo in 1991 with pal Willie Nelson.

131: Years ago the original wooden grandstand was constructed in 1885. The current grandstand was built in 1909, with major improvements made in the late ’30s and again in 2002.

0: Times Prince has performed. Safe to say the 4-H crowd wasn’t really his style. The Purple One was honored, however, with last Friday’s “Unite in Purple” tribute day.

2: Times Bob Dylan has performed. Minnesota’s other favorite son performed in 1990 and 1993. The former stop was in support of his disappointing/guest-heavy 1990 album Under the Red Sky; the latter featured guitar god opener Santana.

17,000: Capacity of the grandstand, placing it just behind Twin Cities arenas Xcel Energy Center (18,568) and Target Center (19,356).

1974: Year of the first rock band — Styx. The fair largely ignored the explosion of rock ’n’ roll in the ’60s, instead opting for country stars and cornball pop acts, and that continued into the ’70s. In fact, in 1972 — a year that saw T. Rex, Deep Purple, and the Rolling Stones find chart success — the fair dished out a cheese-a-thon that included Sonny and Cher, John Denver, Bobby Goldsboro, Neil Diamond, and Up with People. Styx, no strangers to cheese themselves, would rock the grandstand six more times through the years.

5,500: Number of LED lights comprising the grandstand marquee. You’ve always wondered, now you know!

1: Internet Cat Video Festival. The wacky sensation lured 10,000 cat lovers and even a reporter from the New York Times to the Walker Art Center’s lawn in 2012. The free fest went big-time as a ticketed grandstand event the following year, but that format would not endure. The Walker cut ties after 2014; the St. Paul Saints adopted the fest and staged it at CHS Field earlier this month.

$6: Cost to see the Beach Boys in 1988. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers surfed into the fair nine times from 1982 to 1994. This year, ticket prices ranged from $21 for the classic rock nostalgia fest Happy Together to $67 for the Dixie Chicks.

5: Years between the first hip-hop act — the Fat Boys opening for Nu Shooz in 1986 — and the second — Vanilla Ice in 1991. It would take another 11 years for the fair to realize this newfangled rap thing is gonna stick. It’s been playing catch up in recent years, with Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Big K.R.I.T. (2012), and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Talib Kweli, Chance the Rapper, P.O.S, and the Chalice (2013). Pop-rapper G-Eazy hit the grandstand Tuesday.

22,117: Tickets sold to see Christina Aguilera in 2000, the all-time record. Wrote the Star Tribune at the time: “Christina Aguilera was what little girls wanted, and what the Minnesota State Fair needed. The teen pop princess set a record gross of $329,540 Monday as she became the first star to sell out the grandstand since Garth Brooks in 1992.”

43: Years between Merle Haggard’s first appearance in 1972 and his second appearance in 2015. It proved to be the last opportunity for Minnesotans to see the outlaw country legend, as the Hag died this past April at 79.


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