Minnesota State Fair returns after 1-year hiatus

Published 12:01 am Saturday, August 21, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota State Fair is back after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19 but it won’t be back to normal when the gates open on Thursday for the fair’s 12-day run through Labor Day.

Fair officials are strongly urging fairgoers to mask up inside and outside, though they’ve stopped short of imposing any mask or vaccination mandates to fight the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. It remains to be seen whether health concerns will put a dent in attendance, which typically exceeds 2 million. But the pandemic has made it challenging for vendors to hire enough help.

There will still be much that hasn’t changed, however. National acts will still be playing at the Grandstand. Farm animals will fill the barns. And the smells of deep fryers cooking up corn dogs and other food aromas will hang heavy over the fairgrounds.

Here’s a look at what to expect from this year’s Great Minnesota Get-Together.

COVID-19

Fair officials are urging visitors to wear masks indoors, whether vaccinated or not; outdoors in crowded settings, especially for the unvaccinated; and at some booths where vendors will require everyone inside to wear a mask. That’s in line with the current guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health. They opted against imposing a fairgrounds-wide mask mandate, saying it would be “extremely difficult” to enforce.

While the fair isn’t requiring that fairgoers get vaccinated, they’re urging visitors to do so ahead of time. Guests who can’t get vaccinated sooner can get a COVID-19 shot at the North End Event Center during the fair. Other Midwest state fairs have also been offering free shots as relaxed masking leaves officials concerned about aggravating the current surge.

State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer said he’s confident it’s going to be safe. He said they’ve been watching “very closely” what’s been happening at other major outdoor and indoor venues, such as sports, music festivals and malls, and they’re seeing very few problems. But he said fairgoers will see “all kinds of messaging” about coronavirus safety.

“The way to take care of this is with vaccines. That’s it. That’s the golden ticket. Get vaxed,” he said.

Food

In addition to more than 80 foods on a stick, new food offerings reflect Minnesota’s growing diversity, including sausages and bowls inspired by banh mi sandwiches, batter-fried vegan chorizo sausages on a stick, cucumber jalapeño limeade, Greek stuffed ravioli, hummus bowls, Kerala fried chicken kati rolls, Mexican street corn and sashimi tuna tacos.

Drink

The fair will offer hot and thirsty visitors 56 new beverages, including many that can be found only at the fair. Several update traditional beer and hard cider styles with berry and other fruit flavors, while others are new takes on hard lemonade, hard seltzer and slushies. There are a handful of new alcohol-free options, but it’s hard to beat a cold one (or two) from the All You Can Drink Milk booth, which opened in 1955 and serves up 26,000 gallons in a typical year.

Entertainment

The Grandstand will feature a full slate of performances now that bands are back on the road, including country stars Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Tim McGraw; classic rock and pop bands such as the Spinners, the Doobie Brothers and George Thorogood and the Destroyers; and newer acts such as Lake Street Dive, TLC, Shaggy and the Chainsmokers. And as always, there’s a long list of free concerts on other stages across the fairgrounds.

Agriculture

The traditional 4-H and FFA livestock shows and the horse exhibitions are all back. So is the seed art competition. And the Cattle Barn will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The brick landmark, which can hold 1,000 head of cattle, will display a timeline outlining its many milestones since its completion in 1921.

Guns

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus was seeking a temporary injunction to require the fair to allow anyone who has a permit to carry a pistol to bring their handguns into the fair. The group argued at a hearing Thursday that the fair’s ban on weapons violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, as well as state laws on the right to carry. The fair argued that it has the authority to protect the safety of visitors. The judge said that she would rule before the fair opens.