7:47 a.m.: When I started working at Minnesota Public Radio last fall, I immediately started thinking about the State Fair, where MPR’s booth has always been a must-stop for me. As MPR’s stations conduct live broadcasts from the Fair, I thought, why don’t we do a live blogcast on our Local Current blog? So here I am, fueled with 20 ounces of Farmers Union coffee and ready to blogcast my day at the Fair.
Here’s the first thing I learned today as I rode my bike from Uptown: there’s a reason they call it Falcon Heights. It’s a total climb of almost 60 feet (you drop 138 feet, then climb back up 197 feet) as you bike along the Midtown Greenway and cut over to the efficient but harrowing University of Minnesota Transitway, shared between bikes and 40 m.p.h. buses. It was all worth it, though, to crest that rise in the Transitway and to suddenly see the Fair laid out in front of me like the Emerald City (if the Emerald City had livestock barns and a Space Needle).
My bike safely corralled and tagged, I walked through the gates at 7:28 a.m.—surely a personal lifetime record for earliest Fair arrival. Fair staff were trimming the decorative plants, which impressed me: if I ran the grounds crew here, I’d be pretty tempted to say, you know what? Those dead leaves can just hang out for a few days.
I also learned that early morning is not the best-smelling time at the Fair. The corn hasn’t started roasting yet, and the various odors of livestock mix with the leftover whiffs of yesterday’s feasts. Prior to 8 a.m. most booths are still restocking and getting their ducks in a row (sometimes literally) for the day, but the Farmers Union was ready to sell me a cuppa joe. When the guy behind me stepped up to the counter, he said, “I’ll have the usual. I forget what that is.”
“A cold press,” offered the kid behind the counter, “with caramel and…I forget what I put in there.”
“Caramel and a lot of caffeine,” said the man who was ready for his morning jolt.
I’ve now made my way to the MPR booth, which is just starting to shrug off its overnight cloaks; the smiling but stoic security guard who kept an eye on our Pretty Good Goods has just stepped aside as our staff get the booth ready for a full day. The Current’s Morning Show is on the speakers, and across the street, Peterson’s Pork Chops on a Stick have just started up the charbroiler.
10:28 a.m.: When they started spinning the Fresh French Fries prize wheel (I could tell by the cheers), the sun started glinting off my laptop screen, and my back got a little stiff from sitting on a bench, I knew it was time to get up and stretch my legs. Stowing my computer in the MPR booth, I strolled over to buy some deep-fried olives on a stick; after I ordered, the woman at the counter turned around and yelled something unintelligible into the kitchen. I asked what she’d yelled, and she said, “Awesome olives!”
I took my olives to Carousel Park, where the Pearl Brothers were playing Shocking Blue’s “Venus” to an audience dense with orange UCare hats. People were starting to stand up and dance as the brothers whipped into “Soul Man.”
Meanwhile, at the DNR Outdoor Stage, the BLT Band were setting up and patiently waiting for a ranger at the fish pond to complete her disquisition on Minnesota’s aquatic wonders. (“We really want to emphasize the importance of suckers—suckers form the base of the food chain.”)
When 10:00 a.m. rolled around, the BLT Band wasted no time sharing the Gospel according to Billy Currington: “Beer is good, God is great, people are crazy.” The group, whose business cards identify them as “a five piece variety band for all your special occasions,” courteously thanked a man whose belt buckle identified him as Al for warming up the dance floor before they tucked into covers of Bonnie Raitt and the Beatles.
Back at the MPR booth, the stage is being set up for an MPR News live broadcast at noon: Kerri Miller and Andrew Zimmern are going to have a conversation about everyone’s favorite State Fair topic, food.
11:44 a.m.: Before the MPR News broadcast begins, I popped over to the Dairy Building, where I encountered huge crowds waiting…for what? Not to buy ice cream cones (though you could, and I did); not to pose for photos in the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota’s Egg Chair (though you could, and I did); not to buy flaxseed to fight constipation and hot flashes (though you could, and many were, but I did not).
No, they were waiting for an opportunity to have cow-ear headbands bestowed upon them by 19-year-old Jeni Haler, Princess Kay of the Milky Way herself. That’s basically the Minnesota equivalent of going to England and having Queen Elizabeth hand you a cup of tea. Meanwhile, inside the refrigerated butter booth, the legendary Linda Christensen is hard at work creating another butter head.
Sated with a frozen local dairy product, I’m now back at the MPR booth—keeping out of the way as a big crowd gathers to hear the noon broadcast.
1:46 p.m.: After listening to the MPR News panel talk for an hour about how important it is to eat locally and sustainably, I decided to step outside of my usual State Fair routine and have some french fries from the Fresh French Fries booth. I normally forgo fries at the Fair, since they seem like such a mundane food to be wasting your precious State Fair stomach space on—but having learned that the Fresh French Fries are not only all Minnesota-grown, they’re all from a single farm in Big Lake.
I had a “small” (16-ounce) serving, and finished every one, sitting across from a giant statue dedicated TO ALL MINNESOTA WOMEN. The pioneer figure towers above a display of hot tubs that it looks like she could have really used—and probably wouldn’t have been too picky about whether or not her model came equipped with the optional disco lights.
You know you’re blogging the Minnesota State Fair right, I decided, when you repeatedly have to wipe your phone camera free of the grease it’s accumulating from your fingers.
Making my way towards the fair’s front gate for a coffee re-up, I noticed that live music is so prevalent at the State Fair, it would be impossible to avoid even if you tried. I ducked into the Senior Center—another State Fair first—to hear a couple of songs by Jim Berner, an amiable guy singing mid-century hits to a packed house that was proving a tough crowd, not even applauding between numbers.
Walking past a group from the University of Minnesota demonstrating prospective medical devices (“Let’s remember this is the Decade of Discovery, not the Second of Discovery”), I stepped up to the Farmers Union to discover a charming performance by singer-songwriter Kashimana, playing a soul-folk original with admirable focus while sitting in front of a wall of farm implements.
On the way back to MPR’s booth, I paused for a little good-time ivory-tickling at the AFL-CIO booth and decided to knock off yet another State Fair bucket list item: visiting Bob Duerr’s two-dollar reptile zoo. All I have to say about that experience is that it’s exactly as promised: there are reptiles, and…well, it’s two dollars.
I’ve now tucked myself under the sound board awning at MPR’s booth (it’s starting to sprinkle) for some performances by members of the Minnesota Opera, hosted by Classical MPR—with Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson accompanying the singers on keyboard. “Think you can sing over that bass drum?” asked Julie Amacher as a marching band passed by. Yes. Yes, they can.
4:21 p.m.: The last couple hours of my live “blogcast” have been much like a live broadcast insofar as I’ve just been hanging out at the MPR booth, blogging away. It’s been a great couple of hours, though—starting with a live performance by members of the Minnesota Opera, then popping into the broadcast booth to say hi to Mary Lucia as she went live on air at 3:00, and now getting ready for a performance by P.O.S. (But first, we have Leonard Cohen singing about torture, killing, and rape in his new single—just to remind everyone that life isn’t all fun and games.)
Along the line today, I’ve answered a bunch of e-mails, published a post about a Replacements documentary, prepped tomorrow’s music news, and said hi to everyone from Bob Collins to Minnesota Opera staff to Hamil Griffin-Cassidy, my old friend from Freaky Deeky. Thanks for following this live-blog experiment, and keep your eyes on the @LocalCurrent Twitter for updates throughout the evening—I’ll be popping over to see Dr. Dog, and who knows what else I might encounter on my way.