Aside from all the other superlatives, the State Fair is Minnesota’s largest annual music festival — and most of the live performances are free with Fair admission. For the biggest icons (say, Meghan Kreidler and Kevin Costner), Grandstand performances understandably come with an extra ticket charge.
If you’re going to the fair this year, be sure to bear COVID safety in mind and protect yourself with vaccine and face mask as appropriate.
Here are ten top music sets to check out once you’re in the gate!
Davina and the Vagabonds
When you’re sweating it out at the State Fair, you want some sweet sounds with a wry smile, delivered by an artist who knows how to celebrate life and love without getting glib. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty good wherever you are. A beloved Minnesota vocal jazz-pop artist with a big international following, Davina’s right at home at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. (Jay Gabler)
The Current’s Music-on-a-Stick
An evening of entertainment from The Current and the fair. Start with the eclectic locals Kiss the Tiger who bring everything from Americana to punk, and wrap things up with the poppy soul of Lake Street Dive. (Jade) Note: Low Cut Connie, originally scheduled to perform at this event, are no longer part of the lineup.
Maria Isa and LatinXpolis
Maria Isa, a proud “SotaRican,” has been one of our state’s most dynamic musical forces for over a decade now — and as she recounted in a recent LineCheck discussion — she’s also been at the forefront of activism for social justice. She’s a riveting artist whether she’s playing solo, taking a pop turn, or, as in this case, joining the party people of LatinXpolis. Get ready to stand up and earn those international snacks by moving your body to the rhythm of the late afternoon/early evening. (Jay Gabler)
Nur-D has been on the list of every live music fan I know. The energetic and big-hearted rapper has one of the best live shows in the Twin Cities. A live band full of horns and deep grooves lays the perfect backdrop to Nur-D’s charismatic flow. Be prepared for even the most prim Minnesotan to start to move at this show. (Jade)
MPR is returning to Dan Patch Park for our annual celebration of music and community. The Current is presenting soul/roots artist Annie Mack at 2:15 p.m., preceded by singer-songwriter David Huckfelt at 1:15. Radio Heartland welcomes trio Turn Turn Turn at 10:00 a.m., while our YourClassical MPR colleagues host Cantus at 11 a.m. and the Twin Cities Beer Choir at 3:30 p.m. A little audience participation will be in order for the latter two performances, B.Y.O.B. (Jay Gabler)
First Avenue Goes To The Fair
It might not be as iconic a location as the actual First Ave, but the venue will be bringing a solid lineup of local veterans to the fair at Schell’s Stage. On Sept. 3 the long running hip-hop group Heiruspecs (featuring The Current’s Sean McPherson) joins soulful Lady Midnight; twangy Lanue; and blues rockers Eleganza; plus, Low’s frontman Al Sparhawk will join up with bandleader Al Church to showcase their new project, a funk group called Derecho. On Sept. 4, comedian Lizz Winstead (a State Fair superfan) returns to her home state of Minnesota to host a showcase featuring Monica LaPlante, Longshot, EVV, Diane (a.k.a. Diane Miller, new host of The Local Show), and Colin Campbell of the Shackletons. (Jade)
The word “legend” gets thrown around a lot, but Cornbread Harris has been earning it for decades — starting with Minnesota’s first-ever rock and roll record. “Hi Yo Silver” (1955) had Harris collaborating with Augie Garcia, but he’ll have the spotlight all to himself for three short sets at the Schell’s Stage. Expect stories, soul, and a wash of warm vibes when this nonagenarian takes his seat at the piano. (Jay Gabler)
Not all music needs to be consumed after the sun goes down. If you’re at the fair early and still want to witness some quality music you can head to Leinie Lodge Bandshell to hear the tropical sounds of Malamanya. The local group always seem like they are having a great time playing together and blending some Afro-Caribbean dance beats. (Jade)
When the pandemic hit, Mae Simpson was one of the Minnesota music scene’s rising stars. She’s now bringing her gale-force live act back to local stages, including the festive environs of the State Fair’s West End. Finish your slushie beer, your savory waffle, and/or your blue cheese corn fritters before Simpson’s set starts, as you may find yourself on your feet — ready or not. (Jay Gabler)
Yam Haus and their addictive pop songs would feel right at home on a stadium stage. For now you can enjoy them at the Leinie Lodge. The band make music that seems familiar right off the bat and will have you putting down your corn dog and trying to sing along. (Jade)