It all starts today—and by “it,” I of course mean the perpetual traffic jam on Snelling Ave. over the next ten days. Once you get out of your car, though, you have to decide what to do, and that’s where a grizzled veteran like me can come in handy. (Note: I’m going to focus on the music here, so there will be no references herein to anything on a stick. For that, I defer to my colleague Stephanie March, whose knowledge of stick cuisine is unparalleled.)
The bad news for music fans is that this year’s Grandstand lineup is a bit of a disappointment—unless you’re a diehard Kelly Clarkson fan (she plays Sunday, Aug. 30) or have a sudden urge to bathe yourself in hits from the 1980s: the tri-fecta being an REO Speedwagon/STYX/38 Special nostalgia-fest on Saturday, Sept. 5. Otherwise, you can spend an evening with Jackson “Running on Empty” Browne (Mon., Aug. 31) or Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sat., Aug. 29), which may very well be the best show of the fair—a dubious statement if there ever was one. The other contender for best potential show is Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal, who kick off the fair tonight (Aug. 27)—though it would be a shame if the Grandstand peaked on the first night.
The good news is that because none of these are must-see superstar acts, tickets should be easy to come by—and walk-ins will be welcome. If your tastes don’t run toward mainstream rock, the obligatory country acts are Jason Aldean and the Eli Young Band (Fri., Aug. 28) and jut-jawed crooner Randy Travis w/ Joe Nichols (Tues., Sept. 1). Jam-band fans can groove to O.A.R. (Wed., Sept. 2), and Christian rockers can get their fill of God-rock with Casting Crowns and Barlowgirl (Thur., Sept. 3).
Personally, I find the Grandstand a bit too large a venue for concerts. Unless you enjoy watching a jumbotron all night long, the fair’s smaller stages are where some of the more interesting action usually is. This year, it’s a little hard to tell what’s going to pop—but that’s often the case. Your best bet is to keep your ears open, and, if you hear something interesting, walk toward it. Here's the full schedule, and these are some of the better acts to watch for:
Leinie Lodge Bandshell
Aug. 29-30: The Original Wailers
Sept. 4-5: Blood, Sweat, & Tears (yes, they’re still bleeding, sweating, and crying)
Sept. 2-3: The Gibson Brothers (think countrified Everlys)
Sept. 4-5: Tonic Sol-Fa, etc
Aug. 27-28: Rocket Club
Aug. 29-30: Davina & the Vagabonds
Aug. 29-30: The White Iron Band
Aug. 31-Sept. 1: Café Accordion Orchestra
Sept. 4-5: Atahualpa (great band from Ecuador, and actually international)
Sept. 6: E.L.nO
Aug. 27-28: Sawtooth, Monroe Crossing (bluegrass)
Aug. 27-28: Pert Near Sandstone
Aug. 31-Sept. 1: Charlie Parr
Aug. 31-Sept. 1: Billy McLaughlin
Sept. 2-3: Storyhill
Sept. 6-7: Front Porch Swingin’ Liquor Pigs (always a good time)
Festival of Nations Stage
Aug. 31, Sept. 3 & 7: Lebanese Belly Dancers (A comparison with other types of belly dancers around the world would be nice too. Just a thought.)
Sept. 4: Thai Vegetable Carving Demo (The sort of thing state fairs were made for.)
If you’re in the mood for something new, or young enough to appreciate it, there’s also the Music Mayhem Stage, which features two local battle-of-the-teenage-bands winners every night, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Finally, if rock ‘n’ roll is your thing, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you visit the exotic chickens. These aren’t your average barnyard seed-pickers—these are extraordinary animals that have been bred and coiffed to look like the spawn of David Bowie and Cher—if they mated and were, you know, chickens. Check this fellow out:
Have fun—and here's a parting traffic tip: Park south of Snelling, in St. Paul's Merriam Park neighborhood and bus it in—the 84 goes north on Snelling every 15 minutes and drops you off right at the gate.