The Minnesota State Fair started with a bang. And a crash of thunder. And a torrential downpour.

But Minnesotans have never let the weather get in the way of their fun. At 6 a.m. sharp, while lightning flashed across the sky and rain came down in sheets, people were lined up to get into the fair as soon as the gates opened.

“The loyalty of Minnesotans to their fair is like nothing else,” said fair spokeswoman Brianna Schulte, who was there to welcome the die-hards in the rain. “Come hell or high water, they’re going to the fair.”

By the time the rain stopped and the fairgrounds dried, the crowds were surging in earnest for Day One of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

“We’d be here rain or shine. We’d be here in a blizzard,” said Jaime Carlson of St. Paul, who came to the fairgrounds with half a dozen housemates and friends, ready to eat something on a stick.

They had plenty of options. The fair boasts 450 different kinds of foods, and more than 60 of them come on sticks. New offerings this year include chocolate dessert salami, blue cheese corn fritters and Jell-O salad ice cream.

Off to a cooler start

“This is the day to go to the fair,” said Doante Rogers of Minneapolis, balancing his toddler nephew and a corn dog in his arms. Thursday’s fair was overcast and muggy, but not as scorchingly hot as the past few years.

The first day of the fair is the day when everything’s fresh. The animals aren’t sick of being petted. The cheese curds are fresh from Wisconsin as they head into the fryer.

In the dairy barn, big blocks of butter rotate in their refrigerated case, waiting to be carved into the likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court. Crowds parted to watch newly crowned Jeni Haler, a 19-year-old from Norwood Young America, take her first parade ride around the fairgrounds as Princess Kay.

A proud U president

“She’s one of many fine #UMN students, dontcha know?” University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler tweeted proudly as Haler rolled by on her purple parade float.

In an average year, the fair sees 1.8 million visitors over its 12-day run. Schulte said Thursday’s crowds were getting the 2014 fair off to a brisk start, despite the rain and the gray clouds that loomed over the event for most of the day.

“It’s looking like a really nice opening day,” she said. “We are happy campers.”