The Minnesota State Fair is poised to win a big blue ribbon of its own this year.
The fair was on track Monday to surpass the 158-year-old event’s all-time attendance record — set just a year ago. Before Labor Day’s large, merry crowd, which isn’t counted until Tuesday, this year’s total attendance was 1,826,021 — just 117,698 fair-lovers away from reaching a new high mark.
The record is 2016’s 1,943,719 people. That’s about a third of the state’s population, although the figure includes some people who prefer multiple doses of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Dan O’Gara, owner of O’Gara’s at the Fair, believes the temperate weather may have played a role.
“That 70 to 75 [degrees] is just the sweet spot for eating food and being outside and not having to worry about sweating through your shirt,” O’Gara said. O’Gara’s is on track to have its best year ever, he said, after 16 years at the fair.
Fair spokeswoman Danielle Dullinger was optimistic on Monday evening about seeing a record when the figure comes out Tuesday afternoon.
“We like to think it’s because we put a lot of work into making the fair something new and special every year,” she said.
New attractions this year included a boutique shopping and dining area on the second floor of the Grandstand as well as the Great Big Wheel — known as the largest mobile Ferris wheel in the country.
“People loved that wheel,” Dullinger said. “We heard nothing but great reviews about that.”
Dullinger said the fair also has seen record attendance at Grandstand events, including sold-out shows for John Mellencamp, Pentatonix and Sam Hunt.
Other acts included Usher, Stevie Nicks, Jim Gaffigan, Nickelback, Toby Keith, Garrison Keillor, Frankie Valli and the Current’s Music-on-a-Stick with Phantogram.
“Our [Leinie Lodge] Bandshell acts this summer were some of the best we’ve had and the biggest we’ve had,” Dullinger said. “And the crowds were just massive.”
The most popular day at the fair this year was Saturday, which drew 254,431 people.
“You think about that number of people on the grounds and really ... no major issues, that says a lot for the way that the fair operates,” O’Gara said.
To put modern attendance into perspective, nearly 600,000 fewer people attended the 1967 Minnesota State Fair, 50 years ago. The record day that year saw 197,000 attendees.