Jamie Bisek grew up going to the fair; Dustin Durham didn’t. But the New Prague couple has made it a tradition since they started dating.
With a little spending money in their pockets, they joined the crowds Sunday that flocked to the fair to sample the new and weird, but Bisek and Durham tend to enjoy the classics — turkey legs, Pronto Pups, deep-fried cheese curds.
The State Fair broke an all-time attendance record the day before, with 270,426 people walking through its gates on Saturday. Sunday’s attendance figure wasn’t immediately available, but by Monday, the fair could easily meet or even break its overall attendance record and hit the 2 million mark.
Fairgoers and staff members attributed this year’s deluge of visitors in part to a desire to escape from cellphones and current events, coupled with a healthy economy in which people aren’t afraid to spend $8.95 on bacon-topped tots. Fans mentioned the music, including big names like the Beach Boys and Sugarland. Others noted the 12-day event’s ubiquitous advertising campaign.
“I think we put a whole lot more thought into advertising,” including a stronger presence on social media, State Fair spokeswoman Danielle Dullinger said. Staff tried to attract and cater to some niches through social media, including a recent tweet that encouraged busting a move outside the KMOJ booth. But the fair’s official demographic is “everyone,” Dullinger said.
“I think people are sometimes looking to forget the outside world a little bit,” she said. “You really just leave your worries at the gate.”
Besides Saturday, four other dates set attendance records in 2018, despite occasional precipitation. The first, third, seventh and eighth days of the fair were the highest numbers for those particular days.
“It’s a relief from all that’s going on, from your cellphone and digital things,” said Kathryn Strand Koutsky, who co-wrote the 2007 book, “Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History.”
The music got top billing for many people who were asked what keeps them coming back to the fair.
By midday, Eden Prairie resident Adam Bernier had already taken in music at the International Bazaar, the Schell’s Stage at Schilling Amphitheater and the Leinie Lodge Bandshell Stage. “That’s what keeps us coming back,” Bernier said of the entertainment.
Of course, there’s the ever-evolving food and drink menu. Judy Grabowski, 70, of Stillwater, said she likes trying out all the new offerings, including the blueberry beer she sipped for breakfast and a corn dog that had bacon and maple syrup mixed in.
Dullinger, the spokeswoman, pointed to other factors. The livestock shows continue to grow, bringing in people from “far and wide,” she said, adding that dairy goats were among the most popular animals to exhibit this year.
There’s always something new, Dullinger said, which keeps people coming back.
The whole north end of the fairgrounds have been remodeled, she said, with an open-air pet pavilion, new restrooms and the Hangar, which mixes flights of food and beer with live entertainment.
“We really truly try to find that perfect balance between keeping tradition alive … while still reinventing ourselves,” she said.
Willing to pay
Some things didn’t change in 2018, including the fair’s $14 admission price. The discount days were also the same as last year, Dullinger said.
While a day at the fair may not be cheap, Bernier said, people don’t seem to mind right now.
“You pay fourteen bucks to come out,” he said. “If you have anything to drink, you’re going to spend a few hundred dollars to come out here. And I think people are comfortable right now doing that.”
Dennis Seraaj and his family didn’t get time to buy his tickets in advance, which could save a couple bucks. They decided to come spur of the moment when he found out he had Sunday off work.
“It’s the Minnesota tradition,” Seraaj said. “It doesn’t matter your religion or race or creed — everyone gets into the music.”
Koutsky, who wrote the Minnesota State Fair coffee table book a decade ago, mentioned some straightforward reasons for the fair’s record attendance.
“Our population [in Minnesota] is growing, for one thing,” Koutsky said. “There must be some newcomers going.”
She also noted that the fair’s fame has spread outside the state. “It’s getting a reputation of being a really good fair from lots of different points of view,” Koutsky said. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the fair.”