Dale Kivimaki has been at almost every Minnesota State Fair grandstand show for the past 25 years. But he’s never watched one live.
Instead, he views them on video monitors in a trailer backstage, deciding which images to display on the massive HD video screens so thousands of concertgoers can better appreciate the performance.
Owner and president of Freestyle Productions, he directs the video production at the grandstand at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. His Golden Valley-based firm also works on fashion shows, corporate events, the Iowa State Fair and Basilica Block Party, to name a few.
He can tell you about how many times he’s dealt with the Beach Boys’ crew or how he befriended Styx’s tour manager. But he has vivid recall of many, many shows and encounters with stars.
10 unforgettable acts
1. Tony Bennett (1995): “It was our first year, and we were standing backstage when Tony turns to us and says, ‘Hey, fellas. How are ya?’ He asked what we did and then told us: ‘Take it easy on an old man and don’t do any tight shots.’ ”
2. Vince Gill (1996, ’97, ’99, 2002): When the infield grass of the grandstand’s racetrack was still there, he had a golf wedge-pitching contest with the crew. Vince always won. He was a winner onstage, too.
3. Glen Campbell (2000): He was a nice guy backstage with us. I had no idea what a fabulous guitar player he was until I saw those up-close-and-personal camera shots.
4. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2001): As he walked to the stage, he said hello to everyone who passed him and flashed the peace sign — and a smile.
5. B.B. King and Etta James (2007): What a treat to witness them up close on the video monitors. B.B. didn’t have to grimace or pretend as he performed; he just played his guitar Lucille with the callused hands of a man who had been on the road doing it for 50 years.
6. Rush (2010): What a huge production. I remember walking on the stage and looking up at the truss, lights and speaker arrays and being very impressed with it all. And when the band started to play, I was so awed by how precise they were.
7. Marc Anthony (2011): Even though I don’t speak Spanish, I was wowed. He had the voice, the moves and a show that made everyone want to get up and dance.
8. Blue Oyster Cult (2013): When they went into “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” a half-dozen people in the audience brought out cowbells to play along — à la Will Ferrell from “Saturday Night Live.” We showed the cowbell players on the big screens.
9. Merle Haggard (2015): What a soulful and memorable performance — just eight months before he passed away.
10. Dixie Chicks (2016): Two nights of an amazing back-to-back experience after their hiatus.
Lynyrd Skynyrd (1998): We were told by fair staff as a preventive measure to take down the video screens because everyone could see a storm coming. However, each of the three guitarists had to do their long solos during the climactic, closing “Free Bird.” Skies opened up on their last chord, and the Skynyrd production team saw their audio and lighting consoles get drenched in the ensuing monsoon.
Christina Aguilera (2000): A big wind hit all four of our video screens, forcing them to pop out of their frames during her encore in front of a record crowd of 22,117.
Chic, Ohio Players and War (2001): All night long, this show ran late. So grandstand officials decided to shoot off the usual post-concert fireworks before Chic got onstage. At midnight, when the fairgrounds closed, Chic was still playing their last song. The next night, our video crew added a question to our usual between-band trivia quiz: What was the longest show ever at the grandstand? The night before: 4 hours and 45 minutes.
Dukes of September Rhythm Revue (2013): As Donald Fagen performed, he was being shielded from driving wind and rain by a roadie holding an umbrella over his head.
Aretha Franklin (2014): The Queen of Soul made singing seem so effortless … and then the grandstand fireworks went off per the cue from her crew to the fair’s pyrotechnics team. She looked taken aback, but kept on singing.