The return-to-normal attitude fueling the Minnesota State Fair in 2021 will extend to its usual odd mix of free concerts, too.
Among the headliners announced Tuesday morning for the ticketless stages were R&B vets Sister Sledge of "We Are Family" fame, sidemen bands featuring members of Dire Straits and Bob Marley's Wailers and a new "supergroup" called Ezra Ray Hart, which features the singers of '00s-era one-hit-wonder rock bands Sugar Ray, Better Than Ezra and Tonic.
Other performers announced for the Leinie Lodge Bandshell (the biggest of the free stages) include: homegrown pop-rockers Yam Haus; Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith; old-school twangers Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys and Rosie Flores, zydeco mainstays Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots; '80s country stars Shenandoah, and a trio of country vets called Roots & Boots with singers Aaron Tippin, Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye.
Among the other Twin Cities performers spread out on the fair's free entertainment calendar are Davina & the Vagabonds, Dr. Mambo's Combo, Nur-D, Mae Simpson, Banda La Verdadera, Dakota Dave Hull, Jack Brass Band, Malamanya, Molly Maher, Jack Knife & the Sharps, Monroe Crossing, Mary Cutrufello and Tonic Sol-fa.
The West End stage will also once again play host to "First Avenue Goes to the Fair," a two-night lineup of local acts hand-picked by the team at Minneapolis' legendary rock club.
As for the bigger, ticketed grandstand concerts for 2021, four shows were carried over from 2020, and the rest won't be announced for a couple more weeks. Those holdover acts are: Miranda Lambert (Aug. 26), the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald (Aug. 31), Tim McGraw (Sept. 1) and kids act Darci Lynne with the Okee Dokee Brothers (Sept. 6).
Many of the names on the free schedule were also held over from the 2020 lineup that was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the fair's veteran talent bookers Renee Alexander and Nate Dungan still had some last-minute shuffling and the overall uncertainty to deal with in finalizing the roster right up until this week.
"Nate and the team had all of the free entertainment for 2020 booked when we announced the cancelation last May," Alexander recounted. "Fortunately, almost all of those artists rolled over to 2021."
As for the grandstand, she added, "I stopped booking [in May 2020] as I had no idea what the landscape would look like. Once restrictions lifted, I pressed the gas pedal on booking. I did lose two of the seven that were originally booked due to scheduling conflicts."
Maybe the biggest attention-grabbers on the free stages are those various offshoot bands, which probably warrant some explanation.
The so-called DSL: Dire Straits Legacy features members of the "Money for Nothing"-hitmaking band without frontman Mark Knopfler. The Wailers now feature children and affiliates of some of Bob Marley's old touring band. And the '00s nostalgia trip Ezra Ray Hart boasts Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath ("Fly"), Better Than Era's Kevin Griffin ("Good") and Tonic's Emerson Hart ("Open Up Your Eyes").
See the full lineup for the free stages at mnstatefair.org. Here's the rundown of headliners on the Leinie Lodge Bandshell:
• DSL: Dire Straits Legacy (Aug. 26 & 27) 8:30 p.m.
• Sister Sledge (Aug. 28 & 29) 8:30 p.m.
• Ezra Ray Hart (Aug. 30 & 31) 8:30 p.m.
• The Legendary Wailers (Sept. 1 & 2) 8:30 p.m.
• Roots & Boots featuring Aaron Tippin, Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye (Sept. 3 & 4) 8:30 p.m.
• Yam Haus (Sept. 5 & 6) 7:30 p.m.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658