Minnesota State Fair opens with bang: Thunder, lightning greet first fairgoers

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The Great Minnesota Get-Together started with a bang Thursday with booming thunder and lightning-streaked skies as State Fair fanatics started lining up at the gates before the 6 a.m. opening.

But the storm didn't put a damper on the early fairgoers' enthusiasm. A number of events are planned for the opening of Minnesota's beloved 12-day, food-fun-and-farming extravaganza.

Thursday's theme is "Thrifty Thursday" – admission is $2 cheaper for adults and $3 cheaper for kids. There are also discounts at the Mighty Midway and Kidway and special discounts on food and merchandise, the State Fair says.

There are also free hands-on activities at Carousel Park and Promo Place provided by Minnesota STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) organizations. Such interactive challenges include: zoo exhibits, urban gardens, engineering a device to stabilize bone fractures, designing rocket parts, learning the math to help guess someone's birthday, and more.

The fairgrounds open Thursday at 6 a.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the new West End Market will be at 8:15 a.m. under the Streetcar Arch, and a second ceremony to mark the opening of the new History and Heritage Center will be at 9 a.m. Click here for specific hours and here for Thursday's schedule of events.

After a stormy morning start, people planning to go to the fair Thursday should know it's expected to be hot and humid. After thunderstorms move out of the state Thursday morning, sauna-like weather moves in. Heat indices are expected to be near 100 degrees.

Remember, the State Fair allows people to bring in coolers – which can help fairgoers save a little money on bottled water or other cold beverages on a hot day, WCCO reports.

Here's a look at what's expected for opening day at this year's fair:

New at the fair

There are several new offerings at the fair this year, including the new History and Heritage Center, the West End Transit Hub, eight new carnival rides, an extreme canines stunt dog show, changes to the horse show, possibly the world’s largest wad of paper, and nearly 30 new food choices – added to the State Fair's list of more than 450 options.

One restaurant is even doing something new to keep its beer cold, which should come in handy Thursday. LuLu's Public House in the new West End Market is topping one of its beer choices with frozen beer foam. Charlie Burrows, who owns the restaurant, told the Pioneer Press, "The beer breaks through the frozen foamy part, and it kind of blends together as you're drinking it" to keep it cold.

And if you're looking for some people-watching fun, a Flickr user created State Fair bingo cards – each bingo card is different and features things like odd clothing choices (superhero costume, person dressed in neon), foods and local media personalities.

For more on what's new, where to park, and everything else you need to know for this year's Get-Together, click here.

Thursday's Grandstand entertainment

Country music star Toby Keith will kick off the State Fair's Grandstand concert series Thursday night. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening approximately 60 minutes before the show. Tickets are $59 and $49 and are available at the ticket booth near the east end of the Grandstand.

Fireworks will follow the show, weather permitting.

Toby Keith is among several big names who will play at the Grandstand during the fair. There are also over 900 entertainment shows included with the price of admission. Not sure what to go to? CityPages has a list of the top 10 concerts to see at the fair.

The Grandstand not only offers entertainment, but it's also home to some haunting memories. WCCO spoke with the fair's archivist, Keri Huber, who said there are plenty of stories of "fun-loving ghosts," especially at the Grandstand.

At least eight daredevil performers and race car drivers have been killed in front of spectators at the Grandstand, WCCO says, and many people have spotted a man standing on the Grandstand's roof – presumably a ghost of one of the thrill seekers who died.

Huber also says the administration building, the coliseum and the cattle barn are all known to have haunting ghosts.

Ice Bucket Challenge

To kick off the fair, Gov. Mark Dayton plans to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Dayton accepted the challenge after being nominated by Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad, and he'll complete the task at the fair Thursday.

Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson says the governor will also make a donation to a ALS research, The Associated Press reports.

People's Choice Awards

Don't forget to cast your vote for the People's Choice Awards. It's the third year for the awards, which lets fairgoers nominate their fair favorites in five categories: best product or service, best food or beverage, best attraction, best value and best customer service. Take a look at last year's winners here.

Nomination forms are available at all information booths and will be accepted from Thursday through Monday Aug. 25. Winners will be announced Aug. 28.

One of the best

The Minnesota State Fair has often been called one of America's best. This week, the Huffington Post lauded the fair for its different food choices, as well as how eco-conscious it is. The website noted the fair's Eco Experience, which has a climate-change exhibit, an urban garden and a wad of paper that's in the running to be named the world's largest.

The Travel Channel named it one of the best, saying it's the second-biggest state fair in the U.S. (behind Texas), and one of its biggest draws are the Grandstand concerts and other entertainment offerings.

Yahoo Travel names Minnesota's State Fair among the best, saying one of the fair's biggest draws is the Miracle of Birth Center.

Yahoo wasn't the only publication to mention the fair's Miracle of Birth Center, where fairgoers can watch the birthing of 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets. Ozy.com published an article, "State fairs are a-changin,'" which highlights how state fairs – which often want to hold onto agricultural traditions – are adapting to the changing times.

Brienna Schuette, the marketing manager at the Minnesota State Fair, told Ozy.com, the fair remains about the agriculture, but it's adapted, adding, "It's more about telling the story of modern agriculture to folks who live in the city and don't necessarily know where their food comes from."

The publication says the Miracle of Birth Center targets children "who think hamburgers are made at the grocery store," to teach them how animals come into the world.

Shuette told Ozy.com that she envisions the fair becoming about interaction between producers and consumers as people continue to become pickier about what they eat, saying, "Consumers are demanding organic, locally grown, non-GMO food."

But, she says, the State Fair is a place "where you can check your diet at the door, come in and have a day without rules — and that won't change."

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