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The best music at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair

And lot of it is totally free.

This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is much more than deep-fried candy bars, butter sculptures, and carnival rides at the Midway. The State Fair is also one of the best places to catch outdoor music – but the experience extends way past the Grandstand shows.

See also: The Minnesota State Fair will have 900 free shows

Here's a road map for your musical exploration of all that the fair has to offer, from massive country stars to borderline-insane funk legends and a few homegrown standouts sprinkled in like sugar on a funnel cake. Duck in for a few songs or a whole night. Everything's free, unless we have ticket info listed.

Thursday, August 24

Honestly, there's nothing new to say about Nickelback at this point (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $65-$80). But we’re "So Excited" for R&B family act The Pointer Sisters (8:30 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell). Here’s hoping they sing their incredible version of Bruce Springsteen’s "Fire." 

Friday, August 25

The voice, style, and presence ofStevie Nicks' (Grandstand, 7:30 p.m., $49-$90) left an indelible mark on Fleetwood Mac, and spiritual successors like Haim. Life is pretty good for this gold-dust woman and hat-and-scarf enthusiast with Vanessa Carlton as her opener. Also, ThePointer Sisters (see Thursday, August 24). 

Saturday, August 26

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (8:30 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell) are readying the mothership for a state fair landing. Dr. Funkenstein and his outlandish band of afro-psychedelic musicians always make for a memorably unhinged show. Comedian Jim Gaffigan takes the big stage (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $50-$60). Also, The Pines (see Sunday, August 27).

Sunday, August 27

If you grew up in a tractor town, then Toby Keith (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $23-$101) is still The Dude for some of your high school buddies, plus 3 Doors Down. For urbane Americana, catch The Pines (8 p.m., Schilling Amphitheater). Also, George Clinton (see Saturday, August 26).

Monday, August 28

Nooky Jones (8 p.m., Schilling Amphitheater) frontman Cameron Kinghorn is the standout of the local music school funk scene. Blessed with an easy charisma and a lovely tenor that he seldom gets to show off, Kinghorn’s grown ’n’ sexy R&B makes him the cheap-date-night MVP of the Fair this year. Also, Chris Janson (See Tuesday, August 29).

Tuesday, August 29

Nashville singer-songwriter Chris Janson (8:30 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell) made the leap from writing hits for others with a self-released party-hearty hit called “Buy Me a Boat,” and never looked back. John Mellencamp's (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $49-$64) heartland rock is '80s nostalgia aged to perfection. Also, Nooky Jones (See Monday, August 29).

Wednesday, August 30

Glee and Pitch Perfect helped Pentatonix (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $40-$50) catapult themselves into the hearts of a million choir kids with their playful a capella versions of pop hits. Their support act, Us the Duo, took Pentatonix’s viral aspirations further with a series of cutesy, bite-sized YouTube covers. Also, Romantica (See Thursday, August 31).

Thursday, August 31

R&B star Usher (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $72-$97) still has that ageless voice, and lives to entertain. Locals Romantica (8 p.m., Schilling Amphitheater) are survivors too. Frontman Ben Kyle beat a rare illness that nearly derailed his new album, Shadowlands.

Friday, September 1

The'50s-style rock ‘n’ roll of JD McPherson (3:30 and 4:45 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell) manages to be fresh and comforting at once. "Midway" by St. Paul indie pop act Bad Bad Hats (8 p.m., Schilling Amphitheater) is an apt State Fair song, and worth skipping a Grandstand trip to Lake Wobegone. 

Saturday, September 2

New York duo Phantogram (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $25) have a festival-blitzing electro-rock sound and a light show to match. Openers are harmony-and-hooks purveyors Lucius and local indie rockers Now, Now, back with new material a five-year absence. Also, JD McPherson and Bad Bad Hats (see Friday, September 1).

Sunday, September 3

Tank and the Bangas (1 p.m. & 2:30 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell) are a New Orleans-based group that combines funk, neo-soul and spoken word into a wholly unique style. Frontwoman Tarronia “Tank” Ball’s rap-sung delivery is incredibly expressive, with subject material from the humorous to the profound. Stick around for St. Paul's live-band hip-hop mastersHeiruspecs (8 p.m., Schilling Amphitheater). Also, Hippo Campus (see Monday, September 4).

Monday, September 4

Not into country-rock studmuffin Sam Hunt (7:30 p.m., Grandstand, $58-$68)? Try local indie rock crew Hippo Campus (8:30 p.m., Leinie Lodge Bandshell), who proved themselves more than just a precocious novelty with 2017’s stellar Landmark. Also, Tank and the Bangas and Heiruspecs (see Sunday, September 3).

This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

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