4 questions for the State Fair's grandstand guru

Renee Alexander is the deputy general manager at the Minnesota State Fair
Renee Alexander is the deputy general manager at the Minnesota State Fair and, among other things, is in charge of booking the shows that fill the Grandstand every night of the Fair.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

Grandstand shows are a highlight of the Minnesota State Fair and they've come a long way over the fair's 158-year history. There have been horse and car races, Civil War re-enactments, even locomotive crashes and Bob Hope.

These days, the fair hosts a show every night, and it's Renee Alexander's job to bring in those shows every year. "I actually started here as an intern in college," said Alexander, the fair's deputy general manager. "I remember my first day of the fair that year in 1989 when I had a high-wire walker and an elephant trainer walk into the office, and I thought, I am hooked, this is where I belong."

She left the fair for 11 years, then returned in 2005. MPR News caught up with her for a few minutes to ask some questions.

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1) What makes a good grandstand show?

A real hit at the fair is when you have a full house — we've got 13,000 seats here — and you have a happy artist backstage. You can really see the connection between the artist and the audience, and this is such a unique venue in that it's outdoors.

There's nothing better than a summer night in Minnesota, listening to music that you love with your friends and family and just hanging out, there's just a really great energy here on a big night.

2) What makes it an attractive venue for performers?

In the entertainment industry, fairs have kind of a stigma against them as far as being a good place to perform. And we have really strived to get rid of that stigma here.

It's really about creating an atmosphere for the artists where they can enjoy their day. People think of touring as this glamorous, fun thing you do, but in reality, it's grueling and it can be very isolating as well.

So, we really try and offer the creature comforts to the artists and their crew while they're here, offering our dressing room trailers ... home-cooked meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and just letting them be themselves.

3) Best get?

One of my highlights was just a couple of years ago when we had Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Sturgill Simpson here. To have Merle and Kris here, and then a few months later, having Merle unfortunately pass away, it was just a special moment to have that.

4) Biggest miss?

Sadly, Prince. Prince was the one that got away.

Actually, the year before he passed — it seems to be a theme here — I had an offer in, and was working really hard to make it happen, and it didn't happen, and I was angling again for the following year, and he was obviously not a traditional artist, and booking him, you did not go through the tradition paths either.

So it was really sad to see him go, it would have been great to have him play here.