A few changes, a bit of familiarity: Minnesota State Fair returns

People line up at the gate of the Minnesota State Fair.
People line up before 6 a.m. to get into the first day of the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn., on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 8:20 a.m.

The Minnesota State Fair opened Thursday morning after a one-year hiatus because of COVID-19. More than 2 million people showed up at the last fair, but it’s unclear what this year will bring, with cases increasing due to the highly contagious delta variant.

Ginger Johnson from Apple Valley was near the front of the line at the fair gates as they opened at 6 a.m., having been there since 11 p.m. Wednesday. She said she cried last year when she heard the fair was canceled and couldn’t wait to get back, even if she had to wear a mask.

"I worked the night before so I haven't had much sleep. I was too excited to sleep! It's going to be a long day, but it's going to be a fun day,” Johnson said.

Others mentioned that they were apprehensive about large crowds and the coronavirus and were visiting early on the first day to avoid large crowds. When it felt crowded and risky, they decided to turn around and head home.

There are people walking around with masks, although not a lot of them at first blush. The fair's recommendations are for people to mask inside fair buildings and in big crowds outdoors, and we haven't got to the point where there are a lot of people here so far.

A small crowd gathers near a food vendor.
Fairgoers line up for a breakfast hot dog early in the morning at the Minnesota State Fair.
Evan Frost | MPR News

As far as the fair itself, it has pulled back a little in the age of COVID-19: The giant singalong is gone, replaced by food stands. Group singing and the virus are a bad mix.

The go-carts across the street from the Minnesota Public Radio booth are gone. The adventure park, with that giant slingshot ride, is there instead.

River Raft is dry this year. The grandstand and the Eco Experience are noticeably sparser as you walk through them. One of the grandstand acts, Low Cut Connie, backed out because of concerns over COVID-19.

There's a noticeable number of things missing, here and there, either directly or indirectly because of the virus.

If you're a big fair fan, it'll feel like someone came in and rearranged the furniture in your house overnight. It's familiar, but you will swear there was something sitting in that spot last time you walked by.

There’s still tons of new stuff. It wouldn't be the fair without novelty.

There are 26 new foods, from cucumber jalapeno limeade to what RC's BBQ is calling The Naughty Biscuit: smoked pork belly topped with beer cheese sauce, arugula, pickled red onions and candied jalapeños served on a buttermilk biscuit. A lot of it seems to be leaning toward the sweet, rather than the savory.

There's a new roller coaster on the Midway, the Riptide. On the other end of the spectrum, the fair this year is opening the Fraser Sensory Building, for what the fair says are its guests of all ages with sensory processing challenges who need a break from the hustle.

And you may remember the state had a naming contest for its snowplows recently? One of those — Plowy McPlowface is out here, a tongue-in-cheek reference to that naming kerfuffle over a British research vessel in 2016. So a little sense of humor here.

And, of course, COVID-19 is making an impact. The North End Event Center that debuted with the Angry Birds back in 2019? It’s offering COVID-19 vaccinations this year — and the state is offering $100 gift cards to the first 3600 people to get a shot. You can also give blood there.

One additional note, this year there are metal detectors at the gate. It slows up entry, but a tip: it goes a bit faster if you take turns and go one at a time.

A woman walks through a metal detector with her hands up.
People walk through metal detectors and have bags searched before entering on the first day of the Minnesota State Fair.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The weather is supposed to be partly sunny Monday morning, then turning stormy in the afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms are likely, especially around dinnertime, according to the National Weather Service.

The Minnesota State Fair is a financial supporter of MPR.

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