Minnesota State Fair, by the numbers

Crowds of people walk through the streets at the Minnesota State Fair
Thousands of fairgoers flocked to the first day of the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The “Great Minnesota Get-Together” is upon us. And, of course, the best part about it is the data.

Yearly attendance record: 2.1 million in 2019

Fair attendance has climbed over time, and not just because the length of the fair has extended— from six days 1885-1918 to double that starting in 1975. According to records given to us by the State Fair, attendance first topped 1 million in 1955, and then topped 2 million in 2018.

Last year attendance was down by one-third from the previous fair, 1.3 million attended compared to the record 2.1 million in 2019. The fair was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Just in: yesterday's opening day saw 121,478 people pass through the gates. That is nearly double the 61,983 on opening day last year.

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This year attendance to the just-completed Iowa and Wisconsin state fairs were up by 22 percent and 19 percent, respectively, to 1.1 million and 1.0 million over the course of the 11 day fairs. If Minnesota follows their lead, the fair will see around 1.6 million visitors this year.

Daily attendance record: 270,426 on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018

The second Saturday of the fair is the highest attended day of the fair, averaging 239,000 attendees in recent years. On the second Saturday of 2018 the crowd was a record 270,000, perhaps in part driven by the appeal of that night’s Grandstand headliner, Hairball: A Bombastic Celebration of Arena Rock.

If you are looking for a smaller dose of humanity with your state fair experience, the opening day is your best bet, averaging 112,000 in recent years, but really any weekday is far less attended than the two Saturdays and Sundays of the fair.

Based on the data, here are the lower traffic days to visit the State Fair

Hottest year at the Fair, 2018. Most Rainy, 2021.

If you were one of the 62,00 people who attended day one of last year’s Minnesota State Fair, congratulations! You were there for the most rainy day of the fair, at least for the pat 12 years. Over 1.6 inches fell that day, contributing to the nearly four inches total over the course of the fair— also a recent record.

In terms of heat, the 12-year high was on the first Monday of the 2013 State Fair, when the temperature reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit. On Average the temperature tops out at 80 degrees over the course of the fair, with a daily low of 63. It has gotten as cold as 48 degrees during the course of the fair, so you might want to bring a jacket.

So far it does not look like we’ll rival any of those records this year.

Best-selling food at the fair? You guessed it…

Sweet Martha’s tops this list by far, outselling the two cheese curd vendors on the Fair’s top ten list combined. And perhaps driving Midwest Dairy Association into the number five position. Minnesota’s State Fair is all about milk and cookies.

Most common Grandstand Act: Alabama

On the list maintained by the Minnesota State Fair, which tracks acts who have appeared since 1962, country-rockers Alabama tops all others with no less than 19 appearances.

Garrison Keillor is second with 13 appearances, 11 branded as “Prairie Home Companion” followed by two “Minnesota Show” acts. Country legend Willie Nelson is third, tied with the 11 shows of amateur talent contest finalists gathered from around the state.

Ten most frequently appearing acts, Minnesota State Fair Grandstand

  • Alabama (19)

  • Garrison Keillor (13)

  • Amateur talent contest finals (11)

  • Willie Nelson (11)

  • The Beach Boys (10)

  • The Oak Ridge Boys (10)

  • Alan Jackson (8)

  • Ray Komischke Orchestra (8)

  • Bonnie Raitt (8)

  • The Turtles (8)

Note: 1962-2021
Source: Minnesota State Fair.

Two (other) groups of boys —The Beach Boys and The Oak Ridge Boys — are tied for fourth place with 10 appearances each. The only female headliner in the top 10 is bluesy rocker Bonnie Raitt, who has graced the Grandstand eight times, tied with four other acts.

The Beach Boys will notch their 11th appearance on Monday night’s double bill with the Temptations.

In terms of Minnesota icons, Prince never played the state fair (although he was honored posthumously with a “Prince night” in 2016), but Bob Dylan has appeared twice on the Grandstand.

The only record I could find of Judy Garland appearing at the state fair is in this depiction of the Yellow Brick Road from the fair’s 2019 Floralpalooza:

Judy Garland Minnesota State Fair flowers
Judy Garland Minnesota State Fair flowers
Jay Gabler