This year’s 12-day run of the Minnesota State Fair marked a return to normal on the sprawling yet crowded fairgrounds after two summers of pandemic disruption.
The wide smile on Tracy Harris’s face is as bright as the music coming from the quartet on stage.
“It is a complete pleasure to be here, she said. “It’s a beautiful day. And just look at these guys singing, they are adorable.”
She sat on a bench in the shade as the Four Dads, part of the Plymouth Rockers Performing Senior Chorus, belted out oldies on the fair’s many side stages.
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Harris said it’s filling a spot in her soul. She’s been coming here for more than three decades.
“It's a great way to end the summer so definitely was quite a lack — not being able to go to the fair for the past few years. So it's super fun to be here again,” Harris said.
It’s safe to say the fair feels like the gatherings of old. The fair was shelved in 2020 amid COVID-19 concern and attendance was way down last year given restrictions and continuing unease. This year, it’s headed for the 2 million mark again, with almost 250,000 showing up Saturday alone.
The final weekend included a security scare. A fight on the Midway between what authorities said were groups of young people escalated. Even with dozens of law enforcement on scene, somebody fired a gun and hit another person in the leg. It was a non life-threatening wound but the crowd frantically scattered and the fair closed early.
Fair Police Chief Ron Knafla says the scene was chaotic but order was quickly restored.
“I don't know what else could have been done. To engage in such a brazen act in a crowd of people with no regard for the safety or the lives of others. It's just disgusting in my opinion. And I don't know what else to say about it.”
Security was beefed up for the final two days.
And by the elbow-to-elbow crowds, the incident didn’t appear to scare visitors off.
“It happens. If you worry about things like that, it's no different than it's ever been,” said Shane Ebertowski of Cambridge.
He gave his daughter and a friend space as they headed for rides and games. He had no qualms about their safety or fair security in general.
“I guess I don't live my life that way,” he said. “The things are gonna happen they're gonna happen I want to have a lot of control over it.”
The fair offered its traditional potpourri of visual stimulation, ubiquitous sound and ample sustenance — pies, ice cream, hot dogs, sweet corn and oh, so much more.
Steve Anderson is among the many people to try out the pickle pizza, some of the newest fair fare. Anderson says he returned to the fair as soon as he could after the 2020 cancellation.
“I was back last year. Come on. Not gonna scare me away with a little virus,” Anderson said.
Annette Roth of Robbinsdale says even though there was a fair last year, it didn’t feel like the fair.
“People were spread out. And I think there was much more of course, we had to wear masks. So this time, it's a sense of back to normal,” she said.
She and her sister gaze at the prize winning cookies, cakes, breads and other baked goods in the creative arts building. It’s a must-stop on their annual fair tour — now going on 55 years.
“This was something our mother brought us to the fair as, as a quote unquote, vacation. I mean, it was someplace. It's because you're out of a totally different zone. Right. You're not thinking about what's going on. You're just in a suspended reality.”
The suspended reality comes to an end Monday night. But don't fret, the fair returns on Aug. 24, 2023, just more than 350 days away.