Updated: Aug. 5, 2 p.m. | Posted: Aug. 21, 4 a.m.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together is upon us. And for some of us, the best part about it isn’t the corn dogs and cheese curds — it’s the data and the numbers we get to crunch.
Yearly attendance record: 2.1 million in 2019
Last year’s fair attendance reached over 1.8 million, the fifth highest on record. This followed a more cautious return of 1.3 million in 2021 after the fair was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
This year’s attendance through Saturday has reached 1.575 million, meaning it’s unlikely the fair will reach the 2019 record. On Saturday, attendance reached 200,170, only the second day this year that was below last year’s daily total.
Fair attendance has climbed over time, and not just because the length of the fair has been extended — from six days in 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.
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Daily attendance record: 270,426 on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018
The second Saturday 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 attendees in recent years. But really any weekday is far less attended than the two Saturdays and Sundays of the fair.
Hottest recent year at the Fair, 2018. Most Rainy, 2021
If you were one of the 62,000 people who attended day one the 2021 Minnesota State Fair, congratulations! You were there for the most rainy day of the fair, at least for the past 13 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.
Best-selling food at the fair? You guessed it…
Sweet Martha’s tops this list by far again this year. Sweet Martha’s three sites combined to generate well over twice the sales of all eight Pronto Pups sites. Six vendors generated more than 1 million dollars in revenue last year, up from only one (Sweet Martha’s) last year.
In total, the fair lists 275 food vendors and another 667 shops, 30 Kidway rides, 26 Mighty Midway rides), and four adventure park attractions — not to mention stand-alone attractions like the Butterfly and Haunted Houses, the Sky-rider and –Glide, the Giant Slide and the Great Big Wheel. So even if you prepaid for your ticket, do not forget your wallet!
Most common Grandstand Act: Alabama
Country-rockers Alabama tops the list of Minnesota State Fair Grandstand Acts with no less than 19 appearances—at least according to the list maintained by the Fair since 1962.
Garrison Keillor is second with 13 appearances, 11 branded as “Prairie Home Companion” followed by two “Minnesota Show” acts. By the end of this year’s fair, a showcase of amateur talent contest finalists also will have appeared on the Grandstand 13 times.
Country legend Willie Nelson has appeared 11 times, as have the Beach Boys — sometimes on their own and sometimes as a part of a showcase. The Oak Ridge Boys have been on the Grandstand 10 times and the Turtles will make their ninth appearance this year as a part of the Happy Together tour.
10 most frequently appearing acts, Minnesota State Fair Grandstand
Garrison Keillor (13)
Amateur talent contest finals (13)
Willie Nelson (11)
The Beach Boys (11)
The Oak Ridge Boys (10)
The Turtles (9)
Alan Jackson (8)
Ray Komischke Orchestra (8)
Bonnie Raitt (8)
Source: Minnesota State Fair plus 2022 and 2023 lineups.
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. This year women are headlining three of the 12 nights: The Chicks, Brandi Carlile, and Chaka Khan (on a double bill with Boyz II Men).
In terms of Minnesota icons, Prince never played the state fair (although he was honored posthumously with a “Prince night” in 2016) and Bob Dylan has appeared twice on the Grandstand
Last, but certainly not least, the biggest pig
In 2022 the winner of the fair’s annual prize for largest boar went to a 3.5-year-old Berkshire exhibited by Bob Owens from Lime Springs, Iowa. The boar, named Wild Mustang, tipped the scales at 1,005 pounds. By comparison, the largest boar at this year’s Iowa state fair, named Sasquatch, weighed in at 1,012 pounds.
We have yet to see who will win the contest at this year’s fair, or whether this year’s largest boar will outweigh the largest one we could find on record: Reggie, the largest boar at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair weighed 1,450 pounds!
That would be a lot of Sweet Martha’s cookies!