The Bugle’s carefully curated list of must-knows, must-sees and other miscellany at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair

By Kristal Leebrick

If you plan to skip town Aug. 22-Sept. 2 to avoid the traffic, noise and ever-present smell of hot grease wafting from the Minnesota State Fair, then skip this, too.

But for those who live close and love to wander to the Fairgrounds to catch music at the free stages, check out the crop art in the Agriculture Horticulture Building, or just get in some serious people watching, here are 10 things that may whet your whistle as you count the days to the fair.

Night scene at the Minnesota State Fair. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair
Night scene at the Minnesota State Fair. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair

1. Early birds save a buck or three

You have until 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, to purchase discount admission tickets to the fair. Gate prices increased this year to $15 for ages 13 to 64, $13 for seniors 65 and older, and $13 for kids 5-12 (those 4 and under get in free). Early-bird tickets are $12, and you can buy them, along with discount ride tickets, online (etix.com) or by phone (800-514-3849). You can also buy discounted tickets at the fair’s ticket office, 1312 Cosgrove St., the brick building left of the Snelling Avenue entrance at Midway Parkway/Dan Patch Avenue. After July 31, in-person ticket sales will move to the ticket booths just outside the gate at 1741 Como Ave.

2. Thirsty?

The State Fair has added more water bottle-filling stations and you can find them at the Warner Coliseum, Eco Experience, the restrooms south of the Kidway on Cooper Street, the restrooms on the north end of the fairgrounds on Murphy Avenue, the Education and 4-H buildings, the Grandstand and Agriculture Horticulture Building. The water stations won’t be on the State Fair map, but you can get the locations at any information booth on the grounds.

If you forget to bring a water bottle, complimentary cups of water will be offered at Culligan Water, KARE 11 TV, KSTP TV, WCCO Radio and the Ramberg Music Café.

3. Old news

Speaking of the Ramberg Music Café, the former Ramberg Senior Center at Judson Avenue and Underwood Street still bears the words “Ramberg Center” above its doors and rocking chairs still line the walls inside. But three years ago, the venue dropped the “senior” moniker and named it the Music Café “because the programming, vendors and live music in it were not just senior focused any longer,” says fair spokesperson Lara Hughes.

The music selection has expanded to R&B, Americana, pop, jazz, Texas dance hall, acoustic rock — but you may still hear a bit of polka this year. The Jolly Zuks, described as “not your average polka band,” will perform the last two days of the fair. The schedule for the Ramberg stage, as well as all the other free stages, can be found at mnstatefair.org/free-live-music-and-shows or at information booths during the fair.

4. Is karaoke still a thing?

Apparently. Tucked into a corner of the Garden Building, next to the Ballpark Café on Underwood Street, karaoke fans belt it out from noon to 5 p.m. every day — until a D.J. takes over at 6 p.m. and the area turns into a disco. You can boogie down at the Garden Stage until 10 p.m., except on Labor Day when the fun ends at 9 p.m.

5. Woodstock, the moon landing, the Giant Slide

The Giant Slide came to the Minnesota State Fair the summer of 1969 and this year the five-story, brightly colored slide is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It’s one of 42 Giant Slides built by Fred Pittroff, a southern California man. That first slide debuted in 1966 in San Bernardino, Calif. After some improvements were made to the design, Pittroff sold and erected slides over the next two decades in the U.S., Canada and Australia. At one point, he owned and operated 10 slides himself, including the one at the Minnesota State Fair.

Pittroff’s family still manages the Giant Slides at both the Minnesota and Wisconsin state fairs. His daughter, Stacey Barona, and her family live in Roseville.

Nestled between Al’s Subs and a hamburger concession on Nelson Street, the Minnesota slide has hosted 9 million-plus riders over five decades and even a wedding: Stacey and Robert Barona were married at the top of the slide on opening day of the 1996 fair slide with 5,000 fair guests cheering them on.

Limited-edition 50th anniversary hats and T-shirts will be sold at the base of the slide at this year’s fair.

The Giant Slide will celebrate 50 years at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair
The Giant Slide will celebrate 50 years at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair

6. It’s too early to tell you

When the Bugle went to print this month, news about the exhibits and offerings in the State Fair’s new North End wasn’t ready to go live. Vendor contracts were yet to be signed. What we can say is that a 12,000-square-foot exhibit hall will debut at the 2019 fair in the northeast corner of the fairgrounds next to the Hangar, last year’s new food hall. Fair management describes North End as a “home to annually changing museum-quality exhibits and features that will recognize Minnesota innovations in agriculture, industry and the arts.” The building will include “uniquely Minnesota” attractions, food and commercial exhibits.

7. New rides!

The Mighty Midway will offer two new rides this year: the Sea Ray — a giant ship that swings riders up to 50 feet in the air — and Zero Gravity — a high speed, gravity-defying ride where riders stand against the wall as the cylinder begins to spin and rises in the air at a 70-degree angle. 

There are 29 rides at both the Mighty Midway and the Kidway. The most popular ride on the Mighty Midway is Crazy Mouse, a rollercoaster that takes riders through hairpin turns and exciting drops while the car spins at the same time.

The North End was still under construction in early July. Photo by Kristal Leebrick
The North End was still under construction in early July. Photo by Kristal Leebrick

8. A daring feat! A spectacular sight!

For the 21st consecutive year, Gary Reuter of the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, will attempt to place 10,000 honeybees on the faces of two volunteers, forming a living beard of bees. That once-a-year phenomenon is scheduled Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m. in the Agriculture Horticulture Building.

9. More moos

Bad pun, but if the line to watch the carving of the butter sculptures gets a little too long, check out the Agrilympics at the Moo Booth outside the Cattle Barn on Judson Avenue. Events will include a Celebrity Milking Contest Friday, Aug. 23, at 2:30 p.m.; a Celebrity Farm Animal Calling Contest, Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 2:30 p.m.; and the 18th Annual Celebrity Butter Carving Contest on Friday, Aug. 29, at 12:20 p.m. You can see the full schedule at mnstatefair.org/location/moo-booth.

10. A little Blue Ribbon advice

Pining for a blue ribbon to show your friends that your chocolate chip cookies (dill pickles, apple pie, star quilts, fill in the blank) really are the best? You have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, to register in the Minnesota State Fair’s Creative Activities competition.

Creative Activities has six divisions — Needlecraft, Garment Making, Handcrafts, Collections, Senior Citizen, and Baking and Canning — and each division has a multitude of classes. Want your entry to rise to the top? Then follow the advice of Mary Bartz, a Baking and Canning judge since 2004: Read the rules.

“We are very direct and literal,” Bartz says. “We have thousands and thousands of entries. It’s a fair process and equitable process. Our job as judges is to maintain the integrity of the State Fair system, so we need to be by the book.” That book is the Minnesota State Fair’s Creative Activities Premium Booklet (mnstatefair.org/competitions/creative-activities), which will school you in all categories, delivery dates and various other details you’ll need.

It takes a team of 12 judges — all of whom are trained food professionals — and two full days to assess the canned goods and often a little more than two days for the baking, says Bartz, who had a long career in the Betty Crocker test kitchens at General Mills and helped run the demonstration kitchen in the Creative Activities building before becoming a judge. 

—Kristal Leebrick, former Bugle editor, lives in St. Anthony Park.

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