Over its 54-year existence, the Minnesota State Fair grandstand has hosted hundreds of musicians, ranging in quality from Bob Dylan to Staind.
In latter years, the State Fair lineup announcement has become an anticipated event for the unprincipled, generation-spanning mishmash of genres it presents, but some institutional knowledge proves the grandstand bill has always been a spectacle.
Going off the Minnesota State Fair’s comprehensive database, we probed the list of entertainers dating back to 1962 in order to understand the breadth of talent that’s graced the grandstand stage. And, in an effort to better understand how the 2016 edition stacks up, we ranked every single grandstand lineup from best to worst.
Highlights: Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Hank Williams Jr., Santana, Dolly Parton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Def Leppard, Barry Manilow
Rationale: Three of the most formative artists of all time. Three of the greatest guitarists of all time. Barry Manilow. Best. State Fair. Lineup. Ever.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, John Denver, George Strait, Bill Cosby, Marshall Tucker Band
Rationale: Can’t beat Dylan and Beach Boys.
Highlights: Wiz Khalifa, Mavis Staples, Anita Baker, Demi Lovato, KISS, Mac Miller, Big K.R.I.T., Blake Shelton, Journey, Pat Benatar
Rationale: The first year of the Current’s MN Music On-A-Stick added locals Semisonic, the Jayhawks, Dessa, Jeremy Messersmith, and Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles to an on-point collection of contemporary and bygone stars.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Jerry Seinfeld, Rick Springfield, Air Supply, Ronnie Milsap, Sha Na Na
Rationale: A divisive year. The Beach Boys and the best comic in fair history are subverted by the hackiness of Air Supply and Sha Na Na.
Highlights: The Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Rascal Flatts, Eric Church, Kenny Rogers, Steve Miller Band, Poison
Rationale: The fair’s most relevant year of the 2000s by a long stretch, especially considering Bret Michaels’ VH1-boosted comeback was going on at the time.
Highlights: Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Chicago, Don Henley, Vanilla Ice
Rationale: Though Vanilla Ice was the Fair’s first experiment with hip-hop* -- a failure that the grandstand is still recovering from -- the rest of the lineup does a good job bridging the gap from the lackluster ‘80s into the ‘90s boom. (*The Fat Boys opened for Nu Shooz in '86.)
Highlights: Taylor Swift, Fergie, Brad Paisley, Goo Goo Dolls, Fountains of Wayne, the Allman Brothers Band, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Def Leppard, Styx, Foreigner
Rationale: The grandstand goes pop in a big way, but not without letting old-hat ‘80s rock share the spotlight.
Highlights: Neil Young and the International Harvesters, Willie Nelson, Kenny Loggins, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Tom Jones, Night Ranger, the Suburbs
Rationale: Some local love for Minnesotans the Suburbs.
Highlights: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Talib Kweli, Chance the Rapper, Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Sheryl Crow and Dwight Yoakam, Depeche Mode, Trampled By Turtles, P.O.S, the Chalice
Rationale: The best year for rap at the fair despite Macklemore. Elsewhere, SNL vets Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, and Kevin Nealon bring comedy back!
Highlights: Christina Aguilera, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Train, Def Leppard, Goo Goo Dolls, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Montgomery Gentry, “Weird Al” Yankovic, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Jeff Foxworthy
Rationale: Locals Semisonic also made the bill, which included stars from the two previous decades in nearly perfect balance.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and Family, John Denver, the Fat Boys, Kenny Loggins, Bangles
Rationale: The first appearance of beloved windbag Garrison Keillor drags down a pretty awesome roundup of artists.
Highlights: Hank Williams Jr., Frank Sinatra Jr., the Fifth Dimension, Marty Robbins, Sonny James, Connie Smith
Rationale: Bocephus’ first stint at the grandstand came in his prime, and it was one of the first grandstand sets to be anchored by a generational icon.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, REO Speedwagon, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Belinda Carlisle, Willie Nelson and Family, Jay Leno
Rationale: Willie Nelson played the state fair nine times in a decade. I’m sure by ‘88 people were sick of him.
Highlights: Aretha Franklin, Fall Out Boy, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Toby Keith, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Paramore, Brother Ali, Doomtree, Har Mar Superstar, Bob Mould
Rationale: A truly odd smattering of genres. Makes for a decent musical goulash, though.
Highlights: The Backstreet Boys, the Black Keys, Jewel, Paramore, Gnarls Barkley, the Black Crowes, Miranda Lambert, Phantom Planet, Dierks Bentley, Jack’s Mannequin
Rationale: A nostalgia reach that actually pays of. Staind and 3 Doors Down still linger, though.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Kenny Loggins, Willie Nelson and Family, Sammy Davis Jr., Engelbert Humperdinck, Kansas
Rationale: Never sleep on ‘80s Kenny Loggins.
Highlights: The Supremes, Jerry Van Dyke, the Smothers Brothers, George Kirby
Rationale: The Supremes were the first veritable superstars to make the grandstand, setting a precedent that follows to today.
Highlights: Neil Diamond, John Denver, Merle Haggard, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Sonny James, Waylon Jennings
Rationale: Plenty of cheese, here, but a trio of country legends.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, Violent Femmes, Martina McBride, Steve Miller Band, The B-52’s, David Cassidy, Color Me Badd
Rationale: Color this lineup pretty good!
Highlights: Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash Show, Buck Owens, Susan Rye, George Kirby, Lynn Anderson
Rationale: The first large-scale lineup leads with some heavy-hitters, but it’s also cluttered with nobodies (Don Rice III? Susan Rye?). Also, the Johnny Cash Show isn’t the optimal way to enjoy the Man in Black.
Highlights: The Avett Brothers, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Styx, Collective Soul, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Sturgill Simpson
Rationale: Though it was a good sendoff for Haggard, who died eight months later, there’s a definitive lack of bankable stars at the top.
Highlights: Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Julio Iglesias, the Osmond Brothers, Huey Lewis & the News, George Benson
Rationale: If you were born in May 1985 in Minnesota, it’s probably because you were conceived after Stewart or Iglesias’ sets at the Minnesota State Fair.
Highlights: The Beach Boys, Kenny G, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Tim McGraw, Roger Daltrey, America
Rationale: Perhaps country music’s finest year. Also the first year for the fair’s blues festival, which featured BB King.
Highlights: Weezer, Maroon 5, and Train, Reba McEntire, Heart, Marc Anthony, Def Leppard, Steely Dan, Alter Bridge, Motion City Soundtrack
Rationale: Scott Stapp, bay-bay!
Highlights: Neil Diamond, Liberace, Sonny and Cher, the Carpenters, George Jones, Loretta Lynn
Rationale: This one must’ve been a goddamn spectacle.
Highlights: New Kids on the Block, Tiffany, George Strait, Kenny Loggins, Tammy Wynette
Rationale: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also showed up in ‘89. What a cameo.
Highlights: Peter, Paul and Mary, the Monkees, Willie Nelson and Family, Night Ranger, Great White, the Pointer Sisters, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
Rationale: The most ‘80s lineup in history. And Willie Nelson, of course.
Highlights: Michael Bolton, Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, Willie Nelson and Family, Trisha Yearwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bill Cosby
Rationale: Lotta bad haircuts in the 1996 lineup.
Highlights: Marshall Tucker Band, Willie Nelson, Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash Show, Red Skelton, Sister Sledge
Rationale: Sister Sledge is perhaps the biggest dark horse to ever play the grandstand. What a surprise undercard.
Highlights: Mötley Crüe, James Taylor, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, 3 Doors Down, Staind, REO Speedwagon, Styx
Rationale: Dads, rejoice. Everyone else, despair.
Highlights: Styx, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Hank Cochran, Steve Martin, KC and the Sunshine Band, Bob Hope, Leif Garrett
Rationale: Styx blows.
Highlights: The Osmonds, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash Show, Captain & Tennille, George Benson, Bob Hope, George Miller
Rationale: The Minnesota State Fair people accidentally headlined 1978 and 1979 as “1974” in their official document, which just goes to show you how dramatically boring the Osmonds/Parton/Hope/Johnny Cash Show rut was during the 1970s.
Highlights: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Third Eye Blind, the Wallflowers, LeAnn Rimes, Bonnie Raitt, the Turtles
Rationale: About 30 years too late on the Turtles, but still awesome to see them. Come to think of it, you can see them this year, too.
Highlights: Johnny Cash Show, Jeannie C. Riley, Sonny James, Bobby Vinton, Petula Clark, Art Linkletter, the Golddiggers
Rationale: Sad to see Johnny Cash this low on the list, but his surrounding cast was dismal.
Highlights: Linda Ronstadt, the Osmonds, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Johnny Cash Show
Rationale: Mostly a retread of past years, aside from the formidable Linda Ronstadt, who isn’t given enough credit.
Highlights: Liza Minnelli, Redd Foxx, Bob Hope, Jose Feliciano
Rationale: The first year stand-up comedy was introduced -- a facet that definitely needs to return to the State Fair. The contemporary fair can also use more “Feliz Navidad.”
Highlights: Tim McGraw, ZZ Top, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Kenny Chesney
Rationale: The worst dorm room posters of every decade come to life.
Highlights: Kid Rock, Jason Aldean, Lynyrd Skynyrd, OAR, Slightly Stoopid, 38 Special, Jackson Browne
Rationale: There are no emojis to correctly articulate how sad Kid Rock headlining the Fair in 2009 is. Jackson Browne, though!
Highlights: The Osmonds, Dolly Parton, Roy Rogers, Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, America, Freddie Prinze, Scat Man Crothers
Rationale: 1979 was nearly a gimmick year for the State Fair.
Highlights: Alicia Keys, Shaggy, Trisha Yearwood, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Poison, Billy Ray Cyrus
Rationale: The height of the fair’s throwback pandering. And Alicia Keys.
Highlights: Carrie Underwood, Rush, Tim McGraw, Seether, Brandi Carlile, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Boz Scaggs
Rationale: Somehow, Julianne Hough is on this bill.
Highlights: Captain & Tennille, Kansas, Bill Cosby, Ed McMahon, Andy Gibb, King Family
Rationale: Any year headlined by Captain & Tennille and Kansas is a bad year.
Highlights: Bob Newhart, Baja Marimba Band, George Kirby, Young Americans
Rationale: Boring is better than bad.
Highlights: Hootie and the Blowfish, Boston, Night Ranger, Aaron Carter, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the Kingston Trio, Grand Funk Railroad,the Doobie Brothers, the B-52’s
Rationale: Lowlights include 3 Doors Down, Trapt, Seether, and Shinedown.
Highlights: Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Nickleback, 3 Doors Down, Vertical Horizon, Aaron Carter, A*Teens, SR-71, David Lee Roth, Chic (with Nile Rodgers), Toby Keith, Huey Lewis and the News, Cheap Trick
Rationale: Here’s a pretty good reminder of how disposable music in the early aughts was. Not even a Beatle could redeem 2001.
Highlights: Faith Hill, Amy Grant, Chicago, Tony Bennett, the Little River Band, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bluestime Jam with J. Geils
Rationale: 1995 was a great year for people who like elevator music.
Highlights: Mac Davis, the Brady Bunch Kids, Pat Boone Family, Rich Little
Rationale: A huge dip in star power considering the preceding and following years. Brutally family-friendly.
Highlights: Rosemary Clooney, the Smothers Brothers, Buster Keaton
Rationale: George Clooney’s aunt!
Highlights: Ray Charles Singers, Pete Fountain, Mary Wells
Rationale: Not that Ray Charles.
Highlights: New Christy Minstrels, Anita Bryant, Al Hirt, John Gary
Rationale: “This Land Is Your Land” must’ve been cool to see live. For the first 15 seconds, anyway.
Highlights: Dennis Day, Jane Russell, Jimmie Dean
Rationale: Holy shit, the 1960s were boring.
Highlights: The Doobie Brothers, Don Williams, Ricky Skaggs, Chuck Mangione, Rodney Dangerfield, Air Supply
Rationale: Other than the Doobies and Dangerfield, it looks like they just plucked the lineup at random from the Big Book of Banal White Dude Names.
Highlights: Journey, Reba McEntire, Alabama
Rationale: When perennial afterthought Alabama (who played the State Fair an attritioning 13 times) make your top three, you know it’s a toilet of a year.
Highlights: Clay Aiken, Smash Mouth, the Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson, Spin Doctors
Rationale: This is it, folks. The bottom of the barrel. Scraped clean.