MN State Fair: A deep-fried look at 2013's Grandstand music
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
The world is divided into three camps at the moment. There are those overwhelmed that the Replacements are playing their first show since the Bush era, folks who can't stop talking about the MN State Fair, and the third group are the people who don't live in Minnesota. Regarding the 'Mats, my money is on a Three Stooges-style pie fight followed by the shocking revelation that Paul Westerberg is in fact the love child of Alex Chilton and Judy Garland. Now that we've settled that, let's talk about the Great Minnesota Get-Together, a.k.a. the great Minnesota Cultural Equalizer.
The State Fair is the one place the whole state comes together with the common goal of eating fried food on a stick. Whether you're a governor, a mayor, a local rock 'n' roll icon, a farmer, or an aspiring juggalo, you can take some small comfort in that you're all going to go home with a stomach on the verge of being queasy. It's like a class reunion, but with life -- and a bit like Costco that way. You can run into your high school drama teacher, the bully from eighth grade, and any number of local drummers. Somehow you're never asking yourself why Garrison Keillor is buying a 50-pound tub of Gorgonzola cheese, instead you just wonder "Where did he get that three-foot-deep fried cream puff on a stick?"
Of course another big draw is the scattered State Fair music offerings, with a lot of folks getting excited about the big Grandstand shows. Most notably, Depeche Mode with Bat for Lashes. At $60 on top of the fair's $12 admission, it's one of the priciest shows of the season. Is it just me, or is this just kind of weird?
At this point it's hard not to think of Depeche Mode as a nostalgia act, even though they are touring in support of a new record, Delta Machine. But at a venue like the State Fair you can't help but bring up a sense of nostalgia. It's the largest venue that DM have ever played in this
state other than Target Center and the Xcel, but those were decades ago.
Nostalgia isn't bad. It's one of the things that makes the fair fun, and it is a tradition in an era that has been a bit of a tradition killer. It's one of the things that makes Minnesota different from anywhere else in the world, this strange agrarian tradition smack dab inside of the
metro. And what better place to ram together previously incongruous aspects of your youth? Think of it this way: If the money doesn't go to David Gahan and Martin Gore, it's just gonna end up in Turkey to Go's pockets.
You also have to love the fact that this show is sandwiched between a concert featuring the Turtles and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and a night of cat videos. And it's going on at the exact same time as former teen heartthrobs Hanson, who are playing for free at the Bandshell, All this and a deep-fried pickle on a stick: What more could you possibly ask for?
Fun bit of Minnesota trivia: Frequent Depeche Mode remixer and touring partner Bryan Black (Motor, Black Asteroid) is a Mineasota native, born and raised. Although I'm not sure if he was a State Fair guy or not.
We live in a state of diversity and nothing shows it like the fair: In a 12-day window, you get geezer rock like Sammy Hagar and Blue Öyster Cult, local faves like Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, and up-and-comers like singer songwriter Alexandra Green. From Sheila E to GB Leighton to Pert Near Sandstone. They can even get away with calling an event MN Music-On-A-Stick!
However, if I were to guess what the true musical highlight of the fair would be, I'd lay odds on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. As royalty among a summer soundtrack coronation -- along with Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus and Eddie Cochran -- they'd be wearing the crown. Or you know, have separate crowns, otherwise they would look like royal conjoined twins.
With M&RL hits like "Can't Hold Us," "Thrift Shop," and "Same Love" being constants on radio stations from the Current to KDWB, these Seattle independent hip-hop purveyors become the group that no one could deny. In a lot of ways, they are the the perfect State Fair band -- smart but not cocky, dancey but danceable. They are like the nice kids from next door who grew up and had a rap band, but still visit their mom.
I can't be at the fair and not think of any number of amazing times -- like watching the Flaming Lips with my kid sister and Grant Hart. Or trying to explain who Andy Warhol was to my dear lost friend and grand dame of seed art, Lillian Colton. Or eating fried apple pie with JD McPherson. Or hanging out with the snake girl from a sideshow tent on her cigarette break and getting the inside dish on the Lobster Boy. The fair is a place where all high-low cultural lines blur, yet stay surprisingly coherent. It is an escape from genre and class, job and geography, and the mish-mash of Grandstand music more than reflects that.
Everyone has their fair rituals if they attend regularly. Be it the music, the cheese curds, the skyride, or chatting with everyone running for public office. The latter I stopped once former senator/plywood salesman Rudy Boschwitz suggested that if he dyed his hair purple (my hair color at the time) we could be twins.
My ritual now is to end every visit with a ride on the Ye Old Mill, which is the oldest attraction at the fair. To me, it's the ride my great-grandfather rode when he was courting my great grandmother. The one he took his son on, and the one on which my father would later court his soon-to-be wife. It's the one he took me on when I was just a kid. It's a connection to all those times in the past, present, and future. It makes the long-dead feel a little more present in my life -- if even just for a moment of a ride in the darkness in musty smelling blue water.
As a state, we can celebrate with pride that we live in a place that gave the world Brother Ali, Post-It notes, chow mein, and big-ass malls. Among a whole mess of other stuff of course, the point being it's a moment of state pride not dependent on athletes from other states that we hired to live here part of the year and loose horribly at playing games with balls, it's about community, it's about home, it's about eating fried stuff on a stick. Gangstas meet farmers, a Smash Mouth-Sugar Ray concert is a little less laughable, and everyone eats ironic hotdish.
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