Minnesotans, temper your excitement.
The State Fair is back, and so is the time-honored tradition of booking underwhelming artists at the Grandstand. This year City Pages decided to force me to attend all 12 concerts, a stunt that’s sure to trim more years off my life than a steady diet of pronto pups. Here are my first six dispatches.
Day 1: Niall Horan
8:21—Opener Maren Morris closes her set with mega-hit “The Middle.” And with that, the one culturally relevant moment at the 2018 State Fair Grandstand has come and gone.
9:02 —The former One Direction kid who isn’t Harry or Zayn establishes his dominion at the State Fair. Massive cheers from the nearly full Grandstand erupt.
9:06—Horan says, “Good evening Minnesota State Fair!” Translation: “Choke on a curd, losers. You’re in for 90 minutes of featureless, derivative folk-pop and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
9:12—Niall Horan makes Ed Sheeran sound like Cannibal Corpse.
9:18—Not even a casual weed smell at this large-scale outdoor concert. Aggressively fresh air over here.
9:20—A woman up front has a sign that says, “I missed my first week of college for this,” which reminds me that I’m missing New Order tonight for Niall Horan.
9:25—I just wrote a Niall Horan song that I’d like to share, and it goes a little something like this: “Baby girl, you’re my baby. Please come back to me, baby. I’m so very sexually repressed. So very, very sexually repressed, baby, baby, baby.”
9:27—Niall covers Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” a welcome reprieve from the music of Niall Horan.
9:32—Relevant pop-country singer Maren Morris returns to the stage for a duet. As an outsider, I’m perplexed that the billing for this concert wasn’t reversed.
9:36—Morris is thanked. The crowd is thanked. We’re told that our (frankly, quite believable) energy tonight is unbelievable.
9:38—Niall Horan has the ecstatic grin of a pop star who’s never turned down a hand job. Horan seems like a nice enough guy and is game to please his audience.
9:42—Uff da. These ballads are wearing thin.
9:44—I’m bored now, so I’m turning to Horan’s Wikipedia entry for nuggets of interest.
9:45—Holy shit, this entry is comprehensive. Squint and you could mistake this for the Vietnam War wiki.
9:48—I have just learned about Horan’s parents’ divorce. Jesus. I feel like if I, at gun point, had to write the salacious details of my own life, I’d have to add some fluff to reach this word count.
10:02—I don’t have the setlist in front of me but I’m guessing this song is called “Dry White Rice (Remix).”
10:19—You can tell this is the encore because the song is slightly less unremarkable than what came before it.
Day 2: Sugarland
9:05—Sugarland’s high-energy, low-calorie pop country has arrived at the State Fair.
9:10—If Waylon Jennings is the king of outlaw country, Sugarland are the kings of the law-abiding suburban stuff. This is the kind of song you might hear coming out of a tinny grocery store speaker.
9:22—Here’s a tedious song about self-empowerment with a message of not giving up on your dreams. But what if your dream is to not be at a Sugarland concert?
9:33—As far as I can tell, the only thing that distinguishes one song from the next is tempo.
9:40—This concert is being billed as part of the “Still the Same” tour. I swear I’m not making that up just to be an asshole.
9:54—The State Fair is generally a time for me to get outside of my urban bubble and to experience the broader tastes of my Greater Minnesota brothers and sisters. To soak up the country, if you will. Sugarland are making me want to get a face tattoo and a job spinning signs on Lake Street.
10:10—Here’s another factory-farmed, cookie-cut song about country stuff. I really want this nightmare to be over.
Day 3: The Current’s Music on a Stick Featuring Trampled by Turtles
9:20—The Turtles open their set, but not before the Current takes an opportunity to celebrate … the Current.
9:24—The Turts’ Midwestern-hillbilly string-diddling is in full effect early. These guys come out fiddles blazing.
9:28—Some of the free condoms that event sponsors Planned Parenthood handed out before the concert have been blown up and repurposed into balloons that are now bouncing around the GA section. Shows you just how industrious Minnesotans are. I love this.
9:40—Sometimes when I’m in the car listening to the Current I entertain myself by saying disturbing phrases in my Mark Wheat voice. “This is Mark Wheat. I’m going to fill up my tub with cockroaches and take a dip into it tonight. But first, here’s Caroline Smith on the Current.”
9:48—An over-reliance on soloing is usually a fast path for me to disconnect from a concert. This is not the case with the Turtles. The solos here are plenty engaging.
9:55—Trampled by Turtles are Phish for the Current set.
10:08—[Mark Wheat voice] “There are more jars of petroleum jelly in my closet than there are stars in the universe. Here’s a new one from Mumford and Sons on the Current.”
10:37—The Turtles close their set with the bluegrass hit “Wait So Long.” This show was a vast improvement over the two stinkers that kicked off the Grandstand.
10:40—[Mark Wheat voice] “This is Mark Wheat. I was raised in the sea by jellyfish and eels. You just heard Atmosphere on the Current.”
Day 4: Earth, Wind and Fire
7:35—Frank Sinatra played the Grandstand in 1968. Johnny Cash played the next two years and would return to the fair for multiple appearances the ’70s. Neil Young played the Grandstand in ’85. A legend in his own right, Sinbad is now talking about things you don’t want to say to your wife on that same hallowed stage.
7:43—Sinbad just made a goof about how hard it is to find a salad at the Minnesota State Fair. Lol. TRUTH.
7:55—So far, no jokes about being in the witness protection program for the past 20 years.
8:01—Sinbad is right: It does get pretty cold here in the winter.
8:26—This just keeps happening.
8:41—Sinbad has been on stage for over an hour. What is going on?
8:48—The marathon set finally reaches its conclusion. Sinbad? More like Sinterrible.
9:03—Earth, Wind and Fire set begins. The band are dressed like WWF villains from the ’90s.
9:17—Relentlessly funky bass.
9:35—Earth, Wind and Fire sound exactly like you’d imagine them sounding live in 2018. The influx of old guys and whippersnappers in the band produces an odd energy, but it’s passably entertaining.
9:58—I’m just going to assume “September” played after I left to get cheese curds. God bless.
Day 5: Beach Boys
8:45—The Righteous Brothers Bill Medley sings “Unchained Melody” solo. A contender for the greatest song of all time. Seeing it live is a treat.
9:30—The remnants of the Beach Boys race to their positions on stage. Video behind the set projects a montage of the band in their heyday.
9:32—John Stamos arrives, stands front and center playing a red, white and blue guitar. The same John Stamos who played Uncle Jesse in Full House tours with the Beach Boys.
9:42—Beloved popular entertainer Mike Love runs through fluff hit “Surfing USA.” The 77-year-old singer mimes riding a surf board during the chorus.
9:44—John Stamos given proper introduction. A satisfying answer for Stamos’ inclusion in the band is not given, leaving the audience perplexed.
9:52—The Beach Boys have a proxy Brian Wilson who takes the lead for “Don’t Worry Baby.” The song is still great if a proper reminder that the band is missing their genius leader and best vocalist.
10:06—Uncle Jesse gets behind the kit and plays a drum solo. It’s a surreal moment in a night full of them.
10:16—John Stamos is embraced at center stage by Mike Love.
10:21—The Boys run through “God Only Knows.” It’s apropos that John Stamos is still on stage.
10:30—A new Beach Boys song is played, presumably for fans of the band’s recent output?
10:37—“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the best Beach Boys song.
10:41—There’s a moment in “California Girls” when John Stamos takes over lead vocals.
10:54—The set closes with “Good Vibrations.” John Stamos will forever eclipse the music in my memory of having seen the Beach Boys.
Day 6: Jason Mraz
8:47—Jason Mraz takes the stage. It’s the smallest crowd of the Grandstands so far. This may be due, in part, to the fact that Jason Mraz is terrible.
8:58—Mraz is rapping now and it’s horrifying.
9:00—Jason looks like a guy who buys a Plan B pill before a first date.
9:05—If you think the Jason Mraz songs you’ve heard on the radio are bad, you should hear the rest of his music. This is painful.
9:07—“The Remedy” is an all-time stinker. I hate that I know the words to this song.
9:11—What podcast should I listen to?
9:15—Band is dressed in oversized one-piece jumpsuits. Mraz has a tiny barbershop quartet hat on which would look ridiculous if he weren’t Jason Mraz.
9:18—Mraz is for some reason giving a speech about why we should replace the word “fuck” with “love” in our vocabulary. Love off, Mraz.
9:22—There’s a giant sign advertising “Good Vibes” that’s hung above this relentlessly vibe-killing concert.
9:28—The rain is coming down. Presumably, God wants this concert to end too.
9:32—Jason Mraz writes lyrics with the care of a drunken carnival barker.
9:36—I’m watching a Jason Mraz concert in the cold rain. Karma is real.
9:38—How can someone who spends so much time scatting and hip-hoppin’ be this low energy? Time has ground to a halt.
9:45—I just don’t see why people like this shit. It’s repulsive. The lowest common denominator of music.
9:56—Hopeless Aretha Franklin tribute. Lightning inexplicably fails to strike Mraz.
10:03—“Why are we here? To say our hellos and goodbyes and disappear?” This is some of the philosophy of Mraz, a void of personal interrogation.
10:10—This is one degree removed from Christian summer camp entertainment. The gospel is all that’s missing.
10:22—“I’m Yours” is a horrifying reality of popular music. I want to dip my ears in acid.
10:30—Mraz is rapping again and this is unquestionably the worst concert I’ve ever been to.
Ryan Warner has six more Grandstand concerts to get through. Check back every day to see if he has perished, fled, or unexpectedly become a rabid 311 fan.