Here is a look at some of the acts who came to entertain us at the State Fair through the years.  It is far from complete, but remember that long ago, the entertainment consisted of pageants with “casts of thousands,” not nationally-known acts.


The 1923 Minnesota State Fair and Northwest Dairy Exposition, September 1 to 8, had an entertainment program that was expected to be “easily the most stupendous bill of its kind ever contracted by any fair in America” and would cost $150,000.  Events included:

  • 17 Spectacular Circus Acts
  • Lillian Boyer in her Thrilling Change from a Speeding Automobile to an Airplane, Climaxed by Wing Walking and Parachute Drop
  • Automobile Races, featuring Sig Haugdahl and his famous 3-mile-a-minute racing car
  • 200 harness and running horses
  • Auto Polo, America’s newest and most dangerous sport
  • “Battle in the Clouds” each night by veteran aces Lieutenants Brock and Faulker
  • Fireworks spectacle “India,” featuring elephants and a cast of 700.
  • Dozen famous bands and orchestras
  • Midway featuring 23 big attractions
  • 80 acres of farm machinery



John Phillip Sousa and his 70-piece band played at the Minnesota State Fair from September 3 to 10, 1927.  Sousa dedicated the new march “Minnesota,” as the official march of the University of Minnesota.  A dozen other big bands and orchestras also appeared at the Fair.

Ad from the Minnetonka Record

Minnesota Historical Society



In these years, State Fair shows were usually spectacular productions with casts of thousands.  1941 was no exception, EXCEPT that on the first night, August 23, there was a special show starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, plus:

  • Ted Weems and his “Beat the Band” Orchestra
  • Buster West, film Comedian
  • Paul Remos and His Toy Boys
  • Lois Wolner and Her Singing Commanders
  • and 12 Other Top Attractions


On the rest of the nights, August 24 – September 1, there was the World’s Greatest Outdoor Spectacular:

New!  Dazzling!  Different!  Greatest Extravaganza of the Ages…  A Musicomedy Studded with Stars from Broadway, Hollywood and Radio… Combining Beauty, Color, Comedy and Rhythm… 400 Living Artists…  Five Stirring Episodes…  57 Stellar Acts.. 40 Chic Chorines.. A Fast-Moving, Hilarious Grandstand Production That’ll Made You Rock and Roar with Laughter… All Climaxed by Glorious Fireworks


It was pandemonium when Ricky Nelson appeared at the 1957 Minnesota State Fair.  He played to approximately 25,000 fans from a stage erected “a zip code away in the center of an enormous racetrack” according to biographer Philip Basche. Also appearing were the Four Preps, who dressed in silver lame jackets in order to be seen, but all eyes were on Nelson, who wore a cream colored jacket, white and burgundy polka dot shirt, and a white tie.  With a limited repertoire, he also sang numbers by Elvis and the Everly Brothers.




Ricky Nelson returned to the Minnesota State Fair in 1958, complete with screaming girls and James Burton on the Fender Telecaster.


Johnny Cash performed at the Fair on August 29, 1960.




Johnny Cash performed at the Fair on August 29, 1961.  Or are these duplicate entries?



Headliners at the State Fair Grandstand were:

  • August 28-30:  “Glamorous Jane Russell in a dazzling performance”
  • August 25-27:  Dennis Day – “brilliant comedy and musical show”
  • August 31 – September 3:  Jimmie Dean.
  • Plus 10 Big Variety Acts!  Galaxy of Stars!  Thrill Shows every nite from August 26.  Orchestra – chorus



Headliners at the State Fair Grandstand were:

  • Buster Keaton, August 24 to September 2
  • Rosemary Clooney, August 24 – 26
  • The Smothers Brothers, August 29 to September 2

Other acts included the Rhythm Masters, Zacchini the Human Cannonball, the Warren Covington Orchestra, Dockey’s Basketball-playing Dogs on the new zoom-up panoramic stage.

At KDWB’s Teen Danceland, performers were:

  • Rooftop Singers
  • Rhythm Masters
  • The Yeomen
  • Libby Horne
  • Paul & Paula
  • Smothers Brothers
  • James Darren
  • The Galaxies
  • The Corvets
  • Mike Waggoner and the Bops
  • The Starliners


Kids’ Day, for children up to age 15, promised a free Grandstand show at 10 a.m. starring:

  • Bobby Vinton
  • The Rhythm Masters teen comedy band
  • Libby Horne
  • The Rooftop Singers
  • The Yeomen



Headliners at the 1964 State Fair Grandstand shows were:

  • The New Christy Minstrels
  • Anita Bryant
  • Al Hirt
  • John Gary


The State Fair included a Teen Age Fair for the first time:

Straight from Hollywood – a 3-acre “Fair within a Fair” for teeners.  Non-Stop Record Hop, Battle of Bands, Custom Car Caravan, Fashion and Beauty Shows, Karate demonstrations, Miss Teen Northwest competition, Hootenanny, dance contests, and MUCH more.  Continuous program, all ten days and nights  Adjoins the Midway, west of Grandstand.  Admission (50 cents) covers all attractions.  (Accompanied by cartoon of the State Fair Gopher playing a guitar)

Eddie Eiss confirms the description:

There was a tent that had a large electric car racing set up, as that was a fad at the time, and there was an old real car teens could hit with a sledge hammer (not sure what the thrill of that was), and there was a booth that let people doing some kind of painting that involved spinning a wheel. Forget just how many tents with stages for the bands. Not many. We played in one of them, not the big one.

Bands playing at the teen fair included:

  • The Casualties, the first band to play live, who started out with “Hello Josephine.”  The Casualties eventually became the Sir Raleighs.
  • The Lancers
  • Michael’s Mystics


There was also a Battle of the Bands with 400 groups.  I only know of two!  If your band was in it, please let me know!  So far there were:

  • The Trolls, with Eddie Eiss
  • Danny and the Night Sounds, featuring Danny Stevens.  Danny’s group took first place in the massive contest. Later that year, Danny started a new band, this time calling it “Danny’s Reasons.”




Grandstand shows at the 1965 State Fair included:

  • Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain, who was a replacement for the originally-scheduled Al Hirt.  Hirt asked to be released from the commitment when he was signed to a CBS-TV summer program “Fanfare” on Saturday nights.
  • Mary Wells
  • Roger Miller
  • The Ray Charles Singers (not to be confused with the Raelettes).  Their hit was the lovely “Love Me With All Your Heart.”


The 1965 Fair also featured the second Teenage Fair.




The Grandstand shows were:

  • The Supremes with Jerry Van Dyke (August 26-30)
  • The Smothers Brothers with George Kirby


The Teenage Fair was replaced with the Young America Center.  The center featured permanent display booths, a circular dance pavilion and a fashion building, all built last year.  Admission was 50 cents and approximately 100,000 teens came through in 1966.  The highlighted groups were the Chieftones (billed as an “All-Indian band from Canada”), the Enemies, and the Fabulous Flippers.



It was probably a coup when Chad and Jeremy were booked to perform in the Young America Center.  But a brou-ha-ha erupted when Chad and Jeremy walked out of the Fair after only two of their scheduled 15 performances after finding out they would be in the teen pavilion rather than in the Grandstand. They found they were booked to play three shows a day in what they termed a “hastily assembled wooden tent about 45 ft. in diameter which, with cramming, could accommodate 135 standing teenagers,” reported In-Beat Magazine in October 1966.  They objected to being on the bill with local groups, to teenagers who got in for free (which apparently wasn’t true). The picture below was found in the negatives of WCCO-TV, leading us to believe it was a pretty big deal.

Chad and Jeremy beneath our dignity2



The grandstand acts were

  • The Baja Marimba Band with George Kirby
  • Bob Newhart with the Young Americans (“Western Union”)


The Young America Center at the State Fair was the place to be, with performances by:

  • The Fabulous Flippers
  • The Kingsmen
  • The Sandpipers
  • The Jade Set – an Oriental pop-variety group





  • Premiere Night, August 23:  Coronation of Mrs. America, and comedians Allen and Rossi.
  • August 24-27:  The Fifth Dimension with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Ballet America with its lightning-paced choreography of the early American West.
  • August 28:  Country and Western Night.  Stars from the “Opry” recreate their hits:  Marty Robbins, Sonny James, Hank Williams, Jr., Connie Smith, and Lamar Morris
  • August 29 to September 1:  International Nights with Jack Jones and the National Ballet of Mexico



  • August 24-28:  The American Breed
  • August 25-26:  The Fabulous Flippers
  • August 29 to September 1:  The Grass Roots
  • August 30 to September 2:  The First Edition (presumably with Kenny Rogers)
  • “Plus fashions, exhibits, clinics, continuous music and pow.  Open noon to 10:30.”






1969 Grandstand shows continued to be middle-of-the-road (or perhaps even off road):

  • Buck Owens, Susan Rye, and Billy Walker
  • Lesley Gore with George Kirby
  • The Johnny Cash Show with the Statler Brothers (August 26)
  • Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lynn Anderson, Speck Rhodes, and Conway Twitty
  • Patti Page with Kids Next Door and Don Rice III


The 1969 youth fair at the State Fair was called Inside Young America.  National acts were:

  • The Sir Douglas Quintet
  • The New Colony Six
  • The Bob Seger System
  • (and possibly the Grassroots).


Local acts included the all-girl band the 19th Amendment.  100,000 kids paid 50 cents to see music, karate and judo demonstrations, fashion shows, etc.



Acts at the 1970 State Fair Grandstand were:

  • Jeannie C. Riley (“Harper Valley PTA”), Sonny James, Faron Young, and Jimmy Davis
  • Bobby Vinton with the Cowsills.  The Cowsills also appeared at Dayton’s 8th Floor Auditorium in 1970 or ’71.
  • The Johnny Cash Show with the Statler Brothers
  • The Lawrence Welk Show
  • Petula Clark, Art Linkletter, and the Golddiggers (Dean Martin’s chorus girls)
  • Charlie Pride (with Fess Parker?)


The 1970 youth pavilion was called Mind Odyssey, and promised “no bubblegum.”  Nova Lights put on the light show, as they did at the Labor Temple.  Among the activities were performances by Shakespeare in the Street.  National headliners were the James Gang (with Joe Walsh) and Sha-Na-Na.  The Insider listed no less than 13 local bands for your dancing pleasure:

  • Mystics
  • Marauders
  • White Lightning
  • System
  • Big Island
  • Danny’s Reasons
  • CA Quintet
  • Sir Raleighs
  • Zarathustra
  • Fenatiks
  • Pride and Joy
  • Peace
  • Sunshine World



Dave Lowe also remembers that his band, Karisma, played at Mind Odyssey that year, and posted this photo to Facebook:

Dave Olson, Connie Olson, Dave Lowe



Grandstand shows at the State Fair were:

  • The Carpenters, John Davidson, Della Reese, and the Harmonicats
  • Sandler & Young
  • Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Jack Green, Jeannie Sealy, and Roy Acuff
  • Liberace
  • Neil Diamond
  • Charley Pride


The 1971 State Fair youth pavilion was again called Mind Odyssey, and again featured Shakespeare in the Streets.  National acts were Sugarloaf and Mason Proffit.  The Insider listed 17 local bands that played throughout the fair.  Somewhere in there were the Fair Tyme Singers – a happy bunch!

Minnesota Historical Society




Grandstand shows were:

  • Sonny and Cher with David Brenner
  • John Denver with Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
  • Sonny James, Lynn Anderson, Del Reeves, Tom T. Hall, and Tex Ritter
  • Bobby Goldsboro, Anne Murray, and George Kirby
  • Merle Haggard, Sammi Smith, and Waylon Jennings
  • Neil Diamond
  • Up With People


The 1972 State Fair youth pavilion was again called the Mind Odyssey, and featured national acts:

  • Brave New Workshop (Satirical Revue every day)
  • Tony Joe White – August 25-27, 1972
  • Cold Blood – August 28-30, 1972.  Cold Blood was “a jazz-rock band that has some national fame. Lead singer Lydia Pense’s style was compared to that of Janis Joplin….  Remarkably, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood still performs today.”
  • Bill Withers – August 31 – September 2, 1972
  • Muddy Waters – September 3-4, 1972.  Photo below posted by Randy Nordquist.



Also appearing were the biggest of the local bands, as reported by the Insider:

  • Litter
  • Pepper Fog
  • Cain
  • Cold Duck
  • Copperhead
  • Teen King and the Princes
  • Purple Haze
  • Daybreak
  • Sterling
  • Octopus
  • Blackbone
  • Danny’s Reasons
  • Fairchild
  • Powerhouse
  • Skogie and the Faming Pachucos
  • Phaedra
  • Jasper
  • Sunshine World
  • Brave New World
  • Menagerie
  • Spice
  • Birth



State Fair Grandstand shows included:

  • Mac Davis with the Fifth Dimension
  • Dawn featuring Tony Orlando with the Brady Bunch Kids
  • Bill Anderson, Donna Fargo, Tommy Overstreet, Leroy Van Dyke, and comedian Jerry Clower
  • Pat Boone Family and Rich Little
  • Engelbert Humperdinck with nightclub comic Morty Gunty
  • Charley Pride, Johnny Russell, and ventriloquist Alex Houston and Elmer


Ad above from the White Bear Press, courtesy White Bear Historical Society.  And in case you wondered about Morty Gunty, he appears to be straight outta da Catskills.

The 1973 State Fair youth pavilion apparently didn’t have any national acts, but it did have no less than 27 local acts on its schedule, including:

  • Joy of Cooking
  • Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids
  • Gypsy
  • Danny’s Reasons (who appeared naked in the September 1973 issue of the Insider)
  • Salt, Pepper & Spice (“Funky as Hell”)
  • Jesse Brady
  • Rudy (“5 Pieces that will blow your mind”)
  • Be Bop and the Hubcaps



State Fair Grandstand shows included:

  • Liza Minelli, August 24
  • Bob Hope with Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass and Dian Hart, August 25
  • Charlie Rich and the Treasurers with Jim Stafford, August 26
  • Jerry Reed, Tanya Tucker, Jerry Clower, Judy Lynn, and Hank Snow, August 27
  • Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson, Slappy White, Gerri Granger, Harry “Sweets” Edison and the Little Steps, August 28
  • Jim Nabors with the Hagers, August 29
  • Mac Davis with the Fifth Dimension, August 30
  • Roy Clark
  • Helen Reddy with Jose Feliciano


The youth pavilion was called Youth Expo ’74 and Music Festival, sponsored by KSTP and Schon Productions.  Promoters were trying to breathe some life into the dwindling youth center, which peaked in 1966 with 115,000 attendees to a low in 1973 of 78,000.  The Insider‘s description was bleak, though:  a chain link fence surrounding a sheet metal and concrete shelter staging area.  The national acts in 1974 were:

  • Charlie Daniels, August 23-25
  • Freddie King, August 26-28
  • Wet Willie, August 29-31
  • New York Dolls, September 1-2


Bob Protzman of the Pioneer Press did his best to prepare the Cities for the Dolls; he said one local promoter said “he couldn’t wait to see the expressions on the faces of the State Fair’s hierarchy when they get a look at the New York Dolls in their platform shoes, bright red lipstick, earrings, tights, occasional miniskirts, necklaces, bracelets, unisex hairdos, and the rest.”  He also prepared us for David Johansen’s routine of “tying up his arm and injecting himself with an imaginary hypodermic needle while singing ‘Looking for a Kiss.'”

The band was two hours late:  a) no cabs would pick them up from Downtown; b) they had to be “dragged in from a drunken stroll down the midway;” or c) two of them had wandered off to get something to eat, take your pick.  When they arrived they were reportedly ticked off that they were not playing in the Grandstand.  Paul Metsa also remembers that “The Dolls were late, and when they arrived and started playing they were greeted by some with beer cans and burning paper airplanes.  They were all wearing eye makeup and the bass player had on a pink tutu and bunny boots.”  (Blue Guitar Highway, 2011)  Tom Rusch’s review in the Insider did note that “this was no fey glam rock.”  After the show they went off to enjoy the Midway.  Local group Skogie and the Flaming Pachucos opened the show.

National supporting acts at Youth Expo ’74 were:

  • Kansas, August 23-25
  • Renaissance, August 26-27 (progressive rock)
  • Heartsfield, August 28-29 (Chicago-based country blues)
  • Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers, August 31 – September 2 (“rock ‘n ‘ roll septet from the South”)
  • Fresh Start (Los Angeles studio musicians)
  • Isis, August 26-30 (eight-piece female jazz-rock group)
  • Hydra, August 31 – September 1-2  (from Macon, Georgia)
  • Rush (two days)

Local supporting acts included:

  • Gypsy
  • Straight Up
  • Jesse Brady
  • Rose
  • Uncle Vinty
  • Natural Life


*Find Out What’s Happening With the Under 30 Crowd at the Market Place.  Exhibits Include:

  • Stereo-Audio
  • Camping
  • Records
  • Clothing
  • Skiing
  • Bicycles
  • Mountain Gear