Fairs Score With Diverse Bookings

New York attributes one-fifth of gate to free concerts; Minnesota sells out four

  • by Lisa White
  • Published: September 5, 2018

Old Dominion played one of the four sold-out shows at this year's Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul. (Patrick Dunn / Minnesota State Fair).

Two of the best-attended state fairs in the country, Minnesota and New York, saw sellout crowds at many of their concerts held late last month and into Labor Day weekend.

The New York State Fair in Syracuse put on about 500 free concerts during its run Aug. 21-Sept. 2. In a three-year, $525,000 sponsorship agreement with Chevrolet announced Aug. 20, the fair rebranded more than 75 performances on the main Chevy Court and Experience stages as the Chevrolet Concert Series.

“We made a larger investment this year in our shows totaling $2.1 million,” said Dave Bullard, New York State Fair public relations and marketing manager.

The plan appeared to pay off: Rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie drew a record crowd of 40,610 on Sept. 2, surpassing Steve Miller Band’s 36,900 attendees in 2015, though the evening was marred by a stabbing and a spate of fights and arrests at the fair.

Main stage Chevy Court performances included Hanson, Niall Horan, Ludacris, Counting Crows, Live, Blondie, ZZ Top and Smokey Robinson. The Experience Stage included national acts Eddie Money, All Time Low, John Kay and Steppenwolf, and Foghat.

“Our mark on the world is to democratize normally high-dollar-admission shows and include them in the price of the fair admittance fee,” Bullard said. Fair tickets cost $10 at the gate or $6 in advance. There were two free days this year for seniors over 60. Children 12 and under were free.

Bullard estimates the concerts bring 250,000 people a year to the fairgrounds, or a fifth of its attendance, which was a record 1.26 million this year. The fair averages 95,000 attendees daily.

“We set eight daily attendance records as well as the overall fair attendance record” this year, Bullard said. “We continue to push the concert series up the ladder to bring in artists who command a higher price, and this year we think that came back to us. We had a couple crowds over 30,000.”

The Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul saw four sold-out shows during its run Aug. 23-Sept. 3. These included Sugarland, which drew 12,418 on Aug. 24; The Current’s Music On-A-Stick featuring Trampled by Turtles at 15,627 on Aug. 25; the Beach Boys at 13,168 on Aug. 27; and Old Dominion at 12,636 on Aug. 29.

This year’s fair held 900 free music performances. Total fair attendance hit  2,046,533, breaking the record of 1,997,320 set last year.

Grandstand ticket prices varied by show and ranged from $15 to $67. Fair admission was $14 for adults and $12 for seniors and children 5-12. Children under 5 were free.

“We put more money behind our social media this year, increasing our budget by $10,000, while also boosting Facebook events and ads on Facebook and Instagram,” said Danielle Dullinger, Minnesota State Fair spokesperson.

The fair also had ticket giveaways, publicizing them on Twitter and Instagram the day of the shows. Dullinger credited the promotions and creative social media campaigns for the sold-out shows.

“Every year, the challenge is booking a diverse lineup in 12 days,” Dullinger said. “We do a good job finding niche performers. It’s great to see four sellouts with different genres.”

  • by Lisa White
  • Published: September 5, 2018