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My Fair Lady

She loves the Minnesota State Fair. I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot cheese curd. St. Paul, we have a problem.




Today we go to the fair. Tomorrow, next year, the rest of my life?

I can’t promise that. In 20 years of living just a few miles from the Minnesota State Fair, I’ve been there exactly once. Its appeal is a mystery to me, an enigma wrapped in a mini-donut inside a beer belly. It’s hot. It’s crowded. It’s debased, a gladiatorial spectacle in which the seven virtues are slain by the seven deadly sins, their carcasses skewered, deep-fried, and laid out in the sun as if in warning. For 12 days of the year, the devil wears stretch pants.

My girlfriend, Lucy, can’t get enough of it. She volunteers in the political booths. She enters the contests. It’s in her blood: her mother, through 4-H, showed vegetables at the fair. Her great-grandmother and great-aunt both won the sweepstakes prize for the best overall entries. As I write this, Lucy is debating whether to enter her banana bread or her chocolate-oatmeal cookies. Once she submitted a cake decorated with frosting meant to look like corn dogs.

If we’re going to stay together, we’re going to the fair together. So Lucy has agreed to take me under her wing for one full day at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, in order to answer a simple question: Could I learn to love the fair, for love’s sake?
 

When we arrive, it’s 10 a.m. and already 90 degrees. The air is thick with smoke, heavy with grease. I can’t tell where my sweat ends and someone else’s begins. The devil is crooking his finger at me, snapping his elastic waistband.

I stand just a few feet inside the gates, orienting myself—a pointless procedure. There are foot-long hot dogs next to snowcones next to chicken chops next to Al Franken’s booth next to Bob’s Snake Zoo (“It’ll scare the whiz out of you!”). It’s almost a parody of juxtaposition, the neat, orderly nature of Minnesota melted down and served with powdered sugar.

“Check this out,” Lucy says, nodding at the family music tent. “They always have weird stuff there.” Sure enough, half a dozen dudes are dancing onstage to “Hammer Time” in black bodysuits and red masks. “My name is Yoda,” one dancer tells the crowd. I believe it.

But Lucy assures me that much of what repels me about the fair—the chaos and bad decision-making—is part of the fun, if you stand far enough back. We buy a Pronto Pup (much better in its pancakey batter, Lucy argues, than its more popular cousin, the corn dog) and move into the shadows, the better to point out passersby.

Consider this woman in a T-shirt that says, “Condom Club, $2 a month.”

Consider this guy with a comb and mirror, openly teasing his long, greasy skullet.

Consider this man with a yardstick carelessly cradled between his butt-cheeks. He’s so loaded down with swag as he waddles into the Midway, that he’s decided to slip his free ruler down the back of his pants, so that it sticks up behind him like a flag on a bicycle.

Who are these people and what do they do when they’re not here? All my life, I’ve striven to make good choices, believing they were necessary simply to stay alive. After just 10 minutes at the fair, in a moment of supreme self-regard, I wonder, How do these people survive?

“Honey,” Lucy says, dabbing at my temple, “you’ve got mustard on your head.”
 

Clearly, I’m in the minority: the Minnesota State Fair is America’s most popular, surpassing all others in daily attendance. To bypass the fair is not just un-Minnesotan, it’s un-American. How else to explain the preponderance of women here in American flag bikinis, spilling relish on the stars and stripes?

My traitorous tendencies even run counter to the stories cooked up by Rodgers and Hammerstein, E.B. White, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—all urban aesthetes, all remarkably thin, all fair fans. For them, a state fair conveyed American ingenuity. Look what we can do. To the winner goes the prize. For A Night at the Fair, a short story published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1928, Fitzgerald set his characters adrift in the “tunnel of love” called the Old Mill (now the oldest ride at the fair), the midway being a stand-in for the mystery of attraction, the marvel of desire.

But, in truth, the Minnesota State Fair has struggled nearly since its inception to please everyone. Then as now, the state was divided along urban/rural lines. And by the 1890s, to attract city folks, the fair had allowed a gauntlet of seedy sideshows to grow up around the agricultural exhibits: wheels of fortune, blind-pig races, soda jerks who spiked the pink lemonade. The Grandstand began hosting mock battles worthy of ancient Rome. Ultimately, in 1933, the fair cancelled a few pastoral harness races in favor of a “thrill day” full of barnstormers, airplane wing walking, human cannonballs, and the like. The opening event was a staged train wreck.

Sounds good to me. But for some reason—costs, insurance, CGI—all these spectacles have been scrapped and instead of a train wreck we have, well, Kid Rock. We have bacon on sticks. We have, as Lucy and I discover, an oral hygiene exhibition inviting people to brush that bacon out of their molars—not after the fair but right there in shared sinks. Would it kill someone to crash some locomotives together?

The wonder of the fair, as at modern-day circuses or magic shows, is now largely gone, its pleasures antique. Instead, as with so much of contemporary American life, we’re offered quantity instead of quality. When Lucy and I pass Sweet Martha’s cookie stand, where plastic buckets are filled to overflowing with discs of chocolatey dough, I can feel my resentment rising. Within an eight-foot radius of the stand, there are hundreds of dark circles on the pavement—grease marks from the cookies that toppled off, the stains of gluttony.

What bothers me isn’t the waste, or the obesity, or even the spike in my health insurance needed to pay for the guy bent over a bucket of cookies today and a doctor’s table tomorrow. It’s the nagging notion that we’re better than this, that we should have something more to show for our American ingenuity than the ability to stuff ourselves silly—and that I wouldn’t want to read a short story about Sweet Martha’s.
 

Lucy doesn’t see things my way, because she’s too busy looking for what she wants. “Forget the midway, forget the grandstand—forget everything you think you know, okay?” she tells me. “I don’t go to the fair to try weird things on a stick.”

Instead, she guides me to the more honest spectacle of calving cows in the Miracle of Birth Barn. “Is that a pubic bone hanging above the cow pen?” I ask Lucy. Yes, it is.

She introduces me to the curious pleasures of the Creative Arts Building, where a young guy with bad teeth points to a display and advises us, “Check it out, your jaw will drop on the ground.” He’s talking about quilts.

She takes me wherever blue ribbons can be found. Because the fair, she says, for all the stuff you can buy here, has always essentially been a contest. The biggest pumpkins, the fattest pigs, the straightest zucchinis (or whatever their ideal shape is)—these are the real evidence of our ingenuity. And all those ribbons are benchmarks. To have one is to know you measure up. “We’re a striving state,” Lucy says. “Work on it!”

As we approach the dairy building, Lucy notes, “There are two things we need to do in here”—get a malt and see the butter busts of the dairy princesses. We need to do this, she says, for the same reason that we needed to see the winning rows of perfectly uniform corn kernels (congrats to Cody and Levi), the outspoken seed art (“The party’s over, T-bag,” says one piece ripping the Tea Party), eat corn on the cob, and drink root beer bought from a guy in a barrel. It’s tradition. It’s what stays the same, even as the sideshows come and go. You just need to know where to find it.

And so we stand in line for malts as though for communion, the butter statues arrayed behind us like idols. And I begin to understand. No matter how much things change, we probably haven’t lost our way so long as we can still get a good, cold cup of malted milk. “It’s an annual check-in,” Lucy tells me, a milk mustache forming above her lips. “Where are we at as a state?”
 

But I still don’t know what to make of this guy coming towards us, the one in jean shorts carrying a giant stuffed gorilla, a ruler shoved in his pants.

I don’t know what to make of the recent health study reporting that only 65 percent of women, and just 39 percent of men, wash their hands at the fair.

I don’t know what to make of the people who would respond to this ad in the fair restrooms: “Still a virgin? We can help at the parking lot.”

But Lucy knows how to bridge this divide, too. “We’re going to get some cookies,” she says, and steers us back to Sweet Martha’s.

It’s dark now, and the massive shapes of people moving about with spilling buckets are like something out of Fantasia, gothic and cartoonish. I order a giant cone full of cookies, just for the two of us, and say nothing when it’s piled beyond reason. I do nothing when a couple of cookies topple onto the pavement.

This is how it’s always been, I think—in Fitzgerald’s day, country women rubbed calico-covered shoulders with insouciant flappers, all drawn by the same basic desires. Now, as night falls, I can’t even tell who’s who.

“Once a year, the fair lets me get in touch with the rest of Minnesota,” Lucy says.

 “And guess what? We live in a state where people wear jean shorts and carry gorillas. Hell yeah!”

I lean back, take another cookie. And then another. And then another. “Good, right?” Lucy says.

I say nothing, because my mouth is full and because I’m flexing my bicep, wondering what it would take to win one of those giant gorillas.

More State Fair finds and memories For more State Fair finds and memories, visit MNMO.com/MNFAIR.

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MN Events Calendar Sponsored by:

June 2015

Come to Big Sandy Lodge and Resort to get all the delicious pancakes you can eat for only $5.

Cost: $5

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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YogaFit's Mind Body Fitness Conference is where students work towards a Yoga Alliance registry, earn continuing education credits, or simply deepen one's yoga practice and transform...

Cost: $329- $975

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis , MN   55403
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Pride Parade Rooftop Viewing Party CRAVE Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Live DJ: DJ FANCY RESTAURANT Start time: 9am $5 from each ticket donated to OutFront Minnesota ...

Cost: $10 (includes free Absolute or Jameson cocktail)

Where:
CRAVE Rooftop
825 Hennepin Ave MN
Minneapolis , MN  55402
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Come join us at the Skyway Theatre as we take over the block for the Pride Parade!  Drinks and brunch starting at 9am and DJs at 12pm! Get the best seat for the best parade of the...

Cost: No Cover

Where:
Bar Fly & Maruso
715 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-333-6100
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Pride Parade Viewing Party UNION Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Start time: 9am (presale tickets) / 10am (day-of tickets) Live DJs: DJ Lindsay ‘Shiek’ Earney and DJ Lenka...

Cost: $10 (includes a free mimosas, glass of champagne or Absolute cocktail)

Where:
UNION Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis , MN  55403
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Show your Pride by taking part in the Twin Cities Pride Rainbow Run on Sunday, June 28th! Starting at Boom Island and ending near Loring Park, the route takes runners along Hennepin Avenue as...

Cost: $30

Where:
Boom Island Park
800 Sibley Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Website »

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The 2015 Twin Cities Pride Festival features over 400 exhibitors, 40 food and beverage booths, 20 sponsors, and 300,000+ visitors who participate in this free celebration of the GLBT...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow Street
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
Website »

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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Website »

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The 2015 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade will be held on Sunday, June 28, beginning at 11 a.m. along Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. The Parade route starts at 3rd and Hennepin and ends at...

Cost: Free or $40 Grandstand tickets

Where:
Hennepin Ave in Downtown Minneapolis
Hennepin & 3rd to Hennepin & Spruce
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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The Twin Cities Pride Entertainment Team is excited to bring you over 50 local acts during Pride Weekend. The schedule is below, but know that things are subject to change.  ...

Cost: Free. $10 General/$75 VIP for Pride in Concert 6/27 5pm at Loring Stage.

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow St
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-255-3260
Contact Name: Twin Cities Pride
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The celebration will be held in true Lurcat style, featuring music, dancing, festive food, cocktails and more! Café & Bar Lurcat is central to the Pride festival in Loring Park and found...

Cost: Free to enter

Where:
Cafe & Bar Lurcat
1624 Harmon Pl
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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What do you get when you explore the magical, yet tangled, intersection between the genius of art and the self-destruction of addiction; set it to catchy music against a backdrop of vivid visual...

Cost: $25.00

Where:
Minnetonka Theatre
18285 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN  55345
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The Minnesota Boychoir, under the direction of Mark Johnson, will be concluding their 2015 East Coast Tour with a Welcome Home Concert this Sunday, June 28 at the Graebner Memorial Chapel on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Graebner Memorial Chapel
Saint Paul, MN

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Don’t miss one of Minnesota’s hippest and hoppiest events. This local craft beer tasting event includes live music and a ton of tasty appetizers paired with the best brews in the Twin...

Cost: $50

Where:
Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power St.
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Canvas Health
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Open Window Theatre is making a children's event of fantastical proportions with their summer youth theater production of James and the Giant Peach.  Roald Dahl's imaginative adventure...

Cost: ADVANCE: $6/child (lap child free), $8/student, $12/adult

Where:
Open Window Theatre
Metropolis Minneapolis Building
1313 Chestnut Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-615-1515
Contact Name: Jeremy Stanbary
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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Join us for an afternoon of stories, music, and poetry that evoke and express a profound connection to place — places we’ve lived, struggled, thrived, seen changed or destroyed, or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ox Coffee Co
3740 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55407
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Sponsor: Kairos Earth
Telephone: 405-365-8796
Contact Name: Chelsea Scudder
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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RN’s and LPN’s for Evenings, Nights & Weekends - $2,000 hiring bonus Trillium Woods, a brand new continuing care retirement community, is opening on July 6th and we are having an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Trillium Woods
14633 Country Road 4
Plymouth, MN  55446
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Invest a few life-changing hours in our Power Trading Workshop, where you'll learn: How to identify points where supply and demand are out of balance and price is about to move. The two...

Cost: free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Telephone: 952-814-4410
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service.   Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Dr
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 651.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides U.S....

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Drive
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 612.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
Website »

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Enhanced and engaged learning, creating and sharing ideas, and forming partnerships are just a few benefits of collaborative classroom learning. Now, with tools like Office 365, OneNote for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN  55425
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 Join us for a 4th of July barbecue, yard games, and outdoor movie hosted by Mary Mother's Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together group. All are welcome! Bring a dish to share. This...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mary Mother of the Church in Burnsville
3333 E. Cliff Road
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Sponsor: Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together
Telephone: 952-890-0045
Contact Name: Kosi Onyeneho
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OneNote is a free cross-platform app that helps students and teachers save time, stay organized, and collaborate more effectively in and out of the classroom. Students can build portfolios of...

Cost: Free

Where:
, MN

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Summer is the sweetest time to savor the river, so sign up now for River City Revue! It's a delectable blend of live music, cool history, and hands-on art adventures, all happening at the Saint...

Cost: $10 - $15

Where:
St. Paul Yacht Club
375 W Water St
St. Paul, MN  55107
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Sponsor: Mississippi River Fund, Works Progress & the National Park Service
Telephone: 651-291-8164
Contact Name: Katie Nyberg
Website »

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Enter the halls of Casket Arts to encounter the work of 20+ artists working in paint, sculpture, light, fibers, and sound. A one night only event with several site specific...

Cost: Free

Where:
Casket Arts Carriage House
1707 Jefferson St Ne
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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The flipped classroom is an innovative method of teaching that allows for multimedia lessons and in-class exercises. Now you can “flip” your own classroom using familiar tools like...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN
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The foundation of Jillian's country-esque, classically trained songwriter-style musicianship was built on northern Minnesta's Iron Range. Under the talented eye of Helina Pakola, who has...

Cost: 5

Where:
Mankato Brewery
1119 Center Street
, MN  56003
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Sponsor: Mankato Brewery
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One of the most highly sought-after skills in the workforce today is coding. In this workshop, we’ll show you how to create an app from a template, add content, and upload an app to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
Bloomington, MN

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Bryan Olds Band will be performing live at Big Sandy Lodge and Resort on Friday, July 3. The folk-rock blues band plays a variety of original songs, as well as covers, ranging from Pearl Jam to...

Cost: Check with venue for details.

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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The 90’s alternative rock band – The Mallrats – will take the Amphitheater stage at Grand Casino Hinckley on Friday, July 3 at 8:30 p.m. Following the show will be a spectacular...

Cost: $10 general admission

Where:
Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater
777 Lady Luck Dr
Hinckley, MN  55037
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Website »

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Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill Presents Award Winning Vocalist Patty Peterson & Friends with Special Guest Melanie Rosales Friday, July 3, 2015 - 9:30pm 761 Washington Avenue N,...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
761 Washington Ave N
#325
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
Telephone: 847-624-5087
Contact Name: Carrie Miller
Website »

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It’s almost that special time of year again, where you pull out your flag, grab your lawn chair, and put on that sunscreen…the 68th annual Saint Anthony Park 4th of July Parade and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Anthony Park/Langford Park
Saint Paul, MN  55108


Sponsor: 4th In The Park Committee & The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation
Telephone: 651-343-7365
Contact Name: Josh Becerra, Jeanne Hansen, & Emma Seeley
Website »

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Mystic Lake’s Rock and Rockets Fourth of July Celebration returns this year with another spectacular fireworks display. The free, all-ages event will take place outside Mystic Lake beginning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
2400 Mystic Lake Blvd.
Prior Lake, MN  55372
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Telephone: 952-496-7388
Website »

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Celebrate this Independence Day by watching fireworks light up the night sky over Big Sandy Lake. The event will take place at dusk, between Davis and Goff’s Bay, on the Fourth of July.

Cost: Free

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
Website »

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