Inside the 2016 MN State Fair: Sounds of Summer

Nate Dungan selects the Fair’s free-music soundtrack

Selecting the soundtrack for the Fair’s free entertainment is no simple task. When planning more than 900 live shows on more than a dozen stages for the fair’s nearly 1.8 million visitors, entertainment supervisor Nate Dungan notes that it’s important to celebrate fairgoers’ wide range of musical tastes.

“We’re looking for really good bands with wide variety,” Dungan says. “The State Fair can present a little something for everybody, from Americana to Zydeco.”

The search for the perfect entertainment lineup begins in October the year before, when Dungan and his team begin to preview a range of bands interested in performing. By February, all the booking is complete.

Often, Dungan doesn’t need to look far to find top-notch acts. While the free entertainment features artists from around the world, the Fair is also a stage for showcasing Minnesota’s talent pool. Dungan said he is excited this year to see local artists Davina and the Vagabonds, the Twilight Hours and Mark Olson (formerly of the Jayhawks, Olson no longer lives in Minnesota but we’ll claim him anyway).

“The Twin Cities live music scene is world-class, and people respect their live music in this town,” he says.

Because the State Fair is so popular, Dungan adds that bands approach him all the time for a chance to play one of the free stages. “Everybody wants to play the fair—because it’s a fun gig with very high visibility,” he says. “You look good and sound good here, and it’s a thrill to play for these crowds.”

Dungan knows this from personal experience; his band Trailer Trash was on the Fair’s free entertainment lineup in the 1990’s.

“Show business is two words, and I love both sides of the industry,” Dungan says. “Putting together the music is part of the deal, but you have to have a great audience to have great music.”

Read more of our “Inside the 2016 MN State Fair” series:
Wild, Wild Life: Mark Goodrich oversees the four-legged fairgoers
Lord of the Rides: Jim Sinclair chooses our favorite thrills, spills, and rides
Choosing the New Foods: Dennis Larson makes the calls every year on the Fair’s food line-up
We Love a Parade: Theresa Weinfurtner manages the Fair’s talent contest, parade