Bill DeVille's 2016 State Fair Music Preview

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state fair grandstand minnesota music on a stick
Music fans gather for Minnesota Music On-a-Stick at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

The Current's Bill DeVille is a big fan of the Minnesota State Fair, particularly the live music available on the various stages throughout the fairgrounds. Bill recently had a look at the daily rundown of acts around the State Fair, and he's picked some artists you may want to check out during your visit to this year's Fair. (Sign up here for a customized list of music acts at the Fair, based on the day or days you'll be attending.)

Leinie Lodge Bandshell


The Leinie Lodge is always a great stage, because it always has some first-class stuff happening there, like G. Love and Special Sauce, who have been a staple of The Current since we signed on the airwaves — and actually their history goes back even further; they were a staple back on the old Rev 105, back in the '90s. G. Love has been heard forever on Twin Cities radio. Have a "cold beverage" and check out G. Love and the Special Sauce on Aug. 25 or 26, always a gas.

G. Love in The Current studio
G. Love in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

A show I'm looking forward to and hoping I can make on Aug. 27 or 28 is Marty Stuart. He and his band have been tearing it up for years now. Marty Stuart actually as in Johnny Cash's band for a long time, too; he and Johnny were really close friends. Marty also gave the eulogy at Merle Haggard's funeral. He's so well respected, he's a great picker, and he's got the legendary Kenny Vaughan, aka "Cousin Kenny," playing guitar with him, so those two riff off each other and their shows are always just a blast. Of course, Marty Stuart had his own hits in the '80s and '90s as well, and he's still a huge draw on the fair circuit these days. I go see him whenever I get the chance because he's amazing.

On Aug. 29 and 30, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen are playing. Chris is a founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and a member of the Byrds. He also had the Desert Rose Band, which had a string of country-radio hits back in the '80s and '90s. Herb Pedersen is an amazing singer, and he's done duets with Emmylou Harris. Herb is a bluegrass veteran, so he and Chris Hillman make a great combo. They do two shows on the Leinie Lodge Bandshell stage the days they're at the Fair, so it'll be a real treat to see two American roots-music heroes.

On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, it's Pokey LaFarge, who played the sixth birthday party for United States of Americana. That was a huge show — it sold out the Fine Line — and Pokey's swinging sounds are always a real treat, especially at a venue like the Fair. Two shows on each day, so it'll be a really fun time at the fair with Pokey and his band, from St. Louis, Missouri.

A lot of people aren't fans of when an actor makes an album, but Billy Bob Thornton and his band, the Boxmasters, are actually better than people give them credit for. I think the beauty of Billy Bob is he doesn't overdo it; he writes pretty decent songs and he's an okay singer. It's not overcooked; his music is real and authentic, so he's worth a look as well on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

If you want some Philly soul, you'll have it with the Spinners on Sept. 2 and 3; that'll be a blast as well.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band play on September 4 and 5. They're a New Orleans staple, and they've been making their brass-band sounds for two or three decades. They are one of the pre-eminent brass bands of New Orleans. It should be a joy to see them.

And the "Low Rider" hitmakers, War — they also have "Why Cant' We Be Friends" and tons and tons of hits from the 70s — will bring some of that California funk to the Leinie Lodge bandshell stage on the last two days of the state fair.

International Bazaar Stage


Jack Brass Band, who play on Sept. 4 and 5, are a treat. They're kind of the Twin Cities answer to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who are playing at the Leinie Lodge those same two days.

Gypsy, who play on Sept. 2 and 3, were a local band who had some hits back in the early '70s. And GB Leighton, who closes out the Bazaar's nighttime lineup on Sept. 4 and 5, is always kind of a staple around the Twin Cities.

Ramberg Senior Center


Jack Knife and the Sharps are known for their real-deal rockabilly sounds. They're playing on Aug. 27 and 28.

Schell's Stage at Schilling Amphitheater


This is the newer stage in the renovated West End Market; it just opened two years ago.

Reina del Cid you've heard on The Current, and she was the guest DJ several months ago on Local Current. I'm a fan of her and her band's sound. They were at the Fair last year and they're back on Aug. 25 and 26 of this year.

Reina del Cid
Reina del Cid performing at the MPR Booth at the 2015 State Fair. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

Jillian Rae is a local player who was in the Blackberry Brandy Boys and she's also in Corpse Reviver, who do old songs from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. She made her own album a couple years ago now, and she'll be playing tunes from that at the Fair on Aug. 27 and 28.

Also on Aug. 27 and 28, Mark Olson from the Jayhawks is on the Schell's Stage. It's kind of a treat to see him on a stage at the Fair. Mark is always good solo; he's got more albums solo than he's got with the Jayhawks.

Sherwin Linton and the Cotton Kings are there on Aug. 29 and 30. The frontman, Sherwin Linton, owns a pair of Johnny Cash's boots because Cash was such a fan after he saw them playing a show. Linton has been playing the Midwest circuit for 50 or 60 years; I think he's close to 80 now. He's quite a story.

In the evenings on Aug. 29 and 30, it's Davina and the Vagabonds, who have been touring all over the place. They're a total, hard-working band; they're out on the road nationally all the time doing their kind of New Orleans, blues, swing, little-bit-old-timey sounds. They're really a good act, and their gigs at the Fair have become kind of legendary because they get invited back virtually ever year. So many times when I've been working at the Fair, they'd be playing one of the stages nearby and we'd always go and see them because they're just a blast. They've also had a home at the Dakota for a long time now, where they're always a regular, steady draw.

Davina Sowers
Davina Sowers of Davina and the Vagabonds performing live in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

The Twilight Hours are favorites on The Current, so what a treat to see them at the Fair on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Featuring John Munson from Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic, and the New Standards, and Matt Wilson, who used to be in Trip Shakespeare with Mr. Munson, the Twilight Hours have a new album, Black Beauty, that we've been playing on The Current a fair amount, which is cool.

Looks like a lot of bluegrass at the Schell's Stage on Sept. 2 and 3. First, you've' got the Okee Dokee Brothers, who are always a bunch of fun for the kids and the whole family, plus they've won a Grammy for their album, Can You Canoe?. And then Pert' Near Sandstone might be debuting songs from their upcoming album, which is due pretty soon. That Schell's Stage is a perfect venue for them, because they have the clogger onstage dancing — that should be a whole bunch of fun.

And peaking of fun, you can't go wrong with Sonny Knight and the Lakers, who are always a blast. They played the Fair and at our booth last year, and they're out at the Fair this year on Sept. 4 and 5.

Sonny Knight and the Lakers
Sonny Knight at the Lakers performing live from the MPR booth at the Minnesota State Fair. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

Grandstand Concerts


Fresh off of his solo album, Don Henley returns to the State Fair Grandstand as a solo act. I suppose the Eagles are no longer, given the death of Glenn Frey, who was pretty much the main Eagle. People always forget that Don Henley had a pretty good string of hits in the '80s when the Eagles weren't around anymore: "Dirty Laundry," "Heart of the Matter" — Henley won Grammys for his album The End of the Innocence. He probably doesn't even play any Eagles songs anymore. And I should add that the new album that he did, Cass County, fared pretty well. There's a Cass County, Minnesota, but in this case it's Cass County of Texas, the place where Henley grew up. Henley has some pretty great guests on that record, including one of the final recorded performances of Merle Haggard.

The Dixie Chicks' shows at the Fair this year are huge. They were totally blacklisted, it seemed like, back when one of them criticized President Bush during the Iraq War. I think it's cool that people are going back to see the Dixie Chicks again, because they sold out two shows at the Fair in a heartbeat. And opening for them are Vintage Trouble, who have been a pretty good-size draw. They're kind of a blues-rock combo who have been tearing it up for a few years now.

Alabama, those guys have got the hits; "Mountain Music," anyone? They're at the Grandstand on Sept. 1.

And Friday, Sept. 2, gives us Garrison Keillor's Minnesota Show. It'll be interesting to see what he does, now that it's more of an onstage entertainment show rather than the radio program.

Our Music on-a-Stick event this year features Weezer, and they're great. Twenty-four years in, and they've got an uncountable amount of hits. Opening for them will be the Struts.

Weezer
Weezer. (courtesy the artist)

The last night of the fair features Bonnie Raitt at the Grandstand. She is so talented and always a treat. And Bonnie's such a sweetheart, too; I'm such a fan. I've interviewed her, and she's so nice and hospitable. It's cool that Richard Thompson is part of the bill, too. He was in the group Fairport Convention and then had his own batch of hits. It's a rare opportunity to see him in our neck of the woods. It should be a great show.

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