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What does it take to put on the Missouri State Fair?

The Missouri State Fair is one of the summer’s most anticipated events, allowing Missourians an 11-day helping of music, carnival rides, exhibits, and time-honored traditions. For Director Mark Wolfe and the rest of the fair staff, preparation for the big event is a year-round job. 

“It usually takes us a full year to get all the contracts done and get everything organized for the next year’s fair,” Wolfe told The Missouri Times. “We’re already looking at next year’s concerts. Our staff is working on 2022 while we’re finishing up this year.”

Most of the winter months are spent working through contracts with musical acts, vendors, and concessions while maintenance is handled on facilities and the grounds. While carnivals sign on to multi-year contracts, the fair works with a talent agency to secure musical acts, coordinating schedules and payment. While a Def Leppard concert in the last few years proved to be one of their most expensive acts to date — and one of its most profitable — staff focuses on getting the best talent available while ensuring an affordable experience.

“There are a lot of logistics that go into making sure everything works together for 11 days in August,” he said. “All venues face that problem, and obviously cost is part of it as well. We try to do things that keep the price down for fairgoers while keeping the risks associated with an outdoor venue in mind.”

The fair puts a large allotment of money toward weather insurance for concerts, battling an issue that no amount of planning can control. While last year’s youth livestock show saw 11 days of moderate conditions, the Show-Me State’s fickle summer weather can have a big impact on the event. Wolfe said his staff spends time every year planning for the unpredictable issues that (sometimes literally) hang over their heads, hoping to ensure fairgoers enjoy their visit rain or shine. 

While the process typically begins and ends within a year’s time, planning for the 2021 fair began much earlier; the Bicentennial Commission came to the director five years ago with plans for the celebration, adding commemorative displays and events to the fair’s agenda and ensuring the celebration continued through the month of August. 

With special tweaks to this year’s Butter Cow Sculpture and a celebration of the state’s oldest farms on display, this year’s event serves as a wrap-up for the bicentennial festivities. 

Between scheduling concerts for the Grandstand, rides for the midway carnival, and vendors to line the streets and offer fairgoers refreshments, Wolfe said the ultimate goal was to do everything possible to ensure Missourians had the best State Fair experience possible while maintaining its focus on agriculture. 

“After all this work, you just hope you’ve done what you can to put on the best event with the things that people want to see and experience,” Wolfe said. “With the State Fair there are so many things that are long-standing traditions like livestock events and youths exhibiting their work, so the entertainment part of that is sort of an add-on to the overall package. We just want people to come out and have a good time.”