Iowa State Fair Aims to Break Even on Grandstand Shows
Photo by Iowa State Fair

DES MOINES, IA (Radio Iowa) The Iowa State Fair’s CEO and a key official in the Iowa County fair circuit say concerts are a growing emphasis to spur fair attendance. Tom Barnes, executive secretary of the Mighty Howard County Fair, is also executive director of the Association of Iowa Fairs.

“There’s a lot of other things at the fair that we want to brag about and push, but we’ve got to get the people there first,” Barnes says, “and that’s what the concerts will do.” Rodeos and race track events were the bread and butter of county fairs not too many years ago, according to Barnes, but a handful of county fairs started emphasizing concert entertainment about eight years ago and the trend spread.

“Fairs were seeing what their neighbors were doing and now we’re seeing a lot of even small county fairs throwing a small-dollar concert,” Barnes says. “It gives the community something else to come to the fair for.” Gary Slater, the General Manager and C-E-O of the Iowa State Fair, says about 10 percent of people who attend the Iowa State Fair go to a show at the Grandstand — but the performances matter to those who do NOT attend a concert.

“That’s the pulse of the Fair,” Slater says. “Whether you attend the Grandstand or not, you like to know what’s going on and you like the Fair to pull those popular entertainers.” The Fair spent a million dollars renovating the Grandstand stage in 2018, to meet artists’ expectations for video screens, lighting and sound systems.

“We had to get into that business or else they wouldn’t come to an outdoor state fair venue,” Slater says. “…It’s an expensive thing.” Every concern-goer has to buy a ticket to enter the fairgrounds and Slater says when expenses and profits are calculated from the Grandstand, they aim to break even. The 2022 Iowa State Fair runs from August 11th through the 21st this year.

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