The Great Minnesota Get Together

It’s Minnesota State Fair time!!!

And that means, at least for me, great photo ops, food and people watching.

This year has a different spin on it as I am covering the 12-day event for the media company I work for; and the main coverage is of the Grandstand musical events. I was slated to cover half of the events, but so far two of the artists have declined photo passes.

Anita Baker declined all media, so it is an “off” day.

The Fairgrounds are located in Falcon Heights MN, just north of St. Paul and are a convenient 20 minute bus ride away from downtown Minneapolis, which to me is the easy way to get out there…no hassle over driving or parking. Although there are some colorful people on the bus ride home late in the evening.

Opening Day – 8/23

My nephew is moving to Denver, so we decided that as a last hurrah before he leaves, we would spend the day out at the Fair. This was fun for me because he played my mule and carried my gear bag as I had my cameras hanging around me neck. I was able to get some good crowd shots. We sampled some fair food, along with my Fair two staples: a pork chop and a stick and a turkey leg.

Scarfing a pork chop on a stick

Scarfing a Turkey Leg

I heard of a new food being offered this year at the Holy Land Deli. The Middle Eastern delicacy, Lamb Fries, which are deep–fried lamb testicles.

I had to sample some just for fact of saying I ate lamb balls and they weren’t BAAAAD.

Nephew and I shared a batch and they were quite tasty. I was expecting something like the consistency of chicken gizzards, kind of chewy. But the fries were more like liver, both in consistency and flavor. I enjoyed them. Somehow, I don’t think nephew really enjoyed them as much as I.

Here is the image of nephew as he gets his first taste:

We wandered around the Fair Grounds awhile and as is the case when I spend time with him, I always manage to display a trait of crazy Uncle and/or old man buffoon. And I don’t mind. To me the richness of my life is the zaniness that seems to surround me. Of course these moments of “DOH!ness” tend to result in galls of laughter. Kind of like being on acid, without all the strychnine.

At one point nephew stated “This was the best way to spend my last day in the Twin Cities” (Awww!) I patted him on the back and said I feel the same way.

The full set of Opening Day can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157631215033724/

Day 2 – 8.24 – Alan Jackson

This was my first gig at the Grandstand utilizing a new media representative. I barely made it in the Main Gate of the Fairgrounds at the time I was to meet my contact to get my photo credentials.

A little nervous, I called her cell number listed an email and let her know I was in route, but might be a few minutes late. Never having met nor talked with me, after I babbled nervously telling her my tale, she said to me: “Joe. Honey. BREATHE! Relax. I haven’t left the front office yet, so you have time.”

I chuckled to myself, that here was someone I had yet to meet and she already knew the tactics to slow me down. Ok, so I can be a hyper Joey sometimes.

I arrived at the meeting spot by the Grandstand and there were a couple other photographers I had worked other events with before. companies.

When the media contact arrived and I introduced myself to her, she smiled, placed her hands at each side in a meditative stance and said “BREATHE IN and exhale” I d followed her lead an did, then clasped my hands in front of my chest and bowed and uttered “Namaste”

And I though: how cool is this? Media contact/mood mellower.

The Opening Act was Jamey Johnson and he just kind stood there stoically, sang and played guitar. Almost had an aura of not wanting to be there.

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson

The full set of Jamey Johnson can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157631232009894/

We left the pit and went outside the venue while Jamey finished his set, then it was back inside to the pit to get ready for Alan Jackson.

The mood had changed: it was a little darker as the sun had set. The energy of the crowd seemed revved up. It was a party atmosphere. I took my place a little of center stage to the left.

Fans began to stand up against the railing of the pit.

All lights went dark, crowd goes wild, a video begins to play on the monitors. Crowd gets crazier, monitors go dark the band takes the stage, lights go up and Alan Jackson walks on stage.



This is the second time I have shot a country act. Not really a country music fan as in I don’t listen to it much, if at all.

For me, this was a test to see if I could produce quality work with no emotional attachment to the music. Usually I am shooting bands I know, but these State Fair gigs are completely different.

I enjoyed my time shooting. Alan would toss guitar picks out into the crowd some would bounce off peoples hands and land on the floor of the pit. I would pick up the guitar pick and hand to one of the screaming fans. I had no emotional tie to it, but their face just lit up as I pressed the pick into their hand.

Both artists had a two song cap, so within 15- 20 minutes it was over and we left the pit and the deal was done as the concert got underway.

The full set of Alan Jackson can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157631232192756/

Day 3- 8.24- Blake Shelton

After my kerfuffle the night before, I allowed more time to get to the thru bus traffic, the fair crowds and made my way to the Grandstand about 30 minutes early.

Tonight’s shooting would be done from the soundboard, a ways back from the stage. I positioned my self on a concrete road barrier that was in place to hold down the canopy over the soundboard. I used a 70 – 200mm, with a 2x tele-convertor mounted on a tripod. It was somewhat of a cramped space and I had to contort my body to shoot from this angle.

The opening act was Sunny Sweeney.

The full set of Sunny Sweeney can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157631247665604/

As it was as the night before, we were led out after the first three songs to wait for Sunny to finish her set and Blake Shelton to take the stage.

I repositioned my self on the same concrete barrier and it might have been to my disadvantage. They were using a lot of back lighting and I had a big ole spot right next to Blake’s head glaring into my lens. These images wouldn’t have the caliber that the previous nights did.

View from the sound board.


The full set of Blake Shelton can be viewed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebielawa/sets/72157631247896458/

After the show I wandered around the Midway doing time-exposures. As the fireworks started to erupt, I knew it was time to head out, so I grabbed smoked turkey leg to go and a pork chop on a stick to scarf on the way to the bus.


One thing I have noticed in the last couple of nights as I am up late editing and uploading. I see how I fell into the delusional thinking of “needing” narcotics to assist me staying up all night to get everything done.

Shooting shows like this is somewhat of an emotional high and I am still flying on adrenaline when I get home. I am a little bugged eyed and groggy buy the time the deal is done a few hours later and the next day, I feel as if I got hit by a truck! UGH. How I would feel if a little drink or drug was thrown into the mix.

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