The Nebraska State Fair announced Friday that outdoor concerts are coming back for the 2021 State Fair.
Gov. Pete Ricketts also announced that he has appointed Tom Dinsdale of Grand Island to the Nebraska State Fair Board to represent Grand Island. He replaces Jeremy Jensen, who left the board last month.
Dinsdale, who grew up in Palmer, operates an auto and truck dealership in Grand Island and Hastings. His dealership has been an active supporter of the State Fair and is the sponsor of the Tom Dinsdale Beef Barn at Fonner Park.
“We are really proud to have that distinction,” Dinsdale said. “I am proud to be on your board.”
Bill Ogg, State Fair director, said three outdoor concerts are scheduled for this year’s fair.
The fair discontinued its outdoor concert series three years ago because of weather concerns. Before the outdoor concerts were canceled, they had been going on for three years with varying success, though Keith Urban and Pentatonix each drew more than 12,000 fans to their concerts.
The outdoor concert series was started to create a larger venue for people attending State Fair concerts. The size of the Heartland Events Center limited the concert attendance. The thought of the board, at that time, was to increase crowd capacity, allowing the fair to afford to book bigger name entertainment acts. The concerts were held in the Fonner Park track’s infield.
The State Fair stopped the outdoor concert series in 2018 because of wet grounds and possible safety concerns. The outdoor concerts had been held during the first weekend of the fair on Friday and Saturday and were expanded to Sunday one year before being scaled back to the first two days of the fair.
“I am very cognizant that I can’t control the weather, but, for a couple of reasons that I think are valid, that if the weather is at all cooperative, outside concerts in August and September are more fun,” Ogg said.
He said another reason for going back to the outdoor concerts is that, if COVID-19 health directives are in place, they would promote better attendance than an indoor concert because of restricted capacity of the Heartland Events Center.
Ogg also said that the fair still would have the space to sell enough tickets to have a chance for those concerts to break even or be profitable.
He said the concerts would be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, going into the Labor Day weekend.
Ogg said the plan is to host the concerts in the infield of Fonner Park’s training track, where the fair is better able to control costs. Other events there will help even out the costs of the concerts.
The sale of alcohol beverages adds to profits during outdoor concerts.
The last year the State Fair held its outdoor concert series was in 2017. The fair drew nearly 380,000 people that year, the second-largest attendance for the State Fair in its history. Since 2017, the fair has dealt with record-low attendance because of the weather and the pandemic.
In 2017, Pentatonix drew more than 12,800 fans to its outdoor concert. Brad Paisley also performed outside, but only drew slightly more than 6,000.
“There’s tremendous risk in the entertainment business,” Ogg said. “You can just look at history here and everywhere else to recognize that as a truth.”
He also announced that Older Nebraskans Day will be held the first Monday of the State Fair. A concert at the Heartland Events Center is planned for that day.
Ogg also told the board that the fair staff is close to announcing some of their concert performers.