CHIPPEWA FALLS — Attendance at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair reached 95,000 last year, and fair executive director Rusty Volk is optimistic those numbers will be exceeded this year due to some big music acts, new exhibits and the Lambeau Field Live display featuring 60 activities, the Packers Hall of Fame and alumni meet-and-greets.
“We’re very excited to kick off the 121st edition of the Northern Wisconsin State Fair,” Volk said.
The Lambeau Field Live experience is making five total stops in the state this year as part of the football team’s 100-year anniversary. Volk said he stopped at the Summerfest grounds last week in Milwaukee to see what it’s all about, and he came away impressed.
“There are six different trailers that they’ll put in place. It will be pretty awesome,” Volk said. “This is all interactive. It’s like running into Lambeau Field as a player. There will be alumni signing autographs. You can sit on the Lambeau Wall and do the Lambeau Leap. It’s all professionally done.”
The music lineup is headlined by country singer Martina McBride, who is performing Friday. All the reserved seats for her show are sold, but general admission grandstand seats are still available for $10, Volk said.
Best known for songs such as “Independence Day,” “This One’s for the Girls,” “A Broken Wing,” “Happy Girl” and “Wild Angels,” McBride will be making her debut performance at the fair in Chippewa Falls. It will be her first show in the Chippewa Valley in seven years.
McBride, 51, has recorded 13 albums, selling more than 14 million records. She has won the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year four times and has been nominated for 14 Grammy Awards, although with no wins. She headlined Country Jam in the town of Union in 2011; she also played there in 2003. She played at Country Fest near Cadott in 2000 and 2004.
Saturday’s headliners are rockers Cheap Trick, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. The band is known for songs such as “I Want You To Want Me” and “The Flame.”
“Traffic will be very heavy, especially Friday and Saturday night,” Volk said.
Country singers Frankie Ballard and Chris Lane kick off the fair Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. This is the debut for both artists at the fair. Ballard played at Country Fest in 2016, while this appears to be Lane’s first show in western Wisconsin. Ballard, 35, is known for songs such as “Helluva Life,” “Sunshine & Whiskey” and “It All Started with a Beer.”
Lane, 33, is a North Carolina native and is known for his hit song, “Fix,” along with “For Her” and “Take Back Home Girl.” Lane was included in Rolling Stone magazine’s “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” feature, and he has opened on tour for Florida Georgia Line.
A search of the fair’s website shows there are ample reserved seats available for both performers. Volk wasn’t too worried about that, saying people have been waiting to see if it will be good weather before they commit to buying tickets for those shows. Volk noted the fair has always done well with young, up-and-coming country performers — Volk lined up Eric Church in 2009; Church now headlines festivals and sells out arenas in minutes. Chris Young played at the fair in 2010, Brett Eldredge performed in 2014 and Jon Pardi was part of the 2016 lineup.
Volk encouraged people to park at Mason Shoe or the Chippewa Area Ice Arena on First Avenue and take a free shuttle to the east entrance of the fairgrounds. The shuttle will run 4 to 11 p.m. daily through the fair, he said.
Also, the fair will have a bicycle corral at the main entrance to the fairgrounds, which will be free for those who opt to bike.
Early forecasts show weather consistently in the upper 80s each day of the fair, with no rain predicted at this time.
“The weather is looking good,” Volk said.
As far as animal exhibits, Volk said they had a spike in the number of goats entered into competition. He said a new cement floor was laid down in the rabbit and chicken building.
On Sunday, the annual 10:30 a.m. Church at the Fair service has been moved to the Leinie Lodge because it has grown in recent years. Admission and parking are free until 11 a.m. Sunday to encourage people to attend the ecumenical service.
The Rice Bull Riders are back this year, bringing in 33 riders.
“This is the most they’ve ever had,” Volk said. “They have some awesome riders.”
Just a few years ago, the fair was drawing between 70,000 and 75,000 annually over its five-day run. Attendance jumped to 84,000 in 2015 and 91,000 in 2016 before last year hitting 95,000, with the Beach Boys and former Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung as top draws, Volk said.
Last year, the fairgrounds constructed a new permanent stage costing $250,000 and added a larger, newer $100,000 grandstand that seats about 3,000 patrons. It is one of the main reasons Volk was able to land acts like the Beach Boys and McBride.