1M Strong in Wisconsin

Would you believe me if I told you that more than ONE MILLION people traveled to the Wisconsin State Fair this year? It’s true. Just a few hours after I returned to Illinois my inbox chimed with the final count from Wisconsin State Fair Park: 1,012,552 fairgoers – the largest crowd since 1969 – over eleven days.

Other notable numbers posted from the outskirts of Milwaukee:
* 3200+ exhibitors participated in 2013 Fair Competitions
* 467,000+ lbs. of ice provided by Arctic Glacier for Fair vendors
* 62,000+ grilled cheeses made at the Real Wisconsin Cheese Grill
and my personal favorite:
* 387,000+ Original Cream Puffs made by the Wisconsin Bakers Association

So what the heck else is going on in Wisconsin that draws so many? Here’s what I observed while I was there, as an amateur fair-compare city-girl.

If you’ve read about my recent foray to Indiana, you know what I’m looking for in a fair: clean, easy to navigate, places to sit / cool down, excellent food and affordability.

Wisconsin has all of these things, and easily provided myself, three friends + a toddler with a fun Saturday. While the admission price was the same ($10), the parking was higher ($10 instead of $5). A shout out here for local hotel Radisson Milwaukee West, who drove us to the fair for free – so no parking or shuttle costs.

Interestingly, there is no theme. Indiana has spoiled me with it’s marketing scheme and thoughtful choice of commodity these past two years, so I was looking for something similar. One thing Wisconsin is loud and proud about is it cream puffs, in case you needed further evidence than the immense statistic above. You can order them to go, in 3’s or 6’s or dozens. You can buy them at the fair, indoors, outdoors, and at kiosks. They are delicious … so maybe that’s a theme.

Wisconsin is big on vendors – there are several places like the “World Cafe” where various artisans are selling their products, in addition to a huge expo hall (everything from windows to belts to mandolin slicers), and an avenue of booths behind the grandstand.

The other thing I noticed about this fair is the music. There is live music everywhere, on various stages and platforms. Know why there are so many? This is my own personal conclusion, but I’m going to go ahead and wager a guess it’s because they serve alcohol at this fair. You may remember that there is NO alcohol served in fair time in Indiana due to an ancient state law, but that is so not a problem in Wisconsin.

So what’s the connection? Many of the tents, booths and bars are sponsored by beverage labels. On the map of the fairgrounds there are 24 “Vendor Stages” – Budweiser Music Pavilion, Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill, Saz’s Miller High Life Pavilion .. you get the point.  Miller Lite is the “official great taste of the main stage” which featured acts like Heart, Weird Al (!), Theory of a Deadman and Miranda Lambert.

On the Saturday schedule, there were over 40 acts booked on the vendor stages throughout the day. As the day turned into evening, it was like one giant happy hour. Our crew was happy to dine on the fried stuff, wander around, and head home for Madison around 9 p.m. Fried mac & cheese was my first and favorite at this fair, with fried pickles in a close second 🙂

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