Get an overhead view of the newly renovated Grandstands at the Iowa State Fair and hear what improvements you'll see this year. Des Moines Register


Country fans will see a familiar face Friday night when icon Reba McEntire takes the Grandstand stage at the Iowa State Fair.

McEntire’s an east-side regular, after all, playing the big stage seven times since debuting on East Grand Avenue in 1989. 

What won’t be familiar to fair faithful, though, is the space between McEntire and the Grandstand bleachers — a newly-renovated “plaza” area, part of an estimated $7.5 million renovation that added seats, concessions, restrooms and a bigger stage to the concert experience.

Grandstand gates open Thursday night with Christian act Casting Crowns and the fair expects to see the year's first near-capacity crowd Friday for McEntire; about 14,000 are expected at the venue.

An estimated 80,000 people will attend Grandstand concerts in 2018.

“Our goal was to make accessibility and seating better in the Grandstand,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO. “And the stage bigger, to help the folks that are going to the concert … have a higher production, higher quality show.”

Attending an upcoming Grandstand show? Here’s what you’ll see.

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Added space

In previous years, the track would overflow between sets with concertgoers trying to snag a beer or a tour T-shirt. Lines at capacity shows would often wrap around track bleachers and into the Grandstand, making it difficult to navigate to a bathroom or concession stand.

Eliminating the track, Slater said, creates more space between Grandstand bleachers and what the fair calls “Prairie Meadows Plaza” seating  — roughly 24 feet separates the Grandstand and first row of ground-level chairs versus 10 feet in previous years — to help traffic flow.

    More space means more people. New seating upgrades Grandstand capacity from about 10,600 people to roughly 14,500, increasing plaza seating from about 900 to 4,000. 

    Add in standing room only tickets and Grandstand crowds could reach 15,000 this summer. To compare, a cappella group Pentatonix brought the largest crowd in 2017, a total of 10,643.

    More on Iowa State Fair music:

    Seating options

    The renovated plaza offers two seating sections:

    • A pit section, the closest to the stage. This section comes with chairs for some performances, like Reba McEntire, Earth, Wind & Fire or Jim Gaffigan, and offers standing room only tickets for shows with a younger demographic, like Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line or Old Dominion.
    • 17 rows of chairs offered at every show, elevated above the pit and closest to the Grandstand. 

    The fair fits more concertgoers into the plaza during standing room only pit shows, creating a larger capacity for some concerts. 

    More: Country star Carrie Underwood returning to Des Moines in 2019

    Bigger stage

    Limited staging caused tours to pass on playing the fair in previous years, Slater said. The fair previously fit artists on a 60 feet wide and 60 feet deep stage.

    This year’s stage — the same dimensions fans saw when Metallica played the Iowa Speedway in Newton last summer, Slater said — measures 80 feet wide and 60 feet deep, allowing for bigger production.

    It’ll be further away, though. The stage sits 178 feet north of the Grandstand, adding roughly 75 feet of distance when compared to previous years.

    For concertgoers sitting in the east and west wings of the Grandstand, Slater said four new screens, each projecting a 16x9 picture, flank the stage — two on each side.

    A concert production team builds the stage each year, Slater said, but he hopes a permanent stage will be built in the next three or four years.

    “Ultimately, we wanted it to be a better experience for the fairgoer and to see (a concert) like they see it in Kansas City, Minneapolis or St. Louis,” Slater said.

    More: Sturgill Simpson rips and roars an unforgettable show at Hinterland Music Festival

    Concessions and restrooms

    Concession tents on the east and west side of the plaza will sell beer, popcorn and other food and drink needs. The concessions located under the Grandstand remain open.

    The fair no longer requires fans to buy drink and food tickets; Slater said cash and cards will be accepted.

    About $4 million of the $7.5 renovation price tag went into a new restroom facility, located on the west side of the plaza. Restrooms located under the Grandstand remain open, as well.

    Future entertainment

    What happened to the tractor pull? It’ll return, Slater said.

    By 2020 the fair plans to build an entertainment complex in the lot east of the Grandstand, space that would be home to tractor pulls, rodeos and a demolition derby.

    He doesn’t rule out bringing racing to this complex — the fair disconnected racing in 2016 — but said it’s unlikely.

    “If you wanna see great racing where do you go? Knoxville or Newton,” he said.

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    The complete 2018 Grandstand lineup

    • Aug. 9: Casting Crowns
    • Aug. 10: Reba McEntire
    • Aug. 11: Daughtry
    • Aug. 12: Old Dominion
    • Aug. 13: Papa Roach
    • Aug. 14: Jim Gaffigan
    • Aug. 15: Thomas Rhett
    • Aug. 16: Earth, Wind & Fire
    • Aug. 17: Sugarland
    • Aug. 18: Peter Cetera
    • Aug. 19: Florida Georgia Line


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