From the archives: We ranked every Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineup since 1970 from worst to best
The Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineups are ranked from worst to best … according to Register music reporter Matthew Leimkuehler and Iowa columnist Kyle Munson.
Editor's note: This list originally was published in August 2017 and updated to reflect the 2018 Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineup.
Heavy metal once dominated the Iowa State Fair Grandstand.
Wait, country music fans: Don't fling your cowboy hats into the dirt in disgust.
We're talking about the legendary railway locomotive collisions staged in the Grandstand three times: in 1896, 1922 and 1932. Iron engines banged together to make a furious racket that we daresay may have sounded more musical than some of what has been heard since — in what we consider to be the "modern era" of Grandstand entertainment dominated by pop music, especially country hat acts.
Below, you'll find two writers' combined opinion on what made some of the best (hello, Bob Dylan), worst (another Wayne Newton year, really?) and weirdest (only 7,000 showed up for Ringo?!) Grandstand lineups.
Kyle Munson, Matthew Leimkuehler and KJJY's Eddie Hatfield look at the top three Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineups of all time.
Starting with 1970 and middle finger-throwing country outlaw Johnny Cash, the list ranks each collective year through Reba McEntire's return to the Grandstand in 2018. Ranked collectively between the two writers, years marked with a "KM" were completed by Kyle Munson, the Register's Iowa columnist and former music critic; and years marked "ML" were authored by music reporter Matthew Leimkuehler.
So, grab a deep-fried treat (that eventually you may want to throw at us) and dig in. Here's how nearly five decades of Grandstand entertainment stack up according to our music-snob ears.
More Iowa State Fair reading:
- REVIEW: Jackson 5 charms Iowa State Fair crowd during 1971 Grandstand show
- Your guide to food, concerts and fun at the 2019 Iowa State Fair
- 2019 Iowa State Fair concerts: Here's every artist playing the Grandstand
- 2019 Iowa State Fair free stages: Idols, up-and-comers and '80s rock gods
- What to expect when Des Moines metal band Slipknot plays at the Iowa State Fair
- From the archives: 20 things that even an Iowa State Fair fanatic can miss
Performers: Jefferson Starship, Alabama, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion IV, Ronnie Milsap with Juice Newton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Wayne Newton, and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Reason for rank: You know you're in for a snoozer when you see the lineup and Wayne Newton is an "eh, maybe." Kudos to Jefferson Starship, which, a handful of years after its brief prime, offered the shining beacon of hope for '83. — ML
By the numbers: It's safe to say Iowans weren't so blasé about Mr. Las Vegas in '83. He pulled a commendable 9,496 people into the Grandstand.
Performers: Little River Band/the Dirt Band, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion II (Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Freddie Cannon, the Drifters, the Crystals, Lou Christie), Mickey Gilley, Barbara Mandrell, Mac Davis, John Schneider, and Pat Benatar with David Johansen.
Reason for rank: Yes, at the time Barbara Mandrell was a commercial force. And Pat Benatar would go on to score more hits. But I think we can agree that this lineup is a wet mop in terms of enduring impact on music of any genre (except for New York Dolls alumnus David Johansen). — KM
By the numbers: Mandrell sold 16,450 in two shows.
Performers: Sonny and Cher, Bill Cosby, Paul Anka, Conway Twitty, Blackwood Family Reunion, the Guess Who, and Bob Hope.
Reason for rank: Someone, somewhere probably believes seeing Sonny and Cher at the Iowa State Fair during the duo's television dominance is slightly interesting. But, actually, it's not. — ML
By the numbers: It was, however, interesting to Iowans in '72. An estimated 26,200 people flocked to the Grandstand to see the Sonny and Cher spectacle, one of the largest two-day crowds in recorded venue history.
Performers: Alabama, LeAnn Rimes, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XIX (Chubby Checker), Clint Black, Sandi Patty, Wynonna, Rock Never Stops (Warrant, Quiet Riot, etc.), Alan Jackson, and Sister Hazel and Seven Mary Three.
Reason for rank: Alan Jackson is a solid fair performer but was about as common in the '90s as the double Ferris wheel. Remove him and the lineup is has-been city. — KM
By the numbers: The best-attended show was Rimes at 10,684. Case closed.
Performers: Michael W. Smith, Josh Turner with Craig Morgan, Rick Springfield with Patty Smyth and Scandal, Foreigner, Volunteer Jam with Charlie Daniels Band, .38 Special and Shooter Jennings, Vanessa Hudgens, Tracey Lawrence with Blake Shelton, Def Leppard with Everclear, and Garrison Keillor.
Reason for rank: The highlight of the year? A trivial opening slot from Blake Shelton, who warmed the crowd for Tracy Lawrence. Last August, Shelton returning to Iowa, pulling roughly 45,000 to Kinnick Stadium for the storied structure's first-ever concert. Meanwhile, Lawrence landed back in the Des Moines area earlier this summer with a middle-of-the-bill slot on the freshly renewed Big Country Bash. How quickly the times change. — ML
By the numbers: A total 27 years after "Jessie's Girl," Rick Springfield pulls a year-low 3,454 people.
Performers: Lisa Lisa, Rock 'N' Roll Reunion IX, Statler Brothers, Alabama, the Smothers Brothers, the Beach Boys, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Randy Travis and the Judds.
Reason for rank: You know it's not the best year for Grandstand jams when Randy Travis is the lone country megastar in the lineup. — ML
By the numbers: Fresh off his train wreck of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, people were still heavily into Mike Love's Beach Boys. A total 8,234 caught the group that year.
Performers: Christina Aguilera, Brooks & Dunn with Lonestar, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XXI, Clay Walker, REO Speedwagon and Styx, Sawyer Brown, Clint Black, and Def Leppard.
Reason for rank: Christina keeps this year from completely hitting rock bottom. Styx, Def Leppard and REO Speedwagon haven’t been relevant since before this Millennial was born. — ML
By the numbers: The Grandstand landed Christina fresh off “Genie in a Bottle” and the numbers show the interest in this rising pop star was high; she was the year's top draw with 10,689 people.
Performers: Newsboys, the “Happy Together” tour, Goo Goo Dolls with Daughtry, Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen, Chevelle with Halestorm, Lady Antebellum, and Foreigner with Styx.
Reason for rank: Two bro-country acts in one year is two too many. — ML
By the numbers: Behind the backing of Daughtry and opening act Plain White T’s, Goo Goo Dolls pulled 8,214 to the Grandstand, showing Iowans were still a little “dizzy” for this ‘90s act.
Performers: Steven Curtis Chapman, Gary Allen with Chuck Wicks, Peter Frampton and Gin Blossoms, Big & Rich, Bret Michaels and Jackyl, Shinedown and Rev Theory, Brooks & Dunn, Kelly Clarkson, and Journey with Heart.
Reason for rank: Don’t ever stop believin’ … that this is the best darn collection of C-rate classic rock stars to be compiled at one Grandstand in the history of state fair grandstands. — ML
By the numbers: With a meager 3,345 people in attendance, it appears Iowans did not come alive for the return of Frampton in ‘09.
Performers: Michael W. Smith, Montgomery Gentry, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XXV, Clay Aiken, Rascal Flatts, Nickelback with Puddle of Mudd and Finger 11, Josh Turner, Kid Rock with Saliva, and Brooks & Dunn.
Reason for rank: It’s basically 2017 without any of the acts that make ‘17 a superior year. — ML
By the numbers: More than a decade before flirting with a run at the U.S. Senate, Kid Rock was smellin’ a pig from a mile away with the year’s largest Grandstand crowd, 10,234 people.
Performers: Janet Jackson, Reba, Train and Maroon 5, Ronnie Dunn, Doobie Brothers with Kansas, Def Leppard with Heart, Jason Aldean, and Casting Crowns.
Reason for rank: Jackson was a money loser but represented a noble attempt to diversify the lineup. Funny to think that Maroon 5 was an opening act. Sugarland canceled in the wake of a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair that killed seven people. — KM
By the numbers: Aldean, Leppard, Train and Reba all sold out, with Aldean's 11,412 as the top crowd.
Performers: Loggins & Messina, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Chicago, Roy Clark, Country All-Stars with Tanya Tucker and more, Charlie Rich, Redd Foxx, Harry "Sweet" Edison and the Little Steps, and Liza Minnelli.
Reason for rank: The second-worst year of the '70s, Academy Award winner Liza Minnelli is the outlier in a year of mostly repeat acts. — ML
By the numbers: Chicago in its mid-'70s prime proved a nice get for the Grandstand; an estimated 24,700 people saw the group.
Performers: ZZ Top, Keith Urban, "A Prairie Home Companion," Brad Paisley, Switchfoot, Hoobastank, Big & Rich, and Rock 'N' Roll Reunion XXVI.
Reason for rank: It was a year dominated by guitar shredders of both the country variety (Paisley and Urban) and bearded rockers (ZZ Top). But guitar solos carry the lineup only so far. — KM
By the numbers: Hoobastank played to a paltry 2,419.
Performers: Rock 'N' Roll Reunion I (Bobby Vee, the Association, etc.), Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Bob Hope.
Reason for rank: All hail Waylon. This year also earns points as the launch of the Rock 'N' Roll Reunion that became a Grandstand staple for 28 consecutive years. But, Anne Murray. — KM
By the numbers: Rogers, two years after "The Gambler," played four shows in two days and drew 39,164 people — compared to just 26,653 who attended all other shows.
Performers: George Strait, John Denver, the Beach Boys, Julio Iglesias, Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, Starship with the Outfield, and Rock 'N' Roll Reunion VII.
Reason for rank: Starship still was riding high on "We Built This City" — which shows just how much a hot mess this year was when you toss in Iglesias, Denver and a batch of well-worn perennials. — KM
By the numbers: Starship drew 9,010 fans who today might not admit they attended.
Performers: Johnny Cash, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Frankie Valli, Neil Sedaka, Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick, Roy Clark with Hank Thompson, Lawrence Welk, Freddie Fender with Dottie West and Asleep at the Wheel, and Bobby Vinton.
Reason for rank: The return of American legend Johnny Cash propels an otherwise forgettable lineup. — ML
By the numbers: Three acts out-performed Cash, who pulled 7,773 people: Frankie Valli (10,504), Neil Sedaka (10,546) and Lawrence Welk (8,278). BTO came close, with 7,712. History is strange.
Performers: Casting Crowns with Jeremy Camp, the “Happy Together” tour (the Turtles, etc.), Dana Carvey, Dierks Bentley with Justin Moore, Victoria Justice with Pentatonix, Toby Keith, Train, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Alan Jackson.
Reason for Rank: Carly Rae Jepsen is a shining pop gem that saves this year from an overwhelming amount of modern country monotony. — ML
By the numbers: Pentatonix returns to the Grandstand in 2017 as the only show of the fair to sell out in advance.
Performers: TobyMac, the “Happy Together” tour (the Turtles, etc.), Larry The Cable Guy, Miranda Lambert, the Band Perry, Big Time Rush, Hank Williams Jr., Journey with Pat Benatar and Loverboy, Rascal Flatts with Little Big Town and Eli Young Band.
Reason for rank: 2012 is basically 2013 with better country acts. Thanks for that, Miranda. — ML
By the numbers: For a reason beyond explanation, Journey — a band that’s changed lead singers twice as many times as it has played the Grandstand — pulled the year’s biggest crowd with 11,013 people.
Performers: Casting Crowns, Reba McEntire, Daughtry, Old Dominion, Papa Roach and Chevelle, Jim Gaffigan, Thomas Rhett, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sugarland, Peter Cetera and Florida Georgia Line.
Reason for rank: It's a good year for modern country fans — a popular-as-ever Reba, a reborn Sugarland and and one-two punch with Rhett and FGL, two of the hottest acts on country radio. But — with the exception of Earth, Wind & Fire — that's about where interest stops. — ML
By the numbers: '18 marks the first year for a renovated Grandstand, which plans to add roughly 4,000 seats to the concourse.
Performers: The Beach Boys, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion VI, the Statler Brothers, George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers with Johnny Winter, Tom Jones, Dave Dudley as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame show, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Alabama.
Reason for rank: Alabama again. Mike Love’s Beach Boys again. The Oak Ridge Boys again. It’s George Thorogood, Johnny Winter and Tom Jones (because why not?) that keep this year from tanking completely. — ML
By the numbers: Beach Boys appeared at the Grandstand a total six times (so far). This pre-”Kokomo” show drew 10,083 people.
Performers: George Strait, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XIV, Vince Gill, Michael Bolton, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Barry Manilow, and Chris LeDoux.
Reason for rank: The mighty Garth Brooks returns, this time as a full-fledged headliner on his way to one of the most successful careers in modern music history. It would be Brooks’ last Des Moines show until his record-setting return in 2016. — ML
By the numbers: Brooks sold out his ‘93 show in 19 minutes. Not too bad … but still a minor achievement compared to the estimated 90,000 tickets he moved for his six Wells Fargo Arena shows in ‘16.
Performers: Heart, Styx, Statler Brothers, Dennis Day, Anne Murray, Jim Nabors, and the Osmonds
Reason for rank: Both Heart and Styx (pre-"Mr. Roboto") were at their peaks, making up for the rest of the lineup. — KM
By the numbers: Styx drew 14,068 in the largest single show for the year, while Jack Benny radio show alumnus Dennis Day performed to what may have been the tiniest Grandstand crowd ever: just 195 people.
Performers: Bob Dylan, Billy Ray Cyrus and Aaron Tippin, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Oak Ridge Boys, Chris LeDoux, 98 Degrees, Sawyer Brown with Montgomery Gentry, and Rock 'n' Roll Reunion XXII.
Reason for rank: Dylan was touring behind one of his best albums, "Love & Theft," which more or less carries the rest of the lineup. — KM
By the numbers: Dylan reigned this year with 10,689.
Performers: Brad Paisley with Eric Church, James Taylor, Montgomery Gentry with Miranda Lambert, Trace Adkins, George Jones, Smash Mouth, Big & Rich, and Rock 'N' Roll Reunion XXVII.
Reason for rank: Country legend George Jones plus killer openers Eric Church and Miranda Lambert elevate this year. James Taylor is a class act. Smash Mouth and Big & Rich have faded from memory. — KM
By the numbers: James Taylor was the top draw with 10,702.
Performers: Sheryl Crow with Colbie Callait, Keith Urban, Shinedown with Chevelle, Pat Benatar with REO Speedwagon, Darius Rucker, Boys Like Girls, Sugarland with Little Big Town, and MercyMe with the Newsboys.
Reason for rank: This was a broadly crowd-pleasing year, from Sheryl Crow to openers such as REO Speedwagon and Little Big Town. — KM
By the numbers: Sugarland and Little Big Town were the big draw with 10,983.
Performers: Def Leppard, Reba McEntire, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XX (Little Richard), Tim McGraw, the Moody Blues, Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray with Fastball, and Brooks & Dunn.
Reason for rank: The presence of Little Richard for the 20th Rock Reunion makes this essential. The Moody Blues makes it a little eclectic. The likes of Def Leppard, Tim McGraw and Reba make it quintessential fair. — KM
By the numbers: Hard to believe that 10,746 flocked to the Goo Goo Dolls, second only to McGraw's 11,074.
Performers: Wayne Newton, Reba McEntire with Ricky Van Shelton, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion X, Barbara Mandrell, Conway Twitty, Tiffany and New Kids on the Block, 30th Anniversary of Rock 'N' Roll (Tiny Tim, Chuck Negron, Herman's Hermits, etc.), George Strait with Kathy Mattea, and Hank Williams Jr.
Reason for rank: An average year for country and below-average year for ‘80s rock fans, dated pop dominated this Grandstand lineup with appearances by Wayne Newton and Barbara Mandrell. Of note, too, is the appearance by flash-in-the-pan pop singer Tiffany with support from a fast-rising five-piece coined New Kids on the Block. — ML
By the numbers: It appears Newton’s popularity in Iowa waned in the ‘80s; he went from pulling nearly 10,000 people in ‘83 to a mere 3,887 in ‘89.
Performers: Mac Davis Show, Beach Boys, the Osmonds, Chicago, the Helen Reddy Show, Tanya Tucker Show with Ronnie Milsap, Billie "Crash" Craddock, and Olivia Newton-John.
Reason for rank: Some fine pop acts, especially the mid-'70s Beach Boys, but nothing in this lineup sparks interest enough to warrant a top 20 selection. — ML
By the numbers: Olivia Newton-John proves superior to the Osmonds in the eyes of Iowans, pulling 22,822 people in two shows against the Osmonds bringing in 15,154.
Performers: For King and Country, Nickelback, "I Love The '90s" featuring Salt-N-Peppa, Pentatonix, Paramore, Flo Rida, Alabama, Little Big Town, John Mellencamp, and Kid Rock.
Reason for rank: Paramore, Little Big Town and John Mellencamp are all acclaimed, must-see-at-least-once acts for each's respective genre. As for the rest? Only time will tell if Nickelback and Kid Rock hold up as legitimate music legacies; each certainly has their work cut out. — ML
By the numbers: '17 marks Alabama's 11th Grandstand performance; two short of Lou Christie's record 13 shows.
Performers: Casting Crowns, Justin Moore, Tulsa and Styx with Def Leppard, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Yes and Toto, Andy Grammer, Charlie Puth, and Dee Snider.
Reason for rank: Progressive rock fans could finally feel Iowa State Fair vindication with genre pioneer Yes playing Des Moines' east side. It wasn't Rush, but it was close enough ... right? — ML
By the numbers: Justin Moore returned to the fair, bringing with him his "Flyin' Down A Back Road" line that references Des Moines and a Grandstand crowd of 8,871 people.
Performers: Steve Miller Band, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, George Strait with Clay Walker, Travis Tritt with Lee Roy Parnell, Kenny G, Brooks & Dunn with Faith Hill, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XV, and Carman.
Reason for ranking: Steve Miller Band? Sure. Another Alan Jackson gig? I'll take it. A night with George Straight? Sounds good. Add in Brooks & Dunn with an up-and-coming Faith Hill and you've got a slightly better than middle-of-the-road Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineup. — ML
Now you know: This (sadly) wasn't the first year for Kenny G at the Iowa State Fair. He performed in 1990 with Michael Bolton, bringing in 10,462 people.
By the numbers: A solid attendance year at the Grandstand, with five shows bringing in more than 10,000 people.
Performers: Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XVIII (Little Richard, etc.), ZZ Top with Los Lobos, Tim McGraw with Martina McBride, Vince Gill, 4Him and Point of Grace, the Righteous Brothers, the Wallflowers, Clay Walker with Terri Clark, and John Michael Montgomery.
Reason for rank: Rock legend Little Richard, Bob Dylan's son's band (the Wallflowers), Vince Gill, and openers such as Martina McBride and Los Lobos: This year has a deep bench. — KM
Now you know: This gig was 10 years after Los Lobos hit pay dirt with "La Bamba." They remain a band that deserves wider acclaim.
By the numbers: Surprising to think that the Wallflowers, with 11,021 fans, was the top draw.
Performers: Kenny Chesney, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XXIV, Uncle Kracker with Everclear, Goo Goo Dolls with Lisa Marie Presley, Chris LeDoux, Montgomery Gentry, Boston, and Alan Jackson.
Reason for rank: It’s Uncle Kracker that stands above the rest in ‘03. Just kidding. It’s actually the one-two-three punch of Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney (in the midst of his decade-plus of country chart dominance) and Montgomery Gentry — with the addition of ‘90s favorite Goo Goo Dolls and songwriter staple Crosby, Stills & Nash — that has this year scratching the top 20. — ML
Now you know: Jokes aside, Uncle Kracker is still performing and is returning to the Iowa State Fair this summer, slotted as main support for Kid Rock.
By the numbers: It was indeed Chesney who brought the biggest crowd this year, with 10,601 people through the Grandstand gates.
Performers: Rod Stewart, the Everly Brothers, Quiet Riot, Alabama, Gospel Music Celebration, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion V, Country Music Hall of Fame, Wayne Newton, and Donnie and Marie Osmond.
Reason for rank: The Everlys, a primal music influence, performing on the main stage in their home state: How does this not land in the top 20? Rod Stewart deserves respect no matter his questionable detours. And this would have been the year to see Quiet Riot. — KM
Now you know: In 2002 Rod Stewart became a cheese-ball crooner and began churning out his series of "Great American Songbook" albums.
By the numbers: Yet again, Alabama: 13,535 fans in the seats.
Performers: Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XVII with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Rivers, Hank Williams Jr. with Leon Russell and the Marshall Tucker Band, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls, Tim McGraw with Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Michael Bolton, and Lynyrd Skynyrd with Bad Company.
Reason for rank: Don't let Michael Bolton hold back your feelings for '96. Hank Williams Jr. (with an assist from Leon Russell) and a Reunion gig from Jerry Lee Lewis anchors this year, which — like many before and many after — leans heavily on country music star power. — ML
Now you know: McGraw and Hill married in October '96, making the Aug. '96 gig one of the last before country's premier power couple tied the knot.
By the numbers: An exact number of the people who yelled "Freebird!" during the Skynyrd set was not available at the time of publish. But it was probably a lot. A total 5,350 saw 'em in '96.
Performers: Alicia Keys, Kenny Chesney, Journey, Toby Keith, REO Speedwagon and Styx, Sara Evans, Trick Pony, and Brooks & Dunn.
Reason for rank: Alicia Keys alone gives this Grandstand lineup more vocal firepower, while Kenny Chesney's show was the reigning country spectacle of its era. — KM
Now you know: This was five years before Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" got a boost from its inclusion in the series finale of "The Sopranos."
By the numbers: Besides Sara Evans and Trick Pony (both of which followed the rodeo), no show this year drew fewer than 7,000.
Performers: Willie Nelson, Chic, the Beach Boys, the Statler Brothers and Barbara Mandrell, Jerry Reed and Eddie Rabbitt, Red Skelton, Bugs Bunny Summer Fair Follies.
Reason for rank: Even haters have to admit that in 1979, Nile Rodgers' Chic with "Good Times," "Le Freak" and other hits represented peak disco. Willie still was riding high on his supple "Stardust" and about to release an album of Kris Kristofferson covers. No, I can't explain both Eddie Rabbitt and Bugs Bunny in the same year. — KM
Now you know: Nile Rodgers became a key producer of everything from David Bowie's "Let's Dance" to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."
By the numbers: If you wonder why the Grandstand has seen so many repeats, it's the sheer power of butts in seats: The Statlers drew 18,788 in two shows.
Performers: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Dolly Parton, Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion III, Statler Brothers, and Air Supply.
Reason for rank: Jett is known as "the female Chuck Berry," in other words a powerful rocker with a guitar who helped shatter the sexism of the early rock era. In her own way, Parton is a similar figure for country and bluegrass considering her accomplishments as a songwriter ("I Will Always Love You," "Jolene," etc.), performer and actress. The rest of the lineup is meat-and-potatoes fair fare. — KM
Now you know: Jett's "Bad Reputation" was the perfect theme song for "Freaks & Geeks," an influential 1999-2000 TV comedy by Judd Apatow that starred the likes of James Franco and Seth Rogen.
By the numbers: Jett drew a mere 3,617. Meanwhile, the Oak Ridge Boys — the year after their mega-hit "Elvira" — pulled in 23,560 in two shows.
Performers: Gary Allan, Alice Cooper with Blue Oyster Cult, Carrie Underwood with American Idols Live!, Rock 'N' Roll Reunion XXVIII, Joe Walsh, Corbin Bleu, Dierks Bentley, and Switchfoot with Cartel, and Casting Crowns.
Reason for rank: Shows from ghoulish rock icon Alice Cooper and goofball guitarist Joe Walsh make ‘07 a cool year for 1970s legends, but it’s the appearance from “American Idol” winner and then-rising country star Carrie Underwood that pushes it to the top of the aughts. — ML
Now you know: At the time, a little-known act named Eric Church opened for Gary Allen. Now a hero of modern country, Church returned to Des Moines in 2017 for a sold-out arena show in front of more than 15,000 people.
By the numbers: Switchfoot with Cartel marked the year's smallest show, with 2,945 people attending.
Performers: Johnny Cash with June Carter, Carter Family, Statler Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck, Carl Perkins, Tennessee Three, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Red Skelton, Lawrence Welk, and Faron Young.
Reason for rank: The first year of what The Register calls "the modern era" of the Grandstand boasts country, country and more country. Still, with the legendary power of Johnny Cash, June Carter and Dolly Parton, it marks a hell of a start for the decades of music to come. — ML
Now you know: Dolly Parton last brought her show to Iowa in 2016, performing in Cedar Rapids.
By the numbers: Between two shows, an estimated 25,300 people saw Johnny Cash in '70.
Performers: Kiss, Steven Tyler, Heart with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick, Meghan Trainor, Dierks Bentley, Newsboys, Brett Eldredge, Jason Derulo, and Lady Antebellum.
Reason for rank: A sold out pop show; multiple Rock and Roll Hall of Famers; A-list country acts. Last year's lineup tops any offered by the Iowa State Fair since the turn of the Millennium. Plus, how can we forget that time Steven Tyler finished his gig and spent the rest of the night hangin' on the Midway? — ML
Now you know: Fans, a total 8,648 of 'em, waited through an hour delay of rain and lightning to finally see KISS take the Grandstand stage.
By the numbers: Total people attended Grandstand concerts in '16? 82,286. Total number of corn dogs consumed by Steven Tyler? At least one.
Performers: Gregg Allman Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan with Double Trouble, George Strait, Miami Sound Machine with Gloria Estefan and the Jets, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion VIII, Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris, Alabama, and Chicago.
Reason for rank: An already solid lineup, the appearance by legend Stevie Ray Vaughan before his untimely death in 1990 takes this good year and makes it great. — ML
Now you know: '87 marked the sixth Grandstand appearance for Iowa State Fair regular Alabama.
By the numbers: Alabama brought the biggest crowd this year, as the band did many times in decades past, drawing 10,711 people.
Performers: Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XVI (Chuck Berry, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, etc.), Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson with Faith Hill, Petra and White Heart, Vince Gill with Shelby Lynne, George Strait, John Michael Montgomery with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Lorrie Morgan with the Tractors.
Reason for rank: Chuck Berry alone nearly nudges this year into the top 10. And once again we see the '90s Grandstand blazing all guns for the country crowd, including the understated Vince Gill with Faith Hill. Hidden gems such as Shelby Lynne and the Tractors lurk among the opening acts. — KM
Now you know: Chuck Berry, who died in March 2017, never again graced the Grandstand. Petra represents a thread of Christian rock at the fair that has remained consistent.
By the numbers: By this time, Alan Jackson (10,814) was a commercial match for George Strait (10,750).
Performers: Elton John, Pat Boone, Tammy Wynette, Osmond Brothers, and Seals and Croft.
Reason for rank: This was Elton John at the peak of his powers, playing to a massive crowd of 19,400 fairgoers the same year he released “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." If the rest of the lineup was a little edgier than a laundry detergent TV ad, it would rank higher. That said, Wynette was a country music force to be reckoned with in the early '70s. — KM
Now you know: Wynette's appearance fell within her turbulent 1969-75 marriage to George Jones that made them the first couple of country music. "The Possum" himself wouldn't step onto the Grandstand stage until 2006.
By the numbers: Can you believe that the Osmond Brothers drew 12,800 in two shows? Was Marie jealous?
Performers: Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Cheap Trick, Nelson, Alabama, Hank Williams Jr. with Little Feat, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XII (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), and Alan Jackson with Pam Tillis and Aaron Tippin.
Reason for rank: Country music fans had a vast hat-act buffet to feast on. Some might quibble that Little Feat deserved its own headlining set. Cheap Trick was not a chart-topper at the dawn of the grunge era but still was worthy of Grandstand status. — KM
Now you know: Brooks and his opening act, Yearwood, married in 2005 to become country music's reigning power couple (no offense to Tim and Faith).
By the numbers: It's a pity that only 1,642 bothered to show up for Cheap Trick.
Performers: The Jackson Five (review), Glen Campbell, Lucha Villa, the Carpenters, “Hee-Haw” with Buck Owens, and Charley Pride.
Reason for rank: Hello, Jackson Five! The famed family pop group made its only Iowa State Fair Grandstand appearance during the heart of A-B-C, 1-2-3 Jacksonmania. According to Register archives, the youngest member of the Five, Michael, left a memorable impression on the crowd: "Although each of the five had a chance to display their dexterity, the star of the show was M ichael Jackson, lead singer and youngest of the five," the Register's 1971 review reads. The year only gets better with Country Music Hall of Famer Glen Campbell also performing. — ML
Now you know: '71 wouldn't be the last time a Jackson appeared at the fair. Janet Jackson performed at the Grandstand in 2011.
By the numbers: The Jackson Five performed two shows, pulling an estimated 17,000 people to the fair's biggest stage.
Performers: Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, the Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson), Kansas, Captain and Tennille, Pat Boone Family, Bay City Rollers, Henry Mancini and Florence Henderson
Reason for rank: The sheer wacky variety — from classic country to surf hits to soft rock to the “Pink Panther” maestro with Mrs. Brady — makes it one of the quirkiest lineups. But Dolly, Merle and Wilson with the Beach Boys (just before the band spiraled out of control) also make it a classic. Not to mention that 1977 was the same year that Kansas released "Dust in the Wind," that enduring nugget of populist prog-rock philosophy. — KM
Now you know: Brian Wilson in 2004 finally managed to finish his "Smile" masterpiece, Mike Love's Beach Boys flogged the road for decades, and the remaining group reunited for 2012's not unpleasant "That's Why God Made the Radio."
By the numbers: The Beach Boys were the top draw that year with 19,506. Runners-up? Captain and Tennille with 8,871.
Performers: Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, Tanya Tucker and Travis Tritt, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XIII with The Everly Brothers, Statler Brothers with Lee Greenwood, Ricky Van Shelton, Color Me Badd, Randy Travis with Brooks & Dunn, and Clint Black with Aaron Tippin.
Reason for rank: A Beatle played the Iowa State Fair. Sure, it's Ringo, but still ... a Beatle at the Iowa State Fair! Add on an appearance from Iowa's own Everly Brothers, a timely performance during Color Me Badd's brief run at the top with a solid country bill and you've got the second-most memorable lineup in fair history (because not even Ringo can top Dylan, Nelson and Brooks). — ML
Now you know: In '92, Ringo was backed by what is now coined his "second" All-Starr Band, which featured Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt of Eagles fame as well as Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band along with many more.
By the numbers: Clint Black with Aaron Tippin (who?) brought the biggest crowd at 10,221 people, beating out the famed Beatle. A total 57,318 hit the Grandstand in '92.
Performers: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks (replaced Ricky Van Shelton), George Strait with Alan Jackson, the Judds, Rock ‘N’ Roll Reunion XI, Alabama with Clint Black, Tommy Page, and Kenny G with Michael Bolton
Reason for rank: Don't let Kenny G and Michael Bolton blind you to the sheer firepower of the rest of the lineup, especially Dylan, Willie and Strait. A hefty dose of '80s and '90s country radio got crammed into this year. What's more, this marks the legendary moment when Brooks swept in as a relative unknown, floored the crowd and was signed on the spot to a sequel Grandstand gig. All of that more than makes up for a cheesy soprano sax. — KM
Now you know: Alan Jackson wouldn't last long as an opening act. The next year he performed his first of seven Grandstand gigs (so far) as headliner.
By the numbers: The biggest attendance this year? Would you believe Alabama, with 11,900? Kenny G and Bolton were runners-up, with 10,462, followed by Dylan with 10,200. That's why we compiled this list: There's no accounting for taste.
Kyle Munson, former Iowa columnist, spent a decade as The Register's music critic. And he spent enough time in the Grandstand that he still thinks certain songs are supposed to include the sound of distant screams from the Midway.
Matthew Leimkuehler, the Register's former music, arts and nightlife reporter, covered the state's biggest music stories from 2015 until 2019.