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A Different Drummer
Minnesota Public Radio expands its booth and changes its tune for the state fair

Mary Lucia
The MPR Booth at the State Fair Under Construction (MPR Photo/Brett Baldwin)

Something has changed at the corner of Judson and Nelson. It looks different. It sounds different. (Okay, it smells the same, but still.) If you've been by the Minnesota Public Radio booth at the state fair, you've probably already figured it out. The space has doubled in size. That means more room for performances and broadcasts-and more opportunities for interaction.

"We're growing our presence at the Minnesota State Fair for our audience," says Tony Bol, director of live programming and events for Minnesota Public Radio. He means that literally, of course, but it's also a nod to new live programming at the fair that engages the public radio audience in person and ties in to what they hear on air and see online, too.

"The state fair is a platform for all of our services-Classical, News and The Current-and an opportunity to engage the creativity of Minnesota Public Radio to create original content," says Bol. This year's focus: percussion. In addition to live broadcasts by The Current and Minnesota Public Radio News, visitors to the Minnesota Public Radio booth can expect daily percussion performances from a variety of Minnesota-based music groups. Gamelan, steel drums, jazz, hip-hop, taiko ... the range of styles and genres mirror the diverse traditions that have grown roots in the region. Like the Minnesota State Fair itself, the percussion focus speaks to the diversity of the state and the powerful appeal of a time-tested source of community.

Percussion has a way of drawing people in, notes Bol. It creates the kind of diversity that you run into and rub shoulders with, he adds. The performances provide entertainment, but also an opportunity to engage the audience; a key element of Minnesota Public Radio's mission year round. Fairgoers can not only take in a percussion performance, but participate in one when Mu Daiko (Japanese taiko) and percussionist Mick Labriola perform. "Mick brings in 30 drums and it's him and he has a circle and he invites people to come up and he walks over to you and starts you on a rhythm and goes to the next person and starts them on a different rhythm until you have this beautiful rhythm and sound." A truly communal event.

(This article also appeared in the September 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)