With summer's home stretch plainly in view beyond the gatekeeping turnstile, enthusiasts of theme parks, music, science, and agriculture are clearing their plates for a slice of "Ne plus ultra" in cultural Americana: the cherished state fair.

Yes, it's that time mom and dad, sister and brother, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend.

Small state, big numbers

And at the top of the state fair list - all apologies to Texas, California, and Iowa - is the Gopher state. According to the Minnesota State Fair, its average daily attendance is the highest in the nation and its overall 2016 attendance of 1,943,719 was second to Texas' 2,408,832.

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You do the math and the Lone Star state population divided by fair visitors and Minnesota's population divided by...you get the picture. Minnesota reigns supreme.

Why is that? What makes the Minnesota version of this rich American tradition so alluring to the people of the land of 10,000 lakes? "It's an institution people rely on," said Danielle Dullinger, spokesperson and marketing and communications supervisor for the Minnesota State Fair. "It's a rite of passage and something almost everybody in Minnesota has a connection to. No matter what happens outside of these gates, the state fair will be back at the end of August, so for those 12 days, we can all celebrate what's new, positive, and uplifting - and for a few hours, forget about what's not."

Why is their fair such a magnet? "This is hard to classify, as the fair means different things to different people.

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For many people, it's the sheer abundance of food. Nearly 300 food vendors offer more than 500 culinary options, with new foods put on the menu every year. For others, it's the animals and a chance to connect with the state's agricultural roots. We are also home to Minnesota's largest juried fine arts show as well as being a show case for technology...the state's largest #Free Music festival and so much more."

Music and pride

Free music entertainment is right. Performing this year at their fair are George Clinton, The Pointer Sisters, Foghat, and Tanya Tucker...the charged-admission shows include John Mellencamp, Stevie Nicks, Toby Keith, Nickelback, Usher, and Sam Hunt. In Texas, however, free means free. Headliners or first-timers. Maren Morris, Flo Rida, Wilson Phillips, Pat Green, Charlie Daniels Band, and For King & Country. That doesn't change the fact that it's second to Minnesota though. Even if it is held in Big D, and Big Tex is fully repping it, Minnesota is still the current king.

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And when there is the occasional tragic rain on the parade, such as the incident during the opening day of the Ohio State Fair in July, the Minnesota State Fair will most likely handle this adversity with pride firmly in hand. It would probably take more than a North Korean-sized nuclear war to cancel or dampen the fair spirit possessed by Minnesotans.

"There is the impact on the collective consciousness of Minnesotans," Dullinger explained. "The fair showcases the best of who we are. It is more than a tradition; it's part of our DNA. People take great pride and a sense of ownership in "their" fair, and that keeps them coming back year after year."

The Minnesota State Fair runs from Aug. 24 through Sept. 4. For more information on the Minnesota State Fair, please visit www.mnstatefair.org.