Duluth's Al Church leads 'First Avenue Goes to the Fair'
When Al Church was growing up, his parents found the Minnesota State Fair "too expensive, too crowded, too hot." Now, he leads the band at one of the fair's most exciting musical events.
DULUTH — "Duluthians don't want to drive two and a half hours to be in a crowd of people," said Al Church, whose parents never brought his family to the fair when he was growing up in the Zenith City. "Too expensive, too crowded, too hot."
The musician is now based in Minneapolis, and he's become a State Fair fan. In fact, he's integral to one of the fair's coolest shows: the "First Avenue Goes to the Fair" events at the Schell's Stage.
"I'm representing, baby!" he told his hometown paper. "I'll hold the torch for Duluth."
Church leads a house band that backs five artists on each of two nights: Friday, Sept. 2, and Saturday, Sept. 3. He and First Avenue talent buyer Sonia Grover conceived of the showcase, which launched in 2019. "It's super exciting," said Church, "collaborating with everybody and with all different kinds of music. There's country music, there's hip-hop ... just such an expansive repertoire of stuff."
The event "feels like a summer camp every year," said Church. "It makes me feel super close to the music community ... This is the way it should be, people just getting together and playing."
Each of the 10 featured musicians could lead a bandstand show in their own right. Among the artists joining Church and his house band, "the Congregation," on stage are Thomas Abban, Ness Nite, Mae Simpson and Kiss the Tiger's Meghan Kreidler. The latter singer "is going to do some pretty rad covers," said Church. "She picked a Patti Smith song and a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song."
Kreidler has her own Northland connection, noted Church: Her father is from Duluth, and her parents have a house here. Church's brother also still lives in Duluth, and has still never been to the State Fair.
"I'm like, dude, if you don't go this year when I'm playing," said Church, "you're not a Minnesotan. You can't call yourself a Minnesotan."