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GRAND ISLAND -- Nebraska State Fair goers asked for it, now they will get it.

The main entertainment for the annual celebration is a well-known recording artist and TV star. Keith Urban, who is a judge on American Idol, will perform at the fairgrounds in Grand Island

“For several years since we moved to Grand Island, our fair customers have been asking us to bring in bigger names,” said Joseph McDermott, executive director of the fair.

Organizers were open to the idea, but bigger names mean bigger crowds than the 5,300 that could fit in the Heartland Events Center, which is where concerts have always been held since the fair relocated to Grand Island six years ago.

“That’s just not big enough for any ‘Class A’ act,” McDermott said.

After a bit of searching on the fairgrounds, he said the solution was to have the first weekend concerts outside. The location is 150,000 square feet of open space inside of Fonner Park Racetrack that has room for 14,000 people.

The first act that will perform in the outdoor concert area will be Jerrod Niemann on Aug. 28, which is the opening day for the state fair. Urban will follow the next evening.

McDermott is optimistic the decision to host outdoor concerts will prove to be a success for the fair that runs until Sept. 7.

“We are hopeful form a logistical and financial standpoint that it is successful because if it is, we will continue to bring in bigger named acts,” he said.

Making changes to the fair, like the outdoor concerts, and continuing to offer popular attractions is a delicate balance for organizers.

“There are two groups of people. There are those who want to see something new and different and those who want to see the traditional things at a state fair,” McDermott said.

Having a mixture of both while remaining true to the roots of the fair, which is agriculture, is the goal.

“The whole issue of agriculture has been part of the fair since 1868. In the beginning it was farmers and ranchers getting together discussing ideas with one another,” said Shaun Schleif, marketing and sponsorship director of the state fair.

Many parts of the fair remain ag-based like livestock shows, tractor pulls and FFA, 4-H and open class exhibits.

On the flip side, new events that have been added to the schedule this year include the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge that pits firefighters from across the country against each other in different events on Sept. 5 and 6. Another new addition is an Aug. 28 volleyball match between Hastings College and Bellevue University.

There will also be performers around the fair grounds that include acts like BMX freestyle stunt team, an elephant show, stilt circus and racing pigs.

“The thing we try to do with regard to grounds entertainment is to make the Nebraska State Fair available to everybody in the state,” Schleif said.

A list of all the entertainment, gate admission and ticket prices is available at www.statefair.org.

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