MINNEAPOLIS — Every day last week, Craig Flor spent some time at his real job, as the facilities manager for the two ice rinks — Ridder Arena and 3M Arena at Mariucci — at the University of Minnesota. For more than 20 years, he has been the guy overseeing the refrigeration systems, the three Zambonis, the glass and nets, the scoreboards, the seats and everything else involved with the home ice for Minnesota Gophers men’s and women’s hockey.
But even with the pandemic going on and most of the campus still shut down, it has been odd for Flor to be at the rinks in late August. For the previous three decades, he would routinely spend 11 straight days of 18 hours or more on the job at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand.
With the 2020 Great Minnesota Get-Together cancelled in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Flor’s streak of 30 straight years at the fairgrounds has come to an end. He admitted that, especially this week (the fair would have opened on Thursday), it has not been easy.
“You miss it. There’s an adrenaline that comes with it. I couldn’t fall asleep (Thursday) night knowing that I probably would’ve been at the fairgrounds until 1 o’clock in the morning and back there at 9 o’clock (Friday) morning,” said Flor, who is 49 and began working at the Gophers’ arena in 1997. “It’s just like gearing up for the hockey season. You anticipate and you plan. This year there was not a whole lot of planning, because the fair got cancelled in May.”
As a high schooler, one of Flor’s coaches worked backstage at the grandstand, and asked Flor, then 18, if he would be interested in making $1,000 in two weeks.
“Back in 1989, that’s a lot of cash when you’re going to be a freshman at the University of Minnesota. So it sounded like a good gig,” Flor recalled. Early on, the job involved some custodial work, and a lot of “moving boxes out of trucks and up onto the stage.”
Just as the musical acts have evolved from New Kids on the Block opening for Tiffany in 1989 to Maren Morris opening for Niall Horan in 2018, Flor’s duties evolved over the course of 30 years.
Officially the operations manager for the grandstand production department, Flor says it is similar to managing an ice rink, in that he touches a little bit of everything before and after a grandstand show, making sure the artists, their tour and production managers, their marketing and media people and the audience has everything they need for a great evening.
As a child of the 1980s, Flor says spectacular shows by Def Leppard, KISS and Motley Crue have been some of his favorites, along with a perfectly still evening where Martina McBride performed with a 60-piece orchestra backing her. The night in 2013 when a strong rain and lightning storm front blew through and 16,000 fans packed in to see Maclemore and Ryan Lewis had to be evacuated, and then returned once the skies cleared, was memorable for another reason.
Then there was perhaps the strangest request in 30 years, when Flor and his crew got word that Bonnie Raitt wanted to experience milking a cow before her grandstand show that evening. For real.
“I made a phone call and happened to have friends of the family that were showing dairy cattle at the fair,” Flor said. “They walked a jersey cow up with a bucket and we let Bonnie hand-milk a cow for a minute or two. It’s just like at the ice rink. You have friends, you call in a few favors and you see what happens.”
With friends and Gopher hockey alumni by the dozens in the Twin Cities who show up for the fair every year, Flor himself gets called for favors like clockwork every time there is a big show and tickets are scarce.
“It’s just like at the ice rink. I get hit up all the time, and they always want freebies,” he said. “I always have the line that, ‘I’ll see if I can do something. Just give me your credit card number.’ And the bigger the show, people come out of the woodwork. People I haven’t talked to forever are all of a sudden chirping me on social media, or calling me at the office. And usually they call when it’s already sold out. It’s unbelievable.”
With 18 free hours every day during what would have been the run of the 2020 fair, Flor has been having some social media fun, posting pictures from past fairs, and listing the acts that played each day for each of the 30 previous years. One running gag he has done for many years is to flip a huge switch on an electrical box to symbolically open the fair on Day 1, and flip it off to “turn out the lights” after dark on Labor Day each year.
With no access to the fairgrounds this year, Flor instead fudged a little bit, and made a video flipping the switch on an electrical box in the loading dock of the Gophers’ arena, declaring the non-existent 2020 fair officially open.
Instead, he will be at the rink, awaiting word on if and when the coming hockey seasons will be played. Aug. 25, 2021, is only 360 days or so away. That is when the next Minnesota State Fair — Flor’s 31st behind the scenes at the grandstand — is scheduled to open.