Hot Fun in the Summertime! Stars at the 1980s Ohio State Fair

Hot Fun in the Summertime! Stars at the 1980s Ohio State Fair
Posted June 18, 2024
Topics: The ArtsArchives & Library

By Matthew Benz, Manuscripts Curator

It’s fair season! And with the Ohio State Fair right “next door” to the Ohio History Center, it’s impossible to ignore the sights, sounds and smells of our festive neighbor. So, let's celebrate the excitement that surrounds us this year from July 24 to August 4 with a look back at the Ohio State Fair during the 1980s.

When Richard Celeste was governor of Ohio (1983 to 1991), his love of the Ohio State Fair was well-known. Included in The Richard F. Celeste Papers (MSS 600 AV) held in the Archives Library is a series of photograph albums documenting Governor Celeste, his wife Dagmar and family participating in and enjoying the fair.  The albums date from 1983 to 1988 and contain many amazing photographs of the Ohio State Fair in the 1980s. And not just of dignitaries, officials and politicians. The albums feature fair queens, cheerleaders, marching bands and face-painted children. There are also images of tractor pulls, auctions, award-winning farm animals and their proud owners, and of course, entertainment.

Entertainment at the Ohio State Fair includes not only the rides and games of the famous Midway. There are also stages around the grounds that feature a variety of musical acts. These include school bands, string bands, choirs and more.  And then there are the magicians, comedians, jugglers, and wandering performers of all kinds. For instance, 2012’s fair included two intriguing acts: “RePercussion,” described as a “traveling trash can band,” and “The Walking Tree Man – Is it a tree or a man?"

While non-stop entertainment does indeed fill the fairgrounds, perhaps nothing tops the musical performers who appear on the “main stage.” For years, that main stage was the Grandstand, which hosted big name entertainment until it was torn down in 1990 and replaced by the Celeste Center.

Whether in front of the Grandstand or in the Celeste Center, fans have thrilled to performances by country, folk, rock and pop, R&B/blues, and gospel stars. From Alabama to the Temptations to ZZ Top, the Ohio State Fair has hosted them all. Including some surprising shows: Jazz greats Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Theolonius Monk all performed at the Ohio River Valley Jazz Festival, held during the fair in 1965. A mostly unknown The Who-on their first U.S. tour-opened for Herman’s Hermits in 1967. New Wave pioneers and Ohio natives DEVO appeared in 2010. Legendary stars like Johnny Cash, Cheap Trick and the Beach Boys made multiple appearances. Even the fictional 1960s band “The Wonders” played at the Ohio State Fair in the 1996 Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do!

The Celeste photo albums include photographs of musical performers meeting the governor, along with members of his family, friends, and fans. These photographs capture the diversity of musical acts that played at the Ohio State Fair during the 1980s. They also provide a showcase for 1980s fashion and fads; a rich resource documenting the look and feel of the decade.

Some of the musical acts that appeared from 1983-1988 included America, Anita Baker, John Denver, the Gatlin Brothers, Amy Grant, Lee Greenwood, Anne Murray, the O’Jays, Mell Tillis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jonathan Waite (pictured in banner). Others are featured in the photographs below. Enjoy these blasts from the past of the 1980s!

Kool And The Gang, 1983

Cleveland's own Michael Stanley Band, 1983

Night Ranger, 1985

The Jets, 1988

Kenny Loggins and band, 1983

Midnight Star, 1983

The Beach Boys, 1986

The Statler Brothers, 1986

Reba McEntire, 1983

Willie Nelson, 1987

Kris Kristofferson, 1987

Ray Charles, 1987

Jermaine Jackson, 1986

H.A.R.P. (Folk music legends Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert

Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos, with members of the Celeste family, 1988

Marie Osmond (appeared with Donny and the Osmond Brothers), 1986

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