So, I’m going to admit right up front that I have virtually no memories involving the Illinois State Fair. Until I worked a two day gig with The Food Network at the start of this year’s fair, only a Weird Al concert had drawn me to the fairgrounds in the past three decades. Yep, I said decades. The State Fair wasn’t an annual destination for the Churchill clan. The two days I spent all over the fairgrounds opened my eyes to why Springfield in mid-August is a magnet to fair goers from all over the state.
I never fully realized how much fun the fair offered. Entertainment awaits every age group, along with families, couples, and little ones.
It’s hard to figure out where to start, and obviously hundreds of thousands of folks don’t need convincing to attend. So, I’ll just state my case to the other clueless folks like myself who don’t know what they’re missing.
Now, the Illinois State Fair is no overblown, fly-by-night summer carnival. The tone is fun and friendly and festive. During my two days, to a person, every vendor and fair staff member I interacted with was super nice and extremely helpful.
The atmosphere is welcoming no matter where your interests lie. I’m not sure there are friendlier people on the face of the earth than the folks in the agricultural section where the various animal barns are located. Getting up close with all the farm animals is cool. Just knowing these are the very best stock in the state is humbling. There’s something about the earthy farm smell in the stable areas that evokes a very comfortable, at ease feeling. Everyone needs to go experience it for themselves.
Sure, one of the big draws of the fair are the concerts, and the state fair has consistently brought in a great variety of acts over the years, but I was surprised at the numerous music venues sprinkled throughout the grounds. In fact, there was so much live music, you were hard pressed to walk away from one stage, and as that music faded, you’d walk into the beckoning sounds of another band or vocal group. Even American Idol was there, offering local talent a chance to audition and impress.
And while I’m on the subject of music, I was fortunate enough to attend the Steely Dan concert, and I don’t think there was a disappointed fan in the enthusiastic crowd. Sitting in the grandstand as night fell, my eyes were drawn to the colorful, neon decorated rides to the south end of the fairgrounds. For the film fans out there, I felt like I was a member of The Warriors, looking toward my home on Coney Island. I wasn’t there to soldier, so I stayed in my seat and enjoyed the concert. After the encore, we were treated to a mini-fireworks display. They were almost as beautiful as my wife’s smile.
Now, I don’t disagree the food at the fair is a little pricey, but where else can you go, where, if you turn in a circle, you can have your choice of a dozen delicious high caloric cardiac killers? I mean, come on: footlong corn dogs, BBQ pulled pork nachos, deep fried EVERYTHING, cheese flowing free like Colorado spring water. It’s one of the few places on earth where you frown at someone eating a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza, and you think, for goodness sakes, where is your sense of edible adventure?
And don’t get me started on the cultural delights of Ethnic Village.
Seriously, only studying the fair guide will keep you from missing out. High dive shows. A BB gun range. Farm machinery exhibits. Crossfit competitions. Flower exhibits. Culinary contests. Heck, there was even a butter cow. Swear to God. Not gonna see that at Walmart. Did I hear rap was used in the pig calling contest? Here’s hoping the contestants didn’t have saggy jeans.
Betcha didn’t know you could attend a Sunday morning church service on the fairgrounds prior to thanking God for that wonderful order of deep fried oreos.
Now, I do have a couple of opinions to share regarding possible improvements. First, I think the fair needs to figure out a golf cart taxi system for our seniors who might be challenged by all the walking. Secondly, no more ventriloquists entertaining children in Kiddie Corner. Too dang creepy.
Just kidding about the ventriloquists. Mostly.
I don’t do rides, so I have no firsthand experiences to report. I can relay there was a lot of screaming in that area of the fair, as well it should be. I stopped when a state trooper politely asked me to.