State Fair revs up for 2018
There is a fresh coat of paint on the firehouse, roads have been repaved, flowers are in bloom and the 2018 Illinois State Fair is set to open on Thursday, Aug. 9.
Fair manager Luke Sailer appeared at a press preview for the fair last week, touting this year’s eclectic Grandstand concert lineup (ranging from Boy George to Mastodon to Flo Rida, along with country singer Brett Eldredge from Paris, Illinois) and the “sports bar feel” of the new Rising Star stage. Other major attractions to look forward to this year include a BMX stunt show, a hypnotist act featuring two women and a dog, the Powerlight Christian Music Festival and lawnmower racing (“these lawnmowers are all juiced up – it’s like a mini-NASCAR out there,” said Sailer) along with tractor pulls, demolition derby, stock car racing and, for the first time ever, Outlaw 5J Rodeo. Another innovation will be the unveiling of the Crazy Mouse, the fair’s first roller coaster. Oh, and beer is $4 this year, down from $5 in 2017!
Unseasonably mild temperatures are predicted for the often sweltering August fortnight of fair activity. “I want to take credit for the weather,” joked fair director Raymond Poe. “I don’t know about the lemonade vendors, but we’re sure going to be happy.” Poe recounted how he started out selling cowboy boots at a fair concession 50 years ago, while also loading manure at night. “Somehow I ended up as director,” he laughed. According to Poe, the fair brings in about $86 million to the Springfield economy, including $35 million in wages, with 2.67 percent going to the state in form of taxes, “It’s a big plus for the state, city and county,” he said, before thanking Gov. Bruce Rauner (not present for the press preview) for approving the budget for fairground improvements. Poe said that the Coliseum will not be finished this year, but that after it opens in 2019 it will be a year-round venue and a “great asset to the fairgrounds and the city.”
According to Erin Cleary, the fair’s marketing chairman, the state bicentennial will be commemorated each evening at 5:30 when 200 free samples (one for each year of statehood) of Illinois-originated foods will be given out, including Twinkies (filled with the original banana cream filling of its Schiller Park roots), D’arcy’s Pint horseshoes and Homestead Bakery’s pumpkin spice cookies.
One opportunity the fair will provide for charitable giving this year will be “Beckham’s Bookshelf,” started by seven-year-old Beckham Oldenettel as part of an agricultural literacy program. “I give books to kids who don’t have any,” said Oldenettel, who has collected over 7,000 books since starting collecting at age three. He donates the books to soup kitchens, schools and hospitals. Book donations will be accepted throughout the fair.
Marla Behrens, superintendent of the Dairy Building – home of the beloved annual butter cow sculpture – said that while there are just under 600 dairy farmers in Illinois, the industry provides 40,500 jobs statewide and generates approximately $34 billion annually. This year, the “Scoop it Forward” program will allow consumers of milkshakes and other lactose-rich delights available at the Dairy Building to give donations toward an ice cream party to be held for families at the Ronald McDonald House. Behrens also sent out a call for any memorabilia relating to past butter cow exhibits throughout the year. This year’s sculpture will make its debut at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
Wayne Rosenthal of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was on hand to describe some of the attractions slated for IDNR’s “Conservation World,” set up on 30 acres in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds, including a 2,800-gallon transparent tank for a fish display, fishing clinics, archery instruction, BB gun tents, canoe rides in a pond, a butterfly house and free seeds to plant at home.
“It’s a great time to celebrate Illinois, to honor the past and look to the future,” Sailer said.
The 2018 Illinois State Fair will run Aug. 9-19. The fairgrounds will be open from 7 a.m.-12 a.m. for the duration of the fair. For further information visit illinois.gov/statefair.
Scott Faingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.