Beyond Chicago, there’s so much more left to Illinois. A perfect example of Midwest Americana, the state is filled with small cities, agricultural farmlands and historic attractions. There’s nothing, however, that Midwesterners do better than a good summer (or fall, or winter) festival or fair (unless, of course, you’re talking about casseroles — they do those pretty well, too). So, next time you’re in Chicago, take a few days to travel outside the metropolis and see all the other wonders offered by the Land of Lincoln.
No matter what time of year you visit or what your interests, you’ll find an Illinois festival or fair that fits your family. From artisan and craft fairs to music fest to food festivals, there’s a little bit of it all, from the most common to the delightfully unexpected. Here’s a selection of just a few you can find.
The International Carillon Festival
Ever thought to yourself, wow, I wish I had an occasion to really celebrate the history of the carillon? Whether or not, the International Carillon Festival, June 3–8, is the perfect opportunity to experience this extravagant musical instrument, which is often set within a tower, made up of bells and played with either a keyboard or an automatic machine. The festival has been held annually for more than 50 years and its considered one of the most important carillon events in the world. Enjoy the nightly concerts, with carillonists from all over the globe, as well as dining and fireworks.
1740 W. Fayette Ave., Springfield
In downtown Oak Park, Ill., enjoy the Uncork Illinois Wine Festival, June 16. Sample more than 150 of the state’s best wines as you listen to live jazz performers and taste test the local cuisine. Participating wineries come from all over the state, and admission is a mere $25 (or even more affordable if purchased in advance) and your entrance comes with a tasting glass.
Marion St., Oak Park
Blues on the Fox
Occurring the same weekend, June 15–16, Blues on the Fox is Aurora’s premiere blues festival, now in its 22nd year. Enjoy the musical stylings of masters such as Aaron Neville, Elle King, Sonny Landreth, Samantha Fish and more. Beyond just the live acts, though, guests will also enjoy cold beer, festival food (like only the Midwest can cook up) and great views of Fox River. Bring your own chair and plan to attend, rain or shine.
360 North Broadway, Aurora
The Midwest Garlic Fest
The Midwest Garlic Fest, Aug. 11–12, is thrown each year by Galena Garlic Company and the lineup includes plenty of vendors selling, yes, garlic, but also lots of garlic products, from organic produce to food items, local dishes to beer and wine. Enjoy live entertainment and bring the kids for the plethora of children’s activities. You won’t believe all the dozens of varieties of garlic available and on display, and you might even find a new favorite ingredient.
310 West St., Elizabeth
The Illinois State Fair
State fairs in the Midwest are a much-lauded and much-anticipated affair. Everyone goes. Everyone has fair memories, takes family trips especially for the fair, goes on dates to the fair, you name it. For a brief period of the summer, everything revolves around it. The Illinois State Fair is Aug. 9–19 and includes everything from carnival rides to livestock shows, races and contests to educational displays. Two of the big highlights, though, are the fair food and the fair concert headliners. Fill up on deep-fried fair food before taking in the music of Boy George, Mastodon, Joan Jett, Gym Class Heroes, Brett Eldredge, Brantley Gilbert, Flo Rida and Ludacris.
801 E. Sangamon Ave., Springfield
A yearly celebration of all things paddle sports, Floatzilla brings together paddlers far and wide to attempt the world record for the largest flotilla of man-powered crafts. Paddlers take to the waters of the Mississippi River and all head toward Potter Lake at Sunset Marina, for a fun day on the water, surrounded by paddlers of all kinds. For those not keen on the water sports, there’s also camping nearby, as well as live music, food and other fun. Floatzilla takes place Aug. 18.
10 31st Ae., Rock Island
Omni Prize for the Arts
For art fest lovers, Omni Prize is the best of the Midwest. It’s a juried art festival showcasing only the top premier art for three days. The streets of Ottawa are filled with not only traditional artists, but also theatre, live music and film, with interesting experiences scattered across the town’s sidewalks, riverfront, parks and businesses. Better yet, the event is open to the public and totally free to attend. Plus, your vote matters, as public voting is taken into consideration when crowing the winning artists of each year!
1028 LaSalle St., Ottawa
By Holly Riddle