Officials hope for big crowds after one-year interruption at Illinois State Fair


The carnival midway at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield sits ready to welcome visitors when the Fair opens on Thursday. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)

SPRINGFIELD – After a one-year interruption last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois State Fair in Springfield is set to reopen Thursday with new attractions and new safety requirements.

Among the new requirements, Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II said during a media briefing Friday, will be a mask mandate at all indoor venues.

“It’s important for fairgoers to know that we will be following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” Costello said. “So what that means is masks will be required indoors. This includes the following buildings: the Coliseum, Expo Building, the Illinois Building, the Dairy Building, the Livestock Center, Artisans Building, Emerson Building, and the Orr Building. Again, masks will be required when indoors.”

For those who arrive without masks but who plan to attend indoor events, free masks will be available at all entry gates, he said.

And while it won’t be required, officials also are strongly encouraging fairgoers to wear masks in large gatherings, including the Twilight Parade, which is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Other safety measures being taken include extra hand washing stations throughout the fairgrounds, cleaning of high-touch areas, and foggers on carnival rides and grandstand seating. There will also be free vaccinations available at six locations on the fairgrounds.

State officials were forced to cancel the fair last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the first time the fair had been called off since World War II.

But with vaccines now widely available, and with nearly 60 percent of the state’s population over age 12 now fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to IDPH, officials said they feel comfortable the fair can go off safely this year.

“I think people are just done,” Illinois State Fair manager Kevin Gordon said. “I mean, they’re tired of sitting around for a year and they’re wanting to get out. Again, we emphasize and we encourage that everyone get vaccinated to come out. But we’ll make certain that everyone out here, when they do show up, will have a safe and have a fun time.”

The first major event of the fair actually happens Wednesday with the unveiling of this year’s butter cow. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the butter cow, a life-size display sculpted out of real butter that is typically fashioned around a timely theme. Masks will be required in the Dairy Building where the cow is housed.

Gates to the fair officially open at 7 a.m. Thursday. Gov. JB Pritzker will join Costello and other state and local dignitaries for a ribbon cutting ceremony at 3 p.m. That will be followed by the Twilight parade at 5 p.m.

Among the new attractions this year is a tribute to Route 66, which stretched nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, winding its way through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the establishment of that highway, one of the original roadways of the U.S. highway system.

The “Route 66 Experience” at the fairgrounds will allow visitors to walk through exhibits commemorating the Illinois portion of the highway from Chicago to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and learn about communities and attractions along the route.

The fair will also feature 13 stages with free entertainment ranging from live music to pig races, a water circus in which acrobats perform 40 feet above the top of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and an assortment of sword swallowers, fire breathers and escape artists.

Grandstand shows this year include country music performers Toby Keith, Kane Brown and Sammy Hagar; comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias; a Neil Diamond tribute band called the Traveling Salvation Show; a night of 90s music with Vanilla Ice and other artists; George Thorogood and others.

Masks will be required for all grandstand concerts, and those in the grandstand track standing room only section will be required to provide a print or digital copy of vaccination records or a negative COVID-19 test result within three days prior to the event.

A complete list of events and entertainment lineups is available on the Illinois State Fair website.

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