Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Amelia Martens will be the official hostess at the upcoming Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Martens, the daughter of Patrick and Annette Martens of Orion, is a student at the University of Illinois majoring in agricultural communications.
Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Amelia Martens will be the official hostess at the upcoming Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Martens, the daughter of Patrick and Annette Martens of Orion, is a student at the University of Illinois majoring in agricultural communications.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois State Fair will kick off Aug. 8 and, as always, will offer something for everyone.

This year’s theme — “Where Illinois Comes Together” — is an apt sentiment for a fair packed with enjoyment, according to Amy Bliefnick, fair manager.

“We think it’s such a great representation of what the fair’s about,” she said. “Not only do people from throughout the state and throughout the country come to Springfield to enjoy the fair, but you have farm kids, city kids, businesses, volunteers, food vendors and carnival operators. It’s for everyone to come together and enjoy.”

The 10-day fair’s activities officially begin on Friday, Aug. 9, following the Thursday opening parade. Despite the breadth of interests, a long tradition of the celebration of agriculture will continue from when the first fair was held, 160 years ago.

“It began in 1853 as a way to celebrate agriculture and all the great things that are involved in agriculture,” Bliefnick said. “We could not be happier to continue that tradition. Agriculture is at the forefront of what the Illinois State Fair’s about. It’s one of the largest industries in the state. And during the course of the fair we have well over 10,000 animals, some of the best livestock in the entire country.

“It’s important for us to continue the traditions that have made the fair so popular, like the butter cow. Over 800 pounds of Prairie Farms butter is used in sculpting the cow. That’s always a sight to see.”

One example of the fair’s “coming together” theme is the exposure of non-farm families to agriculture. There are a number of exhibits that provide a rural experience. That includes the dairy area, where city kids have an opportunity to milk cows by hand.

“It’s so fun to watch the kids who have never been around animals before,” Bliefnick said. “It’s one of the many secrets of the Illinois State Fair. You can find something to do at every corner. Whether you’re a person who likes entertainment, livestock or just about anything else, we’ve got something for everyone.”

Music will permeate the fairgrounds. The grandstand will host national acts including Toby Keith, John Mayer, Journey, The Band Perry and REO Speedwagon. In addition, free entertainment tents will provide local and regional musical acts.

Tractor pulls, demolition derbies and harness racing will be featured. Auto racing fans also will have plenty to see, as the fair will feature USAC and ARCA races.

The Happy Hollow area provides entertainment for the entire family. Animal acts include Bengal tigers and kangaroos, as well as a petting zoo. There also will be sports opportunities, including three-on-three basketball games. Children also will be able to learn how to hit a tennis shot or to shoot a hockey puck.

“There’s a little something for everyone down in Happy Hollow,” Bliefnick said. “We always try to provide free entertainment, too. We don’t want families to come and have to open their wallet at every turn. We do 14 different kinds of free stages for people to sit and enjoy music and entertainment from throughout the country.”

The fair still is an entertainment bargain, with admission fees the lowest in the nation, according to Bliefnick. The individual, one-time admission charge is $7 for adults and $3 for children and seniors.

Those planning on making multiple visits may purchase a coupon book that allows 10 visits. Those books are available for $45 for adults and $20 for children and seniors.

“We’re keeping up with the times and trying to provide affordable, family entertainment to give people opportunities to go out and have some old-fashioned fun with their families and friends,” Bliefnick said. “These are tough economic times for everyone, but we’ve found families still want time to celebrate and enjoy with each other. We think the Illinois State Fair is a great alternative.”