February 27, 2024

Du Quoin State Fair highlights tastes, sounds of southern Illinois

DU QUOIN, Ill. — From deviled eggs to dirt-track racing, the Du Quoin State Fair reflects the taste and the spirit of a region.

That region is southern Illinois and Josh Gross, the manager of the Du Quoin State Fair, is proud of the unique aspect of Illinois’ “other” state fair.

“That is something we have always tried to focus on down here, to keep that down-home feel to this fair,” said Gross, a Perry County native.

The 2023 Du Quoin State Fair starts on Aug. 25, with the official ribbon cutting followed by the Twilight Parade through the fairgrounds. The fair continues through Monday, Sept. 4.

The first night of the fair will establish the tempo of the 2023 Du Quoin State Fair as a family-friendly event, with something for all ages to enjoy.

“We try to make it an exciting night. It’s preview night, free parking, free admission. We have the ribbon cutting and the Twilight Parade after that, so it’s a great family environment,” Gross said.

“We will have motocross racing going on at the half-mile track. We’ve got a rodeo in the horse arena.”

The grandstand act on Friday night brings ice — and fairy tales — to southern Illinois in late August.

“We will have ‘Fairytales on Ice’ in our grandstand on Friday night. In southern Illinois, in August, you don’t typically see ice skating at a fair. They use a synthetic ice surface. A lot of people are familiar with ‘Disney On Ice,’ and these are similar stories, with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Mermaid and the stories we all know,” Gross said.

“I’ve seen them perform and they do a fantastic job and having them here really fits that whole idea of the first night of the fair being family friendly.”

One of the hallmarks of the Du Quoin State Fair is harness horse racing. The fairgrounds itself was started in 1923 when William “W.R.” Hayes built a private harness-racing track on the outskirts of Du Quoin.

The Du Quoin “Magic Mile” hosted the famous Hambletonian Stakes, a harness race for 3-year-old trotting horses, from 1957 to 1980.

Horse racing continues to be a major attraction at the Du Quoin State Fair and this year, race fans will enjoy an extra day of horse racing action.

“We are excited to add another day of racing this year. For the past few years, we have had two days of racing. This year, we were able to fund it for three full days of racing,” Gross said.

The Du Quoin State Fair racing will take place Aug. 28-30 and the schedule has been adjusted to allow more people to attend.

“We did move the races back to evening races throughout the week so we will have racing under the lights,” the fair manager said.

Gross said the additional day of racing is a step toward getting horse racing at the fair back to full strength.

“Racing has been a cornerstone of this fair for 100 years and we really want to grow that back to where it used to be. The goal is to get it back to where we used to be, five days of racing,” he said.

“It’s going to take some time to get the funding levels where we need them to be, but this year, going to three days of racing, we’ve heard nothing but compliments.”

Fair Food

Fair food is famous and the different tastes of southern and central Illinois will be featured by vendors and in competitions that take place throughout the fair.

Food and cooking competitions are again a Du Quoin State Fair feature. Those competitions highlight not just local specialties and cooks, but local businesses and organizations that sponsor the different challenges.

“We will have a number of cooking shows and challenges in our Exhibition Hall. All of those are tied to some local support, whether it’s Southern Illinois University and their culinary classes, the University of Illinois Extension for Franklin, Jackson, Perry, Randolph and Williamson counties sponsoring their charcuterie board, deviled egg, pudding pie and fajita/salsa/guacamole challenges or the local businesses who provide the funding and support for those contests,” Gross said.

Food and merchandise vendors also tend to be from the local area and the central and southern Illinois region.

“We will hundreds of vendors, a combination of food and merchandise vendors. Of those vendors, I would say probably 50% of them are Illinois-based vendors, from central and southern Illinois,” Gross said.

“We do get national vendors, but a vast majority are Illinois-based businesses that either make their products or deliver their products here in the state.”

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor