SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The state budget mess has come home to roost at the Illinois State Fair, where admission is up 40 percent and, for the first time, the preview night is no longer free.
Admission to Aug. 11’s preview night is $5 — half the normal admission — and fair officials have gussied it up with grandstand entertainment and a free concert by some of the 1985 champion Chicago Bears.
The gate cost for Aug. 12-20 is $10, up from $7 last year. But seniors pay the same $3 fee and children to age 12 are free. Previously, kids had to be five or younger to get in without charge.
“In today’s fiscal climate, it’s very difficult to give something away for free,” state fair manager Kevin Gordon said of the new preview-night charge. Admission will also be $5 on the last day of the fair, Aug. 21.
The fair, which serves as the state’s agricultural showcase, is more than 160 years old and will have new carnival rides, new and even more exotic food items and a “brew garden” featuring craft beers. Serving as grand marshals on the preview day’s Twilight Parade are Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson and Steve McMichael — all part of the ’85 Bears and known as The Chicago 6, which will perform at the Grandstand.
But the grandstand once again will pack more talent, including classic rockers Pat Benatar, Kiss and ZZ Top; country favorites Dierks Bentley and Little Big Town; and modern stars Meghan Trainor and Volbeat.
Among the wilder food debuts: Turtle funnel cakes, island-style beef skewers and something called Fried Funny Bones — even fair officials don’t know what they are.
To find what you need, try the new smartphone app lets users find specific food items, add reminders about events they want to attend, create a selfie with the famed butter cow or map out a strategy.
“You can schedule your day before you get here, if you like,” assistant fair manager Shawn Mayernick said.
New to Happy Hollow — with special events for families and children — is the ZuZu African Acrobat Show and Woody’s Barnyard Races, which will allow fairgoers to cheer for their favorite pig, goat, or dachshund.
While the emerald ash borer has taken its toll on the foliage, Warren Goetsch, deputy director of the state Agriculture Department, said the Illinois Green Industry Association has donated 200 trees over the next four years to restore the fairground forest.
The fair’s up against entertainment competition unknown decades ago, but Illinois State Fair Queen Abby Foster of Danville, an elementary education major at Ball State University, says it’s worth the trip.
“The thing that stands out about the Illinois State Fair for me is that it’s just a great opportunity for family activity and family fun,” said Foster, who unlike most queens is not from a farm family, but has volunteered for years at county fairs. “Here, they have a variety of everything.”
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