A Festival by Any Other Name

Again, the calendar is chock full of fun all summer long
By Scott Fishel
Morton Pumpkin Festival Float

 

There’s something universal about summer festivals. Whether you’re from a small town or the big city, there is likely a stomach-churning carnival ride somewhere in your past. Or a corn dog slathered in mustard. Or a funnel cake dusted with powdered sugar and served on a paper plate.

But all summer festivals are not created equal. Sometimes the only thing they have in common is “festival” in their name. The summer festival lineup here in central Illinois makes that abundantly clear.

For example, the Illinois Oz Festival is planned for Aug. 13 in Mapleton, a tiny village of fewer than 500 on U.S. Route 24 in southern Peoria County.

The Wizard of Oz? In Illinois? Clearly, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

“There used to be a regular fall festival here,” said Jim Robertson, executive director of the Hollis Park District, sponsor of the fantasy festival. “We were looking to bring it back. Someone threw out the idea of a Wizard of Oz festival and we just went with it.”

Judging by the event they’ve been putting on in Butler Haynes Park since 2010, you would think a tornado blew Mapleton over the rainbow.

Robertson and his staff bring in a troupe of professional Oz characters from Indiana, and there is a real yellow brick road, a haunted forest, a cornfield (for the scarecrow), a witch’s castle, Professor Marvel’s wagon and a pinwheel marking the landing place of Dorothy’s house. Oz visitors also find trolley rides, a petting zoo, food vendors, Oz merchandise and music.

For the first three or four years, the event drew about 500 people. Robertson said. But it grew. One year, attendance swelled to nearly 5,000.

“The police were not happy with me,” Robertson said, recalling the snarled traffic and limited parking. That high point has never been equaled and annual attendance now hovers around a more manageable 1,500.

Check the calendar and you’ll discover all kinds of festivals around these parts. Like the Balloons Over 66 Festival Aug. 26–28 in Lincoln, a hot air balloon extravaganza. And the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, a summer-long Bloomington institution that has been bringing the Bard’s works to life in the heartland for 45 years. 

Way off on Oct. 8, the Big Picture Peoria Festival celebrates public art with food, education and hands-on activities for the entire family. There’s also the Canton Art on Main Festival (June 4-5), where visitors to the Fulton County town can view and purchase original art while enjoying food, wine and local music.

If the environment is your thing, you might want to check out the Kickapoo Creek Festival at Wildlife Prairie Park July 29-30. It features free workshops and camping, an evening bonfire, food and outdoor activities, all to increase awareness of the Kickapoo Creek watershed.

Festivalgoers are anticipating a full force return this year of Peoria’s Irish Fest, Oktoberfest, the Morton Pumpkin Festival, Tremont Turkey Festival, Pekin Marigold Festival and the spectacular UnityPoint Red, White and Boom! fireworks display on July 4.

Tom McConnaughay, who chairs the entertainment committee for Peoria Irish Fest (Aug. 26-28) says the St. Patrick’s Society of Peoria is “set to come roaring back this year” after canceling in 2020 and a “disappointing” return last year.

“It feels like this year, people will be ready to come out again,” he added. “We’re thinking positive.”

Likewise, Jeff Pulfer, spokesperson for the German American Central Society, said the club expects higher turnout at Oktoberfest on the riverfront in September, as well as the club’s other summer festivals at Hickory Grove Park in Dunlap.

“We don’t know if we’ll be back to 2019 levels yet, but we’re doing everything we can to move it in that direction,” Pulfer said.

Loss of summer festival revenue the past two years has hurt the hospitality industry and business in general in the area. But there is optimism for this summer.

“There is much excitement and anticipation that the numbers will be better than the last two years,” said J. D. Dalfonso, CEO of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “It’s going to take a combination of all of these opportunities to build back our economy.”

It appears that a festival can be just about any occasion that celebrates the people, heritage, food and culture of the places we live. Central Illinois will be offering plenty of ways to make your own memories this summer.

 

Scott Fishel 

Scott Fishel is a senior communications executive with WTVP

 

 

 

PEORIA AREA SUMMER FESTIVALS 2022

 

GOOD NEIGHBOR DAYS FESTIVAL

June 1–5, 2022

1800 Washington Road, Washington

Kick off the summer with food, games, live music, a classic car show, family bike ride, carnival rides and much more.

https://washingtonilcoc.com/good-neighbor-days-festival

ELMWOOD STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL

June 4, 2022

Central Park, Main and Magnolia, Elmwood

Crafters, vendors, local entertainers, a 5K color run/walk and good food including lots of strawberry desserts.

https://facebook.com/elmwoodstrawberryfest

CANTON ART ON MAIN
FINE ART FESTIVAL

June 4–5, 2022

Jones Park, Canton

View and purchase original art from some of the Midwest’s best artists, plus food,
local music and wine.

https://cantonillinois.org/main-street/main-street-events/art-on-main

BLOOMINGTON GOLD

June 10–11, 2022

Redbird Arena and Horton Field House, Normal

Corvette, Camaro and other car enthusiasts are invited to two days of automotive excitement including a road tour, judging, vendors, dealer displays and a gala reception.

https://bloomingtongold.com

TREMONT TURKEY FESTIVAL

June 10–12, 2022

Community Park (on Route 9)

Turkey is a big part of this festival, which traces its roots back 56 years. In addition, enjoy entertainment, family activities, the Miss Tremont Pageant, carnival rides, tractor pulls, a parade and more.

http://turkeyfestival.com

SOMMERFEST

June 11, 2022

Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap

https://peoriagermans.net

CHILLICOTHE DAYS CARNIVAL

June 15-18, 2022

City Park, Downtown Chillicothe

Kick off summer with carnival rides, games, food, live music and entertainment, talent show, Mr. Chillicothe contest and more.

https://facebook.com/chillicothechamber

JUNETEENTH FEST

June 18, 2022

Carver Center,
John H. Gwynn Jr. Park

Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., was first recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 and the Juneteenth Fest marks the occasion. An even bigger and better celebration is planned for this summer.

OLD SETTLER’S DAYS

June 22–25, 2022

Metamora Village Square

A reunion, a family tradition, a time to gather and enjoy being part of a community. Old Settler’s Days is food, vendors, carnival rides and live music every night near the historic Metamora Courthouse.

http://villageofmetamora.com

ILLINOIS SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

June, July, August 2022

Multiple venues, Bloomington

Celebrate the Bard with performances, educational programs and community events throughout the summer. This year’s works include The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.

https://Illinoisshakes.com

VOLKSFEST

July 3, 2022

Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap

https://peoriagermans.net

GLEN OAK PARK FIREWORKS

July 3, 2022

Glen Oak Park, Peoria

https://peoriaparks.org

UNITYPOINT HEALTH RED, WHITE AND BOOM!

July 4, 2022

Peoria and East Peoria Riverfronts

The area’s largest annual event attracts up to 200,000 to the Peoria and East Peoria riverfronts for a huge fireworks display and all-day celebration. This 34th presentation is the first since 2019.

https://redwhiteandboom.us

MACK-A-FEST

July 16, 2022

Veteran’s Park and other
Mackinaw locations

A hometown festival with something for everyone, including a parade, carnival rides, tractor pull, ribeye sandwich dinner, 5K run/walk, Little Miss and Mr. Mack-A-Fest.

https://facebook.com/mackafest

RIVER CITY PRIDE FESTIVAL

July 16, 2022

Downtown Peoria

Sponsored by Peoria Proud, the event
is open to all and includes music, food,
vendors and fun.

https://www.peoriaproud.org/

KICKAPOO CREEK FESTIVAL

July 29-30, 2022

Wildlife Prairie Park, Hanna City

Free workshops, food, free camping, a bonfire and activities promoting conservation of the Kickapoo Creek watershed.

https://friendsofrockyglen.org/kickapoo-creek-festival

 

MINIER CORN DAZE

July 31–Aug. 1, 2022

School Park, Minier

All the sweet corn you can eat, plus a softball tourney, Fire Department water fight, vendors, lawn tractor pull, car show, live music, entertainers, vendors and
events for the whole family.

BRATFEST

Aug. 7, 2022

Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap

https://peoriagermans.net

ILLINOIS OZ FESTIVAL

Aug. 13, 2022

Butler Haynes Park, Mapleton

Follow the yellow brick road to Mapleton, where you will find the most fun this
side of the rainbow.

 

PEORIA IRISH FEST

Aug. 26–28, 2022

Peoria Riverfront

Sponsored by St. Patrick’s
Society of Peoria

Celtic fun for everyone, with Irish music, dance, culture, food, beer, whiskey tasting, highland games and kids’ activities.

https://peoriairishfest.com

BALLOONS OVER 66 FESTIVAL

Aug. 26–28, 2022

Lincoln

Hot air balloons are launched at various locations throughout Lincoln. Saturday concludes with a Balloon Glow as tethered balloons light up the sky.

https://destinationlogancountyil.com/balloons-over-66

SWEET CORN CIRCUS

Aug. 27–28, 2022

Uptown Normal

Formerly the Sweet Corn Blues Festival, the updated event will feature lots of sweet corn, vendors, crafters and performances by ISU’s Gamma Phi Circus acrobatic troupe.

https://uptownnormal.com/events

HOMESTEAD FESTIVAL

Sept. 8-11, 2022.

This Princeton festival honors the Rev. Owen Lovejoy and his contributions to the nation’s history.” The “homestead” is his former residence, which is on the National Register. The event features a parade, carnival rides, food, merchants and live entertainment.

https://www.homesteadfestival.com

PEKIN MARIGOLD FESTIVAL

Sept. 8–11, 2022

Mineral Springs Park, Pekin

In the Marigold Capital of the World, enjoy food, music, a medallion hunt, Miss Marigold Pageant, parade and plenty of fun for the whole family.

https://pekinchamber.com/pekin-marigold-festival

MORTON PUMPKIN FESTIVAL

Sept. 14-17, 2022

Downtown Morton and
Jefferson School grounds.

The theme this year is Pumpkins Go 80s! Join in the celebration of all things pumpkin with food, entertainment, carnival rides, parade, craft sale, 5K run/walk and much more.

https://mortonpumpkinfestival.org

BRIDGE-TO-BRIDGE RIVER DRIVE

Sept. 17-18, 2022

This festival is held simultaneously in the communities of Peoria Heights, Chillicothe, Henry, Spring Bay and Lacon along the scenic Illinois Route 29 and Route 26 corridors, with a full schedule of events in each.

https://Facebook.com/B2BRiverDrive

PEORIA OKTOBERFEST

Sept. 16-18, 2022

Peoria Riverfront

A Peoria take on the traditional Munich celebration features plenty of German food, beer, music, culture and customs.

https://oktoberfestpeoria.com

PEORIA ART GUILD
FINE ART FAIR

Sept. 24-25, 2022

Peoria Riverfront

One of the oldest art fairs in the country, with a showcase of quality art from national and regional artists, music, food and hands-on activities for kids and adults.

https://peoriaartguild.org

SPOON RIVER VALLEY
SCENIC DRIVE

Oct. 1-2, Oct. 8-9, 2022

Multiple communities in Fulton
and Peoria counties

This far-flung celebration features two weekends of art, crafts, collectibles, antiques, food, entertainment, re-enactments and activities across dozens of communities.

http://spoonriverdrive.org

BIG PICTURE PEORIA
STREET FESTIVAL

Oct. 8, 2022

Warehouse District, Peoria

A free, public art festival with
activities for all ages.

https://bigpicturepeoria.org

 

 

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