Aug 26, 2012

Random reflections on the 2012 Illinois State Fair

It seems like I’m always at least a week overdue on posting about recent events.  For instance, just as Springfield’s annual Blues & BBQ Festival ends this weekend, I’m just getting around to putting down my thoughts on our city’s biggest annual event of the year – the Illinois State Fair.

The main gate of the Illinois State Fair

Perhaps because of recent circumstances and having more free time on hand, I spent more time at the fair this year than I had many years previously.  I can attribute some of it to what I consider a better than usual grandstand line-up.  But mostly, for the locals at least, the fair represents an unofficial end to our summer and the last big blowout before fall begins.  So, in that spirit, I’m basing this blog on various random observations (and some occasional tweets I fired off at the time) I made over several evenings attending the 2012 Illinois State Fair.

First, I’m amazed the fair was as successful as it was given the price increases everywhere.  The $7 daily admission for adults ($3 the last day of the fair) makes it difficult to want to just go there on the spur of the moment, especially when you add in parking.  That why it’s almost imperative if you’re a local to go on preview night when admission and parking on the fairgrounds are free.

Then, to add insult to injury, the beer prices in the beer tents are now $4.50.  It’s like you’re saying, “Come to downstate Illinois and enjoy the Chicago beer prices.”  It’s sad that it actually costs less to drink at a grandstand show than it does to hang out at the beer tent and see the same bands you can see in Springfield any other weekend. 

Still, there are bargains to be had.  The old standby, Coliseum Corner, still offers a $1 corn dog.  And the must-have Vose’s corn dog and Culler’s French fries are still $3 apiece.

I'll buy that for a dollar!
Food, of course, is always a draw and topic of conversation.  What strange food will they think of next?  I heard about the cricket pizza but decided to mainly stick with my usual favorites over the course of the fair.  That said, my fake wife and I couldn’t pass up the moink balls and the meat parfait. 

The sign was calling us from the Miller Tent
Now that's a tasty moink ball!  Beef meatball wrapped in bacon and covered with barbecue sauce.
Meat parfait -- shredded pork, mashed potatoes and barbecue sauce 
I also made my annual pilgrimage to the Prairieview Grill’s stand for a smoked lamb sandwich.  It’s actually brisket sautéed in barbecue sauce, it’s sloppy, and it’s delicious. 

Then, there’s Ward’s Corner outside of the grandstand, where I always get my chicken on a stick right after the concert lets out.  At $5, it’s still a pretty good deal.  Ward’s is another vendor you’re sure will always be at the fair.  They’re part of the tradition.

One more pilgrimage – 17th Street Bar and Grill’s stand for a pulled pork sandwich.  Get it with the chow.  You can thank me later.

Then there’s Ethnic Village, where you can catch traditional German music, eat falafel and Brazilian street nachos and wash it down with an American craft beer.  The falafel, nachos, and Cuban pork sandwich were all yummy, by the way.

It was more entertaining than it looks.

Decisions, decisions ...

Brazilian street nachos in the sun.  I dropped my falafel before I could get a picture of it.  

They even had Abita Strawberry Harvest!
As for the music and people-watching, isn’t that what the beer tents are all about?  You never know who you’re going to run into, and then there are the interesting looking people who you have no idea where they hibernate the rest of the year.  It’s like Walmart closed their doors for 10 days.  Here are a couple of blurry photos I took from a couple of more memorable performances.  Brooke Thomas and the Blue Suns …

… and the Screamin’ Vatos.

And, of course, the Young Curmudgeon and I made our annual trip the last day of the fair to see Elvis Himselvis perform while we stuffed our faces with free samples from the chili cook-off under the Miller Tent.  It’s a little tradition we have.

Speaking of tradition, happy 90th birthday to the Prairie Farms Butter Cow, found every year in all her refrigerated glory at the Dairy Building.

Carved out of some of the finest butter in the Midwest ...

Finally, I took my first turn at volunteering at the grandstand concessions this year for the American Business Club’s Springfield chapter (AMBUCS).  The profits they make go to assisting children with disabilities, obviously a worthy cause.  I worked one of the stands in the mezzanine area for the Creed/Theory of a Deadman concert, and I would gladly do it again.  And, as you can see, we were prepared to do business.

Since this blog entry is already running long, I’ll post later about a couple of concerts I saw during this year’s fair – a four-bill of Georgia Satellites, Blue Oyster Cult, Night Ranger and Cheap Trick, and the last night of the fair’s Steve Miller Band concert with Dave Mason opening.  Yes, I grew up on classic rock.  Can you tell? 

1 comment:

nichole said...

Awesome post as usual! Since I didn't go to the fair this year I enjoyed your food pics:)

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...