So several weeks ago, I got my fair feet wet in Indianapolis. And let’s face it, I was impressed. Exactly one week later, I was headed for Springfield, IL: ready for the Illinois State Fair.
After seeing both, I can pinpoint some basic differences and similarities between the two:
* The websites are a world apart, the IL fair is hosted on the state’s Dept of Agriculture home page and was last updated circa 1995. Free of branding, themes and general marketing it is the exact opposite of the well appointed Indiana State Fair page. We did some significant food-related research on Illinois’ food vendor list, and sadly several of the things we focused on were not actually at the fair (deep fried pizza, deep fried strawberries).
* Indiana’s fair seems larger, and the layout a bit easier to understand – more intuitive. We spent a lot of time walking back and forth at the Illinois fair, and had to make a concerted effort to find specific things. Whereas in Indiana I just made a gigantic loop and saw everything without trying.
*Admission fees were standard at both locations. In Indiana, I had to make a pit stop at a local CVS for a discount ticket ($7 instead of $10), and then pay $5 for parking in a lot directly across the street from the gate. In Illinois, we pulled up to a parking gate and were charged admission ($7 each) and parking ($7 also) at the same time. Both quick, easy and relatively cheap.
* Maps were provided at both fairs. Illinois a black and white photo copy, with all the day’s events. Indiana clearly put some marketing money into their color, sponsor-included, extensive program booklet. I received the booklet with admission, so it was not extra at the door.
* Cows and sheep and pigs, oh my! Plenty of livestock at both locations. Let’s be honest, that’s half the fun. The buildings were relatively similar but the layout in Illinois threw me off. At any rate, I was petting animals left and right at both fairs.
* With regard to livestock, I did keep an eye out for hand washing stations. In Indiana there were several full sink, soap and water, paper towel hand washing stations. This makes the farmers happy, the animals healthy, and the OCD moms very happy. Hell, it made me happy. I’m down with the snuffling pig but I don’t want to eat lunch with all that on my hands. Illinois did have hand sanitizer setups near the animals, but Indiana went the extra mile.
* Illinois had plenty of live music venues throughout the fairgrounds, and a surprise appearance by The Voice. Or at least, a tent promoting The Voice with dancers out front. Both Indiana and Illinois had big name music acts lined up for the evening entertainment. Demi Lovato was on the night we were in Illinois, and the line stretched on for days. Train played both fairs, although in Indiana his tickets were $70+.
* Both fairs had other well known attractions. The Illinois State Fair is best known for it’s life size cow carved from butter, which I assume is how the Year of the Dairy Cow folks in Indiana turned to cheese for their carving medium this year. A fun fact from @ILStateFair – we saw a sign that the butter was recycled, and I tweeted to ask for details. The response: “We freeze the butter and then use it again for the next year.” So don’t get your hopes up, you’ll never eat the butter from the butter cow. I did tweet @IndyStateFair to ask for details on the cheese, so stay tuned.
* Can you believe it took me this long to mention the food? I ate like a queen in Indiana for a quarter of the price. Although it’s not typical fair food, the Year of the Dairy Cows meant the Dairy Barn as a central fixture and a damn good deal on a large milkshake and grilled cheese sandwich (only $5). We picked our way along the fried food in Illinois – I walked away from a few choices because the prices weren’t equal to the food. My companion and fried food connoisseur noted that the frying back home in our little town of Bethlehem is far superior .. miss you, Musikfest! In the end, between us we managed fried girl scout cookies, fried green tomatoes, fried mac & cheese, nachos and corn on the cob. Holly gets credit for 90% of the fried food, as I played it safe. Missed opportunity: Red Velvet Funnel Cake.
Next year I suppose we’ll have to branch out to Missouri and Iowa, won’t we? Iowa does have deep fried butter. Enjoy the photos from Illinois!