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Illinois county fairs

Truck pulls, mutton bustin’ and purple-winning gourds the size of Texas
Photograph: Chandler West Kane County Fair 2011
By Heather Shouse |

We’ve come to develop something of a checklist for determining the true-grit, country-fried authenticity of a county fair, and Kane County Fair (Jul 17–21, 2013) nails every category. Truck pull competition? Check. Bull riding and buckin’ broncos? Check. Demolition derby, racing pigs, petting zoo and 4-H kids showing off giant gourds, perfect pies and groomed goats? Check, check, check and check. When we’re looking to feed our need for some old-fashioned fun, Kane County Fair is where we turn, especially for a reminder of the area’s agricultural roots. “This fair has been around over 130 years, but these days less and less children learn about livestock and crops so it’s important for us to maintain that,” says Larry Breon, president of the fair board. “People need to know that milk doesn’t come from Jewel, it comes from an animal.” Breon spaces out the best events to get fairgoers in the gates each day, scheduling the truck pull Thursday, bull riding Friday, rodeo Saturday and demo derby Sunday. We say, buy a $20 weekend pass—but the less-obsessed going for a day can still get the full effect, shooting paper stars for stuffed pandas or American flag koozies that read “These Colors Don’t Run,” wolfing down hand-dipped corn dogs while the stable-stall scent lingers in the air, and attempting not to hurl when riding the Matterhorn to the soothing sounds of Skid Row. Now this is an America worth fightin’ for.

Runners up
Balance out the redneck fun of demo derby and motocross with the random, and often British, cover bands that grace the DuPage County Fair (Jul 24–28, 2013) Grandstand stage for live music after sunset. ➡ Celebrating its 125th birthday this year, the Sandwich Fair (Sept 4-8, 2013) revels in old-school attractions like a horseshoe-pitching tourney and an antique tractor show courtesy of the local Early Day Engine Club. ➡ Livestock auctions take on a bit more meaning once you’ve seen how tightly the little ones cling to the wool of their sheep in the mutton bustin’ competition, the hands-down best feature of the Lake County Fair (Jul 24–28, 2013). Puzzled? Google “mutton bustin’” and say good-bye to your afternoon.

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