click to enlarge State Fair calendar of events
PHOTO BY LEE MILNER
This year you can find life-size robotic dinosaurs at the Illinois State Fair in Happy Hollow.

The Illinois State Fair is a year's worth of music entertainment, livestock shows, competitions, auto races, exhibitions, side shows and food all packed into 11 days. It's a compact but vibrant bustle of activity from the moment the gates open on Preview Day until the lights go down for the last time. With so much going on, you should always expect the unexpected to be around the next corner, but here's a quick rundown of some of the highlights.

Thursday, Aug. 11 - Preview Day. Gates open at 7 a.m. to welcome the crowds to the 2022 Illinois State Fair. Expect to find deep-fried-everything on a stick, top-notch entertainment, white-knuckle(ish) carnival rides, contests and exhibitions of old things, new things, innovative things, edible things and just lots of things. Watch the official ribbon cutting ceremony with Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton outside the Main Gate at 3 p.m., then stick around for the popular Twilight Parade which begins at 5:30 p.m. from Lincoln Park. The midway and Adventure Village will open after inspections have been completed.

Friday, Aug. 12 – County Fairs and Horse Racing Day. County fair queens and representatives from fairs and expositions from around the state will be in attendance on the official first day of the fair. Check out the Dock Dogs showing off their stuff in Thrillville at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Catch the harness races, where Standardbreds race at high-speed trots while pulling two-wheeled sulkies and their drivers on the world's fastest dirt rack. Races begin at the grandstand at 12 p.m. The world-renowned, high-energy Street Drum Corp will be kicking up beats in front of the grandstand at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Also, you don't want to miss the Golden Abe's Fantastic Fair Food Contest where fair food vendors compete for cash prizes and bragging rights at 11 a.m. at The Shed and at 3 p.m. at Lincoln Stage. Sam Hunt, along with Sean Stemaly and Shelby Darrall, will kick off this year's grandstand entertainment lineup at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 13 - Kids Day. The day will feature special programming aimed at educating and entertaining kids of all ages. Head to the Coliseum to see the dog agility competition at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Over at the Lincoln Stage you can listen to some of the state's top musicians at the ever-popular fiddle and banjo contest at 11:30 a.m. The Kid's Korner will be bustling at 12 p.m. with Buster & Friends' magical show that promises balloons, bubbles, goofs and more. Later, musician Ry Kincaid will hit that same stage with songs for kids about nouns, colors, boogers and home renovation. Demi Lovato will be at the grandstand for the evening's performance. The singer/songwriter has won multiple music industry awards, including 14 Teen Choice Awards.

Sunday, Aug. 14 - Veterans & Gold Star Families Day. Veterans and their immediate families are admitted free and will receive discounted ride passes on this day. Several programs for veterans are scheduled for the Lincoln Stage, including a celebration of life service at 9:30 a.m. and JROTC drill competitions at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Be sure to also check out the Veterans Day Benefits Expo at The Shed at 10 a.m. and the 144th Army Band at the Main Street Stage at 12 p.m. At 4 p.m., the Veterans Day Parade will proceed down Grandstand Avenue with all the pomp, circumstance and flying colors needed to rightly honor the women and men who have served the country. American country music duo Brooks & Dunn will wrap up the day with their performance at the grandstand at 8 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 15 - Senior & Scout Day. If you've cracked that 60-year-old milestone, you get a free pass through the gates for the day, as do uniformed scouts. Look for special events in the Senior Citizens Center throughout the day, plus check out the Not So Newlywed Game at 11 a.m. and the Grandparent/Grandchild Contest at 2 p.m., both in the Illinois Building. Over at the Village of Cultures, take an opportunity to step out of your midwestern comfort zone and step into the French and Cajun/western swing sounds of Dennis Stroughmatt et L'Esprit Creole trio that will bring some driving fiddle tunes, haunting ballads and even some Mississippi river swing. To top off your day, at 8 p.m. catch the free grandstand show by Chicago's Ides of March, who have been entertaining audiences since 1964.

Tuesday, Aug. 16 - Agriculture Day. Livestock shows are ongoing throughout the fair and on this day the champions in junior livestock, including the barrow, steer, wether, poultry trio and rabbit trio, will be auctioned at the Governor's Sale of Champions at 4:30 p.m. in the Coliseum. Folks, this sale is some serious business. Last year's grand champion steer, Bob, sold for $105,000. The Commodities Auction of processed food from Illinois will be held at the same time. Don't miss the evening's grandstand show when returning fan favorite, Willie Nelson & Family, hit the stage at 8 p.m., along with Elle King.

Wednesday, Aug. 17 - Governor's Day. While Gov. JB Pritzker is spending his day hosting special guests, including former Illinois governors, you can spend your day engaging with interactive exhibits and demonstrations, watching drone competitions and participating in the eSports tournament at the Tech Prairie STEAM Expo in the Orr Building. The expo runs hourly from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Stop by the Village of Cultures to see a graceful and energetic folk dance by LotusFire Belly Dance at 2 p.m. They will also perform at the Illinois Building at 3 p.m., followed by the Troupe Zahava Belly Dance at 4 p.m. Jamaican reggae musician Shaggy and R&B girl group TLC hit the grandstand stage at 8 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 18 - Republican Day. Watch the synchronized and coordinated cheerleading and dance performances at the Illinois Building at 10 a.m. and the high-energy gymnastics of Capital Elite Athletics at 11 a.m. It will be followed at 12 p.m. by the Young Person's Entrepreneurship Shark Tank Pitch Competition. Entertainment and kid's activities will continue throughout the day at Kid's Korner and the Sky High Balloon Guy will be roaming the fairgrounds. County music's Jon Pardi will close the night on the grandstand stage, along with Lainey Wilson and Chapel Hart.

Friday, Aug. 19 – First Responders Day. All police officers, firefighters and EMTs who show their badge at the gate will be admitted free. If you haven't done so yet, stop in at Happy Hollow to see the Giant Dinosaurs. The life-size robotic dinosaurs roar, bare their claws, snap their jaws and even ... well, you're just going to have to check them out to see what else they do. The exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. through 8 p.m. Drone racing will also continue throughout the day from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the grandstand. Though not your usual fair attraction, you can also apply for a job at the job fair hosted by the state of Illinois from 3-6 p.m. in the Orr Building. To wrap up the day, South African comedian, actor, political commentator and host of "The Daily Show," Trevor Noah, will take the stage at the grandstand at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 20 - Park District Conservation Day. Events are scheduled in Conservation World for the duration of the fair. Be sure to check out the fly fishing and pond fishing clinics, the Monarch butterfly tag and release program, the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show and demonstrations by the American Chemical Society. Then, head over to the grandstand for a day of racing at the USAC Bettenhausen 100. Silver Crown (kind of like a larger sprint car) qualifying begins at 11:30 a.m. and the main event is at 2 p.m. The night's grandstand show is the heavy metal band, Disturbed.

Sunday, Aug. 21 - Family Day. Hundreds of runners from Illinois and surrounding states will take to the streets through the fairgrounds, Lincoln Park, Oak Ridge Cemetery and back for the challenging Abe's Amble, a 10K USATF certified course. It's a lot of fun and there is also a certified 5K course option. The enduring Powerlight Music Festival, a free Christian music festival now in its 31st year, begins at 12:30 p.m. at Lincoln Stage and lasts through the evening. Catch one last dirt track race with the ARCA Menards Series Atlas 100 + Sportsman Nationals at the grandstand. The main event begins at 1 p.m. Then, Sammy Hagar and the Circle will close out this year's grandstand entertainment at the fair.

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