Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was one of the happiest members of the audience in the grandstand at the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
Toby Keith took the stage, and he is, the governor told all, among Toby Keith's biggest fans. To make it official, Quinn declared Wednesday "Toby Keith Day" in Illinois. Fair officials were almost as happy as the governor. Keith's concert sold 9,367 tickets, 144 more than the Styx and REO Speedwagon concert, with 9,223.
The grandstand entertainment was the highest-grossing line-up in State Fair history with ticket sales of $2.03 million. The sales figure eclipsed the previous record of $1.57 million set just last year. Grandstand attendance totaled 53,287, the most since 2000, when 53,345 tickets were sold, fair communications director Jeff Squibb said.
The fair, held in Illinois' capital city of Springfield, was held Aug.7 through Aug. 17. When it was over, Gov. Quinn called it one of the most successful state fairs ever held. The fair reported its highest attendance in ten years, Quinn said.
A total of 961,142 fairgoers passed through the gates this year, and increase of 5 percent - or 42,707 visitors - compared to a year ago, when attendance was 918,435. The figure is the fair's highest attendance since 2002, when an estimated 1.2 million people visited the fair.
"No matter how you add it up, this was a great fair, and these numbers are good for the Illinois economy" Quinn said. "While this year's high attendance is encouraging and makes the effort that goes into putting on the event worthwhile, it is what can't be quantified - those lasting memories the fair creates - that is most important."
If the governor toured the fair for any length of time, he could have found almost anything he wanted.
The Illinois Racetrack at the fairgrounds, drew a lineup of some of the best racehorses racing at this year's fair. The track is known as one of the fastest dirt tracks in the world. The races offered free admission and pari-mutual wagering. Racing was offered Aug. 10 through Aug. 16.
If you had a big winner you could always tip a glass of Illinois wine to celebrate at the wine experience, which was held daily from noon to 10 p.m. daily. Wine tastings were held nightly in the Twilight Ballroom. Twenty Illinois wineries each night offered their wines, and there was also live entertainment beginning at 7 p.m. each night. Jazz, Swing, Blues, Big Band and orchestral and dance musicians were featured.
Sampling tickets for the wine could be purchased for $1 each. Guests received a complimentary wine glass when they purchased 10 or more tickets. Wine could also be purchased by the glass, bottle or case from each winery.
The Illinois Wine Experience was sponsored by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, established in 1992. It's a non-profit organization dedicated to developing the viticulture and enology interests of Illinois through information exchange and cooperation among Illinois grape producers and vintners.
The Illinois wine industry has exploded in recent years, growing from just 12 wineries in 1997 to 79 this year. Illinois is among the top 12 wine producing states in the nation. And, if you needed something to eat after all of that wine, Squibb said there were endless vendors with everything to offer from corn dogs to funnel cakes to sandwiches.
The ethnic village featured foods from thirteen different countries. Two international beer booths were also featured in the ethnic village.
"The English booth, for some reason, was offering shark on a stick," Squibb said, laughing. "I don't know what shark has to do with England, but it seemed to be selling."
There were also foods from Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico and several other countries.
"They also had a booth called fried anything," he said. "You could get everything deep fried, from Oreos to cheese cake to Snickers."
If food wasn't your interest, there was plenty more to get your attention. The Illinois Department of Agriculture chose and honored its "Sustainable Farmer of the Year." The winners were a McLean County couple, Ron and Angie Ackerman of Chenoa, owners of the Ackerman Certified Organized Farm and More. The Ackermans grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and grains on the same small central Illinois farm where Ron grew up.
The fair also honored the winner of the state senior spelling bee, Eugene Durbin, of Frankfort. It was Durbin's first time competing in the event.
On Agriculture Day, Aug. 13, grand champion junior livestock were auctioned. There was a pedal and tractor pull, and the "Cutest Little Farmer" was chosen.
On Aug. 11, there was a "Husband and Hog Calling" contest. A capacity crowd gathered at the Lincoln Stage to watch this year's competitions. Kelley Tierney of Cornland, Ill, won the Husband Calling contest, and Kyle Barton, of West Des Moines, Iowa, won the Hog Calling competition.
Teen Nelson England, of Oneida, won the grand champion designation for his steer. The steer eventually sold for $62,000. The price was one of seven record bids that the fair's prize-winning junior livestock received during the Governor's Sale of Champions. Another record went to the Land of Lincoln Steer ($50,100). The grand champion meat goat went for $11,050. Altogether, $222,650 was raised by the 4-H and FFA youngsters who exhibited the animals. Most said they plan to use the proceeds from the sales to help pay for college.
The increased spending at the fair boosts purchases at local businesses, which in turn stimulates economic growth in the area, said Squibb.
The Illinois Department of Revenue collected a record $257,584 in sales taxes from Illinois State Fair vendors. That's seven percent more than was collected a year ago. With the sales tax rate in Sangamon County at 6.25 percent, that figure means fair goers spent $4.1 million on corn dogs, lemon shake-ups and assorted trinkets this year.
Gate and parking revenue was $1,530,676, breaking the previous record set in 2012 of $1,513,884.
The fair's carnival contractor, North American Midway Entertainment, reported record gross receipts of $1.4 million, surpassing the $1.29 million it collected last year.
"A day at the fair is fun for everyone, and the families who attended this year likely will never forget their trip to Springfield," the Governor said. "I hope those memories will keep them coming back for years to come."