There’s something universal about summer festivals. Whether you’re from a small town or the big city, there is likely a stomach-churning carnival ride somewhere in your past. Or a corn dog slathered in mustard. Or a funnel cake dusted with powdered sugar and served on a paper plate.
But all summer festivals are not created equal. Sometimes the only thing they have in common is “festival” in their name. The summer festival lineup here in central Illinois makes that abundantly clear.
For example, the Illinois Oz Festival is planned for Aug. 13 in Mapleton, a tiny village of fewer than 500 on U.S. Route 24 in southern Peoria County.
The Wizard of Oz? In Illinois? Clearly, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
“There used to be a regular fall festival here,” said Jim Robertson, executive director of the Hollis Park District, sponsor of the fantasy festival. “We were looking to bring it back. Someone threw out the idea of a Wizard of Oz festival and we just went with it.”
Judging by the event they’ve been putting on in Butler Haynes Park since 2010, you would think a tornado blew Mapleton over the rainbow.
Robertson and his staff bring in a troupe of professional Oz characters from Indiana, and there is a real yellow brick road, a haunted forest, a cornfield (for the scarecrow), a witch’s castle, Professor Marvel’s wagon and a pinwheel marking the landing place of Dorothy’s house. Oz visitors also find trolley rides, a petting zoo, food vendors, Oz merchandise and music.
For the first three or four years, the event drew about 500 people. Robertson said. But it grew. One year, attendance swelled to nearly 5,000.
“The police were not happy with me,” Robertson said, recalling the snarled traffic and limited parking. That high point has never been equaled and annual attendance now hovers around a more manageable 1,500.
Check the calendar and you’ll discover all kinds of festivals around these parts. Like the Balloons Over 66 Festival Aug. 26–28 in Lincoln, a hot air balloon extravaganza. And the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, a summer-long Bloomington institution that has been bringing the Bard’s works to life in the heartland for 45 years.
Way off on Oct. 8, the Big Picture Peoria Festival celebrates public art with food, education and hands-on activities for the entire family. There’s also the Canton Art on Main Festival (June 4-5), where visitors to the Fulton County town can view and purchase original art while enjoying food, wine and local music.
If the environment is your thing, you might want to check out the Kickapoo Creek Festival at Wildlife Prairie Park July 29-30. It features free workshops and camping, an evening bonfire, food and outdoor activities, all to increase awareness of the Kickapoo Creek watershed.
Festivalgoers are anticipating a full force return this year of Peoria’s Irish Fest, Oktoberfest, the Morton Pumpkin Festival, Tremont Turkey Festival, Pekin Marigold Festival and the spectacular UnityPoint Red, White and Boom! fireworks display on July 4.
Tom McConnaughay, who chairs the entertainment committee for Peoria Irish Fest (Aug. 26-28) says the St. Patrick’s Society of Peoria is “set to come roaring back this year” after canceling in 2020 and a “disappointing” return last year.
“It feels like this year, people will be ready to come out again,” he added. “We’re thinking positive.”
Likewise, Jeff Pulfer, spokesperson for the German American Central Society, said the club expects higher turnout at Oktoberfest on the riverfront in September, as well as the club’s other summer festivals at Hickory Grove Park in Dunlap.
“We don’t know if we’ll be back to 2019 levels yet, but we’re doing everything we can to move it in that direction,” Pulfer said.
Loss of summer festival revenue the past two years has hurt the hospitality industry and business in general in the area. But there is optimism for this summer.
“There is much excitement and anticipation that the numbers will be better than the last two years,” saidJ. D. Dalfonso, CEO of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “It’s going to take a combination of all of these opportunities to build back our economy.”
It appears that a festival can be just about any occasion that celebrates the people, heritage, food and culture of the places we live. Central Illinois will be offering plenty of ways to make your own memories this summer.
Scott Fishel is a senior communications executive with WTVP
PEORIA AREA SUMMER FESTIVALS 2022
June 1–5, 2022
1800 Washington Road, Washington
Kick off the summer with food, games, live music, a classic car show, family bike ride, carnival rides and much more.
June 4, 2022
Central Park, Main and Magnolia, Elmwood
Crafters, vendors, local entertainers, a 5K color run/walk and good food including lots of strawberry desserts.
June 4–5, 2022
Jones Park, Canton
View and purchase original art from some of the Midwest’s best artists, plus food,
June 10–11, 2022
Redbird Arena and Horton Field House, Normal
Corvette, Camaro and other car enthusiasts are invited to two days of automotive excitement including a road tour, judging, vendors, dealer displays and a gala reception.
June 10–12, 2022
Community Park (on Route 9)
Turkey is a big part of this festival, which traces its roots back 56 years. In addition, enjoy entertainment, family activities, the Miss Tremont Pageant, carnival rides, tractor pulls, a parade and more.
June 11, 2022
Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap
June 15-18, 2022
City Park, Downtown Chillicothe
Kick off summer with carnival rides, games, food, live music and entertainment, talent show, Mr. Chillicothe contest and more.
June 18, 2022
Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., was first recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 and the Juneteenth Fest marks the occasion. An even bigger and better celebration is planned for this summer.
June 22–25, 2022
Metamora Village Square
A reunion, a family tradition, a time to gather and enjoy being part of a community. Old Settler’s Days is food, vendors, carnival rides and live music every night near the historic Metamora Courthouse.
June, July, August 2022
Multiple venues, Bloomington
Celebrate the Bard with performances, educational programs and community events throughout the summer. This year’s works include The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.
July 3, 2022
Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap
July 3, 2022
Glen Oak Park, Peoria
July 4, 2022
Peoria and East Peoria Riverfronts
The area’s largest annual event attracts up to 200,000 to the Peoria and East Peoria riverfronts for a huge fireworks display and all-day celebration. This 34th presentation is the first since 2019.
July 16, 2022
Veteran’s Park and other
A hometown festival with something for everyone, including a parade, carnival rides, tractor pull, ribeye sandwich dinner, 5K run/walk, Little Miss and Mr. Mack-A-Fest.
July 16, 2022
Sponsored by Peoria Proud, the event
July 29-30, 2022
Wildlife Prairie Park, Hanna City
Free workshops, food, free camping, a bonfire and activities promoting conservation of the Kickapoo Creek watershed.
July 31–Aug. 1, 2022
School Park, Minier
All the sweet corn you can eat, plus a softball tourney, Fire Department water fight, vendors, lawn tractor pull, car show, live music, entertainers, vendors and
Aug. 7, 2022
Hickory Grove Park, Dunlap
Aug. 13, 2022
Butler Haynes Park, Mapleton
Follow the yellow brick road to Mapleton, where you will find the most fun this
Aug. 26–28, 2022
Sponsored by St. Patrick’s
Celtic fun for everyone, with Irish music, dance, culture, food, beer, whiskey tasting, highland games and kids’ activities.
Aug. 26–28, 2022
Hot air balloons are launched at various locations throughout Lincoln. Saturday concludes with a Balloon Glow as tethered balloons light up the sky.
Aug. 27–28, 2022
Formerly the Sweet Corn Blues Festival, the updated event will feature lots of sweet corn, vendors, crafters and performances by ISU’s Gamma Phi Circus acrobatic troupe.
Sept. 8-11, 2022.
This Princeton festival honors the Rev. Owen Lovejoy and his contributions to the nation’s history.” The “homestead” is his former residence, which is on the National Register. The event features a parade, carnival rides, food, merchants and live entertainment.
Sept. 8–11, 2022
Mineral Springs Park, Pekin
In the Marigold Capital of the World, enjoy food, music, a medallion hunt, Miss Marigold Pageant, parade and plenty of fun for the whole family.
Sept. 14-17, 2022
Downtown Morton and
The theme this year is Pumpkins Go 80s! Join in the celebration of all things pumpkin with food, entertainment, carnival rides, parade, craft sale, 5K run/walk and much more.
Sept. 17-18, 2022
This festival is held simultaneously in the communities of Peoria Heights, Chillicothe, Henry, Spring Bay and Lacon along the scenic Illinois Route 29 and Route 26 corridors, with a full schedule of events in each.
Sept. 16-18, 2022
A Peoria take on the traditional Munich celebration features plenty of German food, beer, music, culture and customs.
Sept. 24-25, 2022
One of the oldest art fairs in the country, with a showcase of quality art from national and regional artists, music, food and hands-on activities for kids and adults.
Oct. 1-2, Oct. 8-9, 2022
Multiple communities in Fulton
This far-flung celebration features two weekends of art, crafts, collectibles, antiques, food, entertainment, re-enactments and activities across dozens of communities.
Oct. 8, 2022
Warehouse District, Peoria
A free, public art festival with