Where there’s smoke … There might just be a festival!

The smell of BBQ smoke and popcorn can make a mouth water. Brightly colored hot air balloons take form as they inflate and float up into the awakening dawn. The sounds of music and people. All of these are just a few of the sights, sounds and smells you can find at local festivals.

Festivals are more than just a feel-good experience that brings communities together; they can have a positive economic impact on the community itself. Community members and hobbyists, along with large numbers of weekend travelers, look for unique ways to usher out the dog days of summer and welcome fall. Local festivals build community as hundreds of volunteers come together to plan and execute the festivities. Communities celebrate local heritage, history, agriculture, sites and interests. And, multiple day festivals can have a very real economic impact on the area as thousands of attendees spend dollars on overnight accommodations, restaurants and shopping.

So, if you are interested in taking a road trip, consider just a few of these festivals or do a little research yourself. Who knows what you may discover along the highways and byways of Illinois


Galena Country Fair

Held at Grant Park in Galena, Galena Country Fair is the largest event that takes place in the area. It is held annually over the Columbus Day weekend and is a juried show with more than 150 artisans and craftspeople from across the country exhibiting and selling their work. This is the 34th year for the event which will be held October 12-13.

The event is operated through Jo Daviess County Country Fair Charities, Inc. which distributes the $2 donations collected from each attendee back to local non-profits through a grant program. The funds support its communities’ emergency services and preparedness, programs for youth and improving the well-being of its citizens. In 2011 alone, grants and donations from the fair accounted for more than $70,000 being donated to non-profit organizations.

Besides the array of artisans, there is plenty for everyone. Live entertainment, fair food, children’s games, a farmer’s market, country bake shop and family fun are just some of the activities offered. Visitors can also take advantage of the Ulysses S. Grant historic sites and the downtown district is full of interesting shops and eateries.

Festivals and multiple-day events have an enormous impact on Galena and Jo Daviess County and visitors appreciate the diversity of events offered. Galena Country Fair, alone, brings more than 10,000 people each year to the historic city and contributes greatly to the local economy. Direct economic impact is estimated at more than $1 million annually and, indirectly, the total is more than $3 million. There are very few weekends where some type of event isn’t taking place, whether it is sponsored by a local non-profit group or a business such as a vineyard or golf course.

For information on fairs/festivals in Galena and Jo Daviess County go to www.galena.org.


Clinton Apple N’ Pork Festival

The aroma of smoked ham and apple butter permeates the air and draws more than 110,000 visitors annually to the Clinton Apple N’ Pork Festival. Sponsored by the DeWitt County Museum Association, the event is held on the grounds of the historic C.H. Moore Homestead and spills over onto area streets.

From a small event, begun in 1968, centered around a kettle of soup and some ham sandwiches, it is one of the state’s favorites. “Original food stands were sandwiches and ham and beans,” according to Larry Buss, resident manager of the historic site. “And, to this day, they are still the most popular, selling more than 6,000 servings. That’s a lot of ham and beans!”

You can enjoy more than 30 food booths offering everything from apple cider and apple fritters to corn on the cob, grilled bratwurst, butterfly pork sandwiches, the ever popular ham and beans and everything in between. And, all food vendors are from non-profit organizations.

Old-time 19th century crafting can be observed and purchased, and more than 300 dealers can be found in the flea market. Free entertainment includes a Civil War band, strolling musicians, along with kid’s pony rides and face-painting. Admission is free and there is tram and bus transportation available for a small fee.

Proceeds from the festival have provided the funds necessary to restore and maintain the 1867 Victorian-era house and barn and to erect a farm museum. It is estimated the festival annually generates an additional $2-4 million – a real boost to the local economy.

When asked why the festival is so popular, Buss remarked, “It’s the food! If the food went away, the festival wouldn’t be successful.”

This year’s festival will be the weekend of Sept. 28-29. For more information go to http://www.chmoorehomestead.org/apple-pork.htm.


Morton Pumpkin Festival

The first Morton Pumpkin Festival, annually organized by the Morton Chamber of Commerce, was held in 1967 as a fund raiser and celebration of the beginning of pumpkin harvest and canning season at the local Libby’s Pumpkin Plant. In 2012, Libby’s Pumpkin became the official sponsor of the festival.

Today, the festival includes more than 30 events and venues hosted and organized by more than 2,000 volunteers and welcomes an estimated 70,000 visitors. There are activities for all ages including a large carnival, homemade pumpkin foods, a pumpkin weigh-off, a Libby’s Recipe Challenge and Pumpkin Princess Pageant. The most popular events are the Libby’s Pumpkin Classic Run and Walk, Pumpkin Festival Parade and Pumpkin Pancake Breakfast.

This year’s festival is slated for Sept. 11-14 with the theme “Pumpkin Carnivale.” In celebration of that, specialty food items will include pumpkin jambalaya and pumpkin king cakes. A band from New Orleans, the Free Agents Brass Band, will be playing Friday evening and in the Saturday morning parade.

Funds raised help to support the general operations of the Morton Chamber of Commerce, which also donates thousands of dollars each year to other local non-profit organizations that assist in the operations of the festival. Funds have also been used to help support new organizations and major community construction projects.

Many of the local retailers and restaurants have some of their highest sales days during the festival and hotels are full. It has also been a catalyst for creation of other events that weekend such as a high school band competition, soccer tournament and reunions that people attend and stay to enjoy the festival activities as well. Find out more at


Lincoln Art & Balloon Festival

If you’ve ever been driving up Interstate 55 around Lincoln, Ill. during late August you may have seen hot air balloons floating above. Those balloons, and many more, were likely part of the Lincoln Art & Balloon Festival, hosted annually by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. The festival is held the last full weekend of August and draws more than 15,000 to the area.

The festival envelopes both downtown Lincoln and the Logan County Airport. A juried fine art fair, wine tasting tent, craft fair and flea market, along with the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned BBQ cook-off and plenty of food and drink can be found in the historic downtown area and parks.

Out at the Logan County Airport are plenty of family activities, live entertainment, morning and evening balloon ascensions and evening glows. You’ll also find tethered balloon rides, along with, of course, more food. Shuttles are available to take attendees to and from each location.

The event is the chamber’s largest fundraiser and very important economically to the community. It takes more than 600 dedicated volunteers and in excess of $52,000 to make the event successful and stimulates the economy by driving traffic to local restaurants, shops and hotels.

To get a full agenda of activities go to www.lincolnillinois.com under the Events tab and click on art & balloon festival.


Lake Shelbyville Scarecrow Daze and Touchstone Energy Balloon Fest

The streets of downtown Shelbyville, Ill. come alive with a festive flair and the skies around Lake Shelbyville are filled with vibrant fall colors of hot air balloons aloft as the annual Scarecrow Daze and Touchstone Energy Balloon Fest takes place each Columbus Day weekend.

Pilots from around the Midwest take to the skies on Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday mornings. The balloons also light up the night on Saturday with a balloon glow.

Shelbyville, with a population of just under 5,000 welcomes almost 4,000 visitors to the 3-day event that includes plenty of food, music, arts and crafts, kid’s games, sidewalk sales and a quilt show. For the first time, in 2010, the event was held in conjunction with the Touchstone Energy Balloon Fest. This was a winning combination for the community which saw an 11 percent increase in sales tax numbers. Area businesses say the event is the catalyst for their best weekends each year.

Area non-profit groups also benefit from the festival by setting up a variety of food booths to raise money for everything from cancer awareness campaigns to rescue squad equipment. To get a schedule of this year’s events go to www.lakeshelbyville.com/events/daze.htm.


Kewanee Hog Days

You can go “hog wild” at the annual Kewanee Hog Days! Previously known as the Hog Capital of the World, Kewanee and Henry County have been hosting this event to pay tribute to their agricultural roots. You can wallow in the mud at the Hog Wallow Mud Volleyball Tournament, attend the annual Barrow Show, attend the World’s Largest Outdoor Pork Barbeque or run in the hog stampede (now run by humans instead of real live hogs).

The World’s Largest Outdoor Pork Barbeque has two custom-made 24-foot long grills that burn more than 8,000 pounds of charcoal in order to cook between 30- and 32- thousand butterfly chops and pork burgers. Oh, and it also takes 300 pounds of their “special” Hog Days seasoning powder.

Held annually on Labor Day weekend, the event has flea markets and crafts, a Model T and A rally, carnival, live entertainment, helicopter rides, a parade and much more.

With more than 30,000 visitors, the festival pumps more than $1 million into the local economy through overnight stays, restaurants, shopping, convenience stores and gasoline.

Want more info? Go to www.kewaneehogdays.com.


Collinsville Italian Fest

If you are Italian, or just love all things Italian, then Main Street in Collinsville is where you want to be Sept. 20-21. The festival, celebrating the city’s Italian heritage and culture, is in its 30th year and annually attracts more than 130,000 people. When asked, most will say they are there for the food, but there is plenty to keep all ages entertained.

If you like a little friendly competition there is a bocce ball tournament or an old-fashioned grape stomp to see which team can stomp the most juice. An exhibit and Italian film are also part of the festival. You can also find an area with children’s games and rides, plenty of live entertainment, a parade and a Paisan Pedal Push midnight bike ride to benefit Relay for Life.

Proceeds collected from Italian Fest go back into the local community supporting a variety of local charities and non-profits. More than 40 booths are staffed by volunteers from local civic groups and for-profit organizations must donate 50 percent of their profits to a charity of their choice and must show proof they have done so. More than $1 million has been raised over the years to help out all aspects of the local community which includes everything from scholarships to medical exams for needy families, as well as multiple local programs.

Interested in attending? Check out the website at www.italianfest.net.


Here are just a few websites to get you started on your trip: