Whether it's calling pigs or husbands, Abe Lincoln On A Stick or serving up a range of musical acts, agricultural competitions or fragrant foodstuffs, the Illinois State Fair tries to have something for everyone on its 366 acres.
The 2013 fair, the 160th, offers Ke$ha and her succinct hit "We R Who We R" on Aug. 17 at the grandstand.
There's something for every age and taste, including a band that hails from Champaign. (For a truly strange taste, try the deep-fried Oreos in cookie dough. But don't get on any rides immediately afterward.)
Other major music acts include country mega-stars Billy Currington (Aug. 9), The Band Perry (Aug. 13), Toby Keith (Aug. 14), Gary Allan (Aug. 16) and Thompson Square (Aug. 16); classic rockers Styx and Champaign's own REO Speedwagon (Aug. 10) and Journey (Aug. 18); and Grammy-winning guitarist John Mayer (Aug. 11).
State Fair Manager Amy Bliefnick said the state tries to keep all those acts affordable.
Currington tickets start as low as $15.
"There's not a bad seat in the house," she says of the grandstand, which seats 15,000. "There's also a brand new big video screen."
The fair runs today (Thursday, Aug. 8) through Aug. 18 at the Springfield fairgrounds. The fair's $5.5 million operations budget has increased from last year's $4.8 million.
Returning this year are the Budweiser Clydesdales, absent from the state fair for four or five years, Bliefnick said; You can see the heavy horses at 4 p.m. every day.
"I'm pretty excited about that," she said.
Also back is a wandering Abe Lincoln, as well as the familiar presidential fans bearing his visage as they walk around the fairgrounds with his face on a stick.
The Illinois State Fair started as an agricultural fair in 1853, the director said, and while music has become a major feature, animals, crops and recipes remain important.
"Please take the time to walk through barns, and see the llamas along with the cows," Bliefnik said.
There are some 10,000 animals on the grounds, but the human animal gets special treatment.
"Now we offer cheerleading, CrossFit, 3-on-3 basketball and tennis lessons," Bliefnick said. "We'll teach you how to hit a hockey puck."
That something-for-everybody approach drew 915,000 attendees last year. What will the final total be this year? No telling.
"We can do all the planning we want, but weather's the king when it comes to the fair," she added.
This year boasts a redesigned Happy Hollow, Bliefnick said, where you can spot a Bengal tiger or Australian imports such as kangaroos, wallabies and walleroos.
"We try to take everything we do and do it just a little bit better every year," Bliefnick said.
If you go
What: 160th Illinois State Fair
When: Aug. 8-18
Where: State Fairgrounds in Springfield (from Champaign or Danville, get off Interstate 72 at U.S. 36 heading west; merge onto Interstate 55 north via exit 103B toward Chicago; merge onto East Sangamon Avenue via exit 100B toward airport; 801 E. Sangamon Ave. is on the right)
Admission: $7 adults; $3 children; seniors and veterans get in free
On the web: http://www.agr.state.il.us/isf/