Carnival rides, a butter cow and musical superstars, oh my!

Carnival rides, a butter cow and musical superstars, oh my!

You've got your carnival rides, your funnel cakes and corn dogs, the traditional butter cow, a fair queen, Cullers fries and lots of people at the 2017 Illinois State Fair, today through Aug. 20 in Springfield.

Staff writer Paul Wood looks at some highlights, including an icy one:

If you missed them at State Farm Center

Pentatonix (below) with Us The Duo plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Pentatonix, the five-member a cappella group from Texas, consists of vocalists Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola. In five years — what's the thing about five? — Pentatonix has sold more than 6 million albums in the U.S. alone. Joining them are Us The Duo. Their new album: "Just Love," recorded after two years of national touring by the husband-and-wife musical team of Michael and Carissa Alvarado Tickets range from $32 to $52.

Alabama (Randy Owen, at left) with Neal McCoy plays at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16. This band helped bring brought country music to the mainstream. Alabama released 21 straight No. 1 singles. The trio has nearly 200 industry awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Opening for Alabama will be two-time entertainer of the year Neal McCoy, best known for songs like "No Doubt About It," "You Gotta Love That" and "They're Playing Our Song."

Tickets range from $38 to $59.

Hawks over Springfield

The Chicago Blackhawks Youth Hockey program is coming to the fair Aug. 16.

The Blackhawks Street Team and Inflatable Hockey Rink will take over the Orr Building Game Zone from noon to 6 p.m. There's a giant inflatable rink, measuring 70 by 30 feet, that will be available for demos, clinics and competitions throughout the day, brought to you by the Blackhawks.

Bacon conquers all

The bacon T-shirts are back at the Pork Patio this year. With a $10 donation, fair-goers receive an "I Can Dream, Can't I" T-shirt — it features a pig with the retail cuts marked out, but each cut says "bacon" instead. Pork Patio workers will be wearing the shirts to help encourage donations. Farmers donate ground pork to local food banks. They can donate a live hog or proceeds from the sale of hogs to participating meat processors.

Eat your heart out. No, please don't

OK, "chipmunking" is a term that's new to me.

The fair's Competitive Eating Contest uses that word for the practice of stuffing as much food as possible into your mouth during the final seconds of the competition — swallowing it after time expires is allowed.

And you can win a prize ribbon for your gluttony.

The state fair will host a competitive eating contest each full day of the fair. Foods range from watermelon to corn dogs to funnel cakes.

This contest is something you have to sign up for, at

Sip the best brews

Something to go with all that food you ate? How about the Illinois Bicentennial Craft Beer Competition — and look for a local entrant. The governor's office, state Department of Agriculture, Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois sponsor the brew-off. To highlight the beer industry and its long history, the "Illinois Made" products mark the 200th birthday of the state with an Official Bicentennial Craft Beer.

"A fitting tribute to the No. 1 industry in the state," is what Heidi Brown-McCreery, the director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, calls it. The winner will be determined by a vote of state fair attendees who sample the offerings, and a panel of craft beer experts.

DESTIHL Brewery, which has restaurants in Champaign and Normal, is one of the brewers represented.

I'm melting!

The Butter Cow has been a chilled icon of the fair since the 1920s. Some 500 pounds of unsalted butter are used to sculpt the life-sized figure by hand. The process takes about two days. Logically enough, it's inside the Dairy Building.

Music to our ears

The Illinois State Fair kicks off today in Springfield (our preview — inside) and, as usual, the grandstand acts include heavy hitters, capped by a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who roots for the Indiana Hoosiers:

— Friday: Chase Rice

— Saturday: Pentatonix

— Sunday: Brad Paisley

— Tuesday: Sublime with Rome

— Wednesday: Alabama

— Aug. 17: Jason Derulo

— Aug. 18: "Southern Uprising," with Montgomery Gentry, Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws

— Aug. 19: Five Finger Death Punch

— Aug. 20: John Mellencamp

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