'Bigger and better': A look at the 2018 Illinois State Fair

'Bigger and better': A look at the 2018 Illinois State Fair

From Boy George to the bull, bronco and bareback rodeo, organizers say there's plenty more in store than the infamous butter cow at the 166th edition of the Illinois State Fair.

"If there's one word to describe the state fair, it would be 'special,'" fair manager Luke Sailer says of the 11-day summer tradition, which kicks off today in Springfield.

Here are a few more highlights of the fair, where this year's theme is 'Born, Built, Grown':

FOR THRILL SEEKERS

Debuting this year: the entertainment zone known as Thrillville, offering a hodge-podge of fun for free — an acrobatic team (Pirates of the Sky), a hypnotist (Two Blondes and a Redhead) and a magician (Nick Sharp), plus BMX pros.

Sailer says another much-anticipated new attraction is a roller coaster named Crazy Mouse. One-day wristbands, good for all carnival rides, are priced at $30 on certain days of the fair.

FOR CONCERTGOERS

The main-stage music lineup is a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll — with a little rap weaved in.

Kicking things off Friday night: '80s pop sensations Boy George (now 57) and Culture Club, with Tom Bailey from the Thompson Twins.

Also booked: Halestorm and Mastodon (Saturday), Foreigner with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Sunday), Dueling Pianos International (Monday), Luke Combs (Tuesday), 311 and The Offspring with Gym Class Heroes (Wednesday), Thomas Rhett with Danielle Bradbery (Aug. 16), Brett Eldredge with Devin Dawson (Aug. 17), Flo Rida and Ludacris with Childish Major (Aug. 18) and Brantley Gilbert with Muscadine Bloodline (Aug. 19).

FOR YOUNGSTERS

Open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily: the Kid's Corner and Conservation World, offering free face painting, canoe rides and more.

At Happy Hollow, another free recreational area, you'll find demonstrations by the ZuZu African Acrobats, a Reptile Adventure Show, Barnyard Racers, a petting zoo and the Ancient Athletics/St. Andrews Society Strongman of the Glen Competition.

FOR GROWNUPS

It's not free beer, but at a reduced price of $4 per serving, it's cheaper than last year, Sailer says.

If wine is more your thing, head to the Exposition Tent from noon to 9 p.m. for daily demonstrations by the Illinois Wine Experience. It won't cost you anything to get in, but tastings are $1 apiece.

FOR FOOTBALL FANS

Set to take the Rising Star Stage on Monday: UI Athletic Director Josh Whitman, who will present a free fall football preview from 6 to 8 p.m.

The other free entertainment stages and areas at the fair include Ethnic Village, the Hobbies, the Lincoln Stage, the Arts and Crafts Tent, the Apex Stage, the Twilight Ballroom and the Rising Star Stage.

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