Sixteen years ago, a centennial celebration started a phenomenon -- the South Elgin Riverfest Express.
Co-chairwoman Joyce Ware, who has served on the festival committee since it began, said the celebration was such a hit when it started, the committee decided to make it an annual event.
If you goWhat: South Elgin's 16th annual Riverfest Express
When: A Special Night for Special Kids, 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15. Regular festival hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday, Aug. 17; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19
Where: Panton Mill Park, 9 North Water St., South Elgin
Admission: Free; preregister for the Special Night for Special Kids by calling (847) 774-1151
Trustee Bill DiFulvio serves as the village liaison to the festival committee. "My favorite part is Special Night for Special Kids," he said. He's not alone -- Ware said the entire committee enjoys this night the most.
Since 2001, the fest has reached out to families with special needs children. The evening offers families an opportunity to experience a fun and safe outing with their children who have special needs.
"It's all free and all donated by local businesses," Ware said.
When the festival started this program, there were only 30 to 50 kids. Now the event hosts more than 2,000 people, DiFulvio said.
"It's just a great thing. Everyone has a good time. It's a good feeling," Ware said.
That night takes a lot of help and planning, though, Ware said.
"Really, I don't think we could do it without our volunteers," she said. "It's a collaborative effort."
The special night will be Wednesday, Aug. 15, the day before the festival begins.
Committee members have spent more than 100 hours setting up the festival in the past two weeks, DiFulvio said.
"We really do set up a lot with a little space," he said.
Ware said this fest is completely self-funded. No money from the village is used.
"It's good to be able to say that," she said.
It makes the event a lot more community-friendly when people know the fest is really free. DiFulvio said the donations help to make it happen -- and to keep things fresh and exciting from year to year.
"We try to bring something new in each year," Ware said.
This year, a unique museum on wheels -- the McCormick Foundation's Freedom Express Museum -- will make an appearance. The museum is inside a trailer and travels to different fairs and schools throughout northern Illinois. It is an interactive exhibit that educates visitors about history and First Amendment rights.
Festival mainstays such as bands, a carnival and food help round out the offerings.
The musical entertainment is a big draw, Ware said.
"We try to bring in a lot of local bands," she said.
Keep Seven, a local teenage band, will perform at noon Saturday. Hillbilly Rockstarz will start the fair's entertainment at 7 p.m. Thursday. The other headlining bands are 7th heaven at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Ides of March at 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Smokin Gunz at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
This year, the festival is offering mega wristbands for the carnival for $60. The wrist bands are valid all four days for unlimited rides with no restrictions.
The Craft Show and Small Business Expo is a marketplace with promotional booths Saturday and Sunday, DiFulvio said. it is a great way for businesses to notify the community about what they have to offer. A car show will be next to the venue Sunday.
A fireworks show will bring the festival to a close at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19.
The 16th annual Riverfest Express runs Thursday, Aug. 16, to Sunday, Aug. 19, at Panton Mill Park, South Elgin. Admission is free. For details, visit riverfestexpress.net.