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posted: 7/13/2014 5:45 AM

County fairs offer old-fashioned treats, offbeat attractions

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  • The Lake County Fair's Banana Derby features racing dogs with monkey jockeys.

      The Lake County Fair's Banana Derby features racing dogs with monkey jockeys.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Clayton Rosaire, a ninth generation descendant of England's premiere animal handling family, interacts with a tiger during his Big Cat Encounter show, coming this year to the Kane County Fair.

      Clayton Rosaire, a ninth generation descendant of England's premiere animal handling family, interacts with a tiger during his Big Cat Encounter show, coming this year to the Kane County Fair.
    Courtesy of Kane County Fair

  • The fun goes on after dark at the DuPage County Fair.

      The fun goes on after dark at the DuPage County Fair.
    Courtesy of the DuPage County Fair

  • The Banana Derby -- racing dogs, monkey jockeys -- has become a Lake County Fair favorite.

      The Banana Derby -- racing dogs, monkey jockeys -- has become a Lake County Fair favorite.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Past demolition derbies at the DuPage County Fair have even included a lawn mower heat.

      Past demolition derbies at the DuPage County Fair have even included a lawn mower heat.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • County fairs are a celebration of the area's agricultural past and present.

      County fairs are a celebration of the area's agricultural past and present.
    Courtesy of Lake County Fairgrounds

  • The petting zoo is a popular stop for kids at the Lake County Fair in Grayslake.

      The petting zoo is a popular stop for kids at the Lake County Fair in Grayslake.
    Courtesy of Lake County Fairgrounds

  • Championship Bull Riding returns to the Kane County Fair in St. Charles.

       Championship Bull Riding returns to the Kane County Fair in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2013

 
By Megan Swindell
mswindell@dailyherald.com

It's that time of year when you can eat almost anything deep-fried on a stick, watch wacky races from pigs to professional lawn mowers and appreciate agriculture in all of its glory. With each of our local county fairs running at least five days, there is more than enough time to catch it all.

Kane County Fair

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When: 3 to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, July 16-17; noon to midnight Friday and Saturday, July 18-19; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 20

Where: Kane County Fairgrounds, 525 S. Randall Road, St. Charles, kanecountyfair.com

Tickets: Vary by day and age ranging from free admission to $20 season passes

Livestock and tigers and bands, oh my!

The Kane County Fair has a variety of activities to enjoy each day, and new this year is the Big Cat Encounter at the Miller Petting Zoo, where visitors can check out tigers on top of the usual farm animals.

"We've had variations of it before, but this will be the first time this show is at the fair," said Kane County Fair President Larry Breon.

Also new this year is the FMX Freestyle Madness Stunt Show at 7 p.m. Thursday. The grandstand will host this motocross show for an $8 admission.

Transitioning from bikes to bulls, the grandstand will also be home to Championship Bull Riding again this year on Friday and Saturday. Admission is $14. Kids 7 and younger admitted free.

"It's an opportunity once a year to do things that you might not normally do," Breon said.

Music is a county fair tradition, and the Sound Stage kicks off at 7 p.m. Wednesday with 7th Heaven. The variety of music ranges from Hillbilly Rockstarz to Chicago Tribute Anthology throughout the week.

"I think we've got a really interesting gamut," Breon said. "There's gonna be something you like."

DuPage County Fair

When: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily Wednesday through Sunday, July 23-27

Where: DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton, dupagecounty fair.org

Tickets: Entrance fees vary. Check website for details.

The DuPage County Fair turns 60 this year by bringing back old favorites and showcasing some international entertainment.

With origins in Africa, the Cirque Zuma Zuma acrobatic show, a finalist on "America's Got Talent" in 2011, is coming to the DuPage County Fair for the first time.

And the international flair doesn't stop there. A Russian horse show, for example, brings majesty to the arena.

If the smell of the horses and the livestock isn't quite enough, perhaps stinky sneakers will top it off. The DuPage Fair is teaming up with Odor Eaters to host a Stinky Sneakers Competition for kids. This event may be new this year, but the sneakers definitely are not. The smelliest competition at the fair begins at 3 p.m. Friday, July 25, with a $200 cash prize on the line.

"It's wholesome family entertainment at a real reasonable price," said Chuck Ingram, president of the DuPage County Fair Association. "We are really trying to go big this year."

The music entertainment is as big as ever, and the roster includes Michael Lynch from the TV show "The Voice." He's playing at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 24.

"We've got a lot of different acts going on throughout the grounds this year," said Cindy Naberhaus, second vice president of the Fair Association.

"And, of course, carnival rides and all of the good food."

Lake County Fair

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, July 23-24; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 25-26; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 27. Gates open at 8 a.m. for livestock events.

Where: Lake County Fairgrounds, 1060 E. Peterson Road, Grayslake, lcfair.com

Tickets: Vary by day and age ranging from free admission to $35 adult season passes

The Lake County Fair is calling itself the "All-American Fair" in 2014. To celebrate the theme, Thursday, July 24, will be veteran's day, so military personnel can enter the fair for free. On the same night, Elizabeth Lyons -- named on the Country Music Association's "Who to Watch" list this year -- will perform.

On top of the traditional entertainment, the fair has some offbeat crowd-pleasers planned.

"We're doing some things that are quirky and fun," said Sue Markgraf, spokeswoman for the Lake County Fairgrounds.

Quirky is a good way to describe the returning Banana Derby, where dogs race around a track with monkey jockeys on their backs. Another option: professional lawn mower racing, dubbed the "Mow Down Show Down."

Then there's the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, where fairgoers get gardening tips to apply at home.

New to the fair this year is the Craft Beer Festival on Sunday, July 27.

A limited number of tickets are on sale now and include all-day fair admission, a souvenir tasting glass and taste samples.

McHenry County Fair

When: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily Wednesday through Monday, July 30-Aug. 4

Where: McHenry County Fair, 1051 Country Club Road, Woodstock, mchenrycountyfair.com

Tickets: Vary by age ranging from free to $20 season passes

The McHenry County Fair's theme this year is "Local Farmers: Local Food," and everything from entertainment to exhibits will reflect that.

The Building E will be completely devoted to agriculture education with the exception of the vegetable and grain show.

Featured booths range from the Farm Bureau to a Barnyard Buddies animal spot.

Greg Peterson will be on hand to keep the farm lessons coming. He's one of the Farm Brothers, a group known for farm-related song parodies.

"He will do an overview of videos and performances and also touch on the need for people to go into agriculture," said Liz Woolridge, McHenry County Fair office manager.

Livestock competitions are a given, but humans won't be left out. Mothers and daughters will have the opportunity to participate in a look-alike contest, and anyone can join in for a celebrity look-alike competition.

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