Like the glow of an annual fireworks display, organizers say Wood Dale's Prairie Fest seems to have an aura that draws people in and keeps them coming back.
"I've been in Wood Dale and part of this community for many years, and I always know this festival will be one of the highlights," volunteer Karen Melone said. "I always know it will be very safe for the children, and it is expanding every year."
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If you goWhat: Prairie Fest
When: 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 7-8; 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9; 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10
Where: Wood Dale's Town Square, Wood Dale Road at Commercial Street
Cost: Free admission and parking
Returning for its 12th year in the city's downtown, Wood Dale's Prairie Fest has quietly expanded from a single picnic with a few participating vendors to a four-day festival with music, carnival attractions and the always-popular fireworks display. Festivities open Thursday and continue through Sunday, Aug. 10.
Before its current incarnation, the event started as a summer festival run by the local chamber of commerce. Rejuvenated in 2003, the gathering was named for the village's dedication to preserving native Illinois wildlife, and the name of Prairie Fest stuck. The festival now attracts 16,000 visitors over its four days, and the variety of entertainment has expanded along with the attendance.
From the start, Prairie Fest's main draw has been the food. Chicago favorites like Sweet Baby Ray's and Azteca Taqueria will put in their perennial showing, and Wood Dale favorite White Cottage Pizzeria will only have to move across the street to serve its nearly 30-year-old pizza recipe.
Other attractions include a bingo tent, pub trivia, and face-painting and balloon animals by Lester the Clown. Musical acts on the main stage will include regional touring groups like country cover band Suburban Cowboy, which headlines at 9:35 p.m. Saturday, and '80s tribute band High Infidelity, which takes the stage at 5:15 p.m. Sunday.
"It's nice to have a variety and sampling of everything that the town offers," organizer Wendy Bednarz said. "We try to keep an emphasis on everything being local and representative of Wood Dale and our community."
The festival reinforces the community atmosphere by heavily advertising Resident Appreciation Night, which opens the festival Thursday. All Wood Dale households are given one free meal voucher for the day as well as half-price carnival tickets. In addition, all bands performing Thursday are based in or near Wood Dale.
Once a key festival organizer, Melone still finds time to volunteer, giving out alcohol wristbands for guests older than 21. The small-town spirit of Wood Dale comes alive during the four-day event, she says, and the family atmosphere is key to the success of the ever-expanding community showcase.
"At this point, the festival is a bit like a family reunion, with everyone melting together," she said. "You always run into people from your neighborhood or who you went to school with, and it's wonderful for families. And, of course, there's the fireworks."
Fireworks are scheduled for 9:15 to 9:35 p.m. Saturday.
For information visit wooddale.com or call (670) 766-4900.