Though they're still counting tickets, organizers of the DuPage County Fair only had to take one look at the busy midway and overflow parking during the five-day party to know that crowds easily topped last year's attendance.
With near-perfect weather and big-name country and pop stars once again headlining weekend concerts, the fair "hit it out of the park this year," organizers say.
"Everywhere you turned, there were people gathering, clearly having a good time together," said Jim McGuire, manager of the DuPage County Fair Association.
After the fair ended Sunday, workers began dismantling carnival rides, animals headed back to the farm and longtime volunteers said their goodbyes to a summer tradition they treat like a family reunion.
McGuire spent Monday morning tallying the fair's proceeds and recapping the top moments. Three days of rain put a damper on the 2016 fair that attracted fewer than 100,000 people. But McGuire said he's "very confident" this year's final count will surpass that figure.
The biggest crowds showed up on Sunday for two rounds of a demolition derby. Nearby, families danced in a plaza-like setting to mariachi bands at the Fiesta de Feria, a festive celebration of Latino culture that grew in its second year.
"It was just a sea of people," McGuire said of the midway Sunday.
He was especially impressed by Rachel Platten's Friday night performance. Platten spent time greeting fans inspired by her hit anthem "Fight Song." One was a Philadelphia girl who has cancer and attended the concert during a family vacation, McGuire said.
"It was actually kind of magical," he said.
Organizers already are looking ahead to next year and a November conference they attend in Las Vegas to book fair acts. That's where McGuire discovered Boots 'n Britches, two classic country crooners who have become a fixture in the fair's "Ag-Ventureland" tent.
In 2018, organizers plan to again offer free admission on opening day for students in K-8 schools across DuPage County. McGuire hopes to work with schools to do more to publicize the promotion and expose the fair to a younger audience.
"The goal is to get as many folks in DuPage out here," he said.