Top 10 DuPage County Fair memories

  • By the time the Plain White T's took the DuPage County Fair stage in 2007, they had risen to of the top of the Billboard charts with their hit single "Hey There Delilah." Not bad for a group that fair organizers originally booked to be an opening act.

    By the time the Plain White T's took the DuPage County Fair stage in 2007, they had risen to of the top of the Billboard charts with their hit single "Hey There Delilah." Not bad for a group that fair organizers originally booked to be an opening act. Daily Herald file photo

  • All fair organizers had to do was consult with their children and grandchildren to know that booking teen pop star Jesse McCartney for the 2005 fair was a good idea.

    All fair organizers had to do was consult with their children and grandchildren to know that booking teen pop star Jesse McCartney for the 2005 fair was a good idea. Daily Herald file photo

  • Former Warrenville Mayor Vivian Lund in 2004 bested other municipal leaders during the county fair's hog calling contest.

    Former Warrenville Mayor Vivian Lund in 2004 bested other municipal leaders during the county fair's hog calling contest. Daily Herald file photo

  • Willie Nelson waited out a rainstorm and vowed to play even if only one person remained in the grandstand.

    Willie Nelson waited out a rainstorm and vowed to play even if only one person remained in the grandstand. Daily Herald file photo

  • Trisha Yearwood's fair appearance was thrown off a bit by a fire in her tour bus.

    Trisha Yearwood's fair appearance was thrown off a bit by a fire in her tour bus. Daily Herald file photo

  • Six years before rocker Ted Nugent played at Naperville Ribfest's in 2008, above, he whipped up a crowd at the DuPage County Fair into a frenzy. One longtime fair volunteer uses a single word to describe that 2002 performance: "Scary."

    Six years before rocker Ted Nugent played at Naperville Ribfest's in 2008, above, he whipped up a crowd at the DuPage County Fair into a frenzy. One longtime fair volunteer uses a single word to describe that 2002 performance: "Scary." Daily Herald file photo

  • Charlie Daniels made some time for a young fan who missed a meet-and-greet session before his 2002 show at the fair.

    Charlie Daniels made some time for a young fan who missed a meet-and-greet session before his 2002 show at the fair. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 7/25/2011 12:06 PM

The DuPage County Fair, which opens Wednesday, has come a long way from the uncertainty that surrounded its future in 1987.

That year, the five days of livestock, country music and high-calorie festival food drew only 130,744 people to the fairgrounds in Wheaton. County officials even considered discontinuing the event.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But it survived and continues to be a staple summer event for suburban families more accustomed to shopping malls than farms. As result, there's been plenty of memorable -- and forgettable -- moments in recent years. Here is a look back through an informal top 10 list:

1. Kids give sound advice:

In 2005, fair organizers had never heard of teen heartthrob Jesse McCartney when they saw his name on a list of potential acts. So they sought the advice of experts: their children and grandchildren. The youngsters convinced their elders to book the actor/singer. Mike Formento, chairman of the county's Fair and Exposition Authority, says the sold-out show was one of the largest concerts in fair history. "We were trying to squeeze every chair in," he said, adding that about 7,000 people attended.

2. Lightning strikes twice:

Just two years after the successful McCartney show. fair organizers spent about $10,000 to book a local band that they expected to be an opening act. That group -- the Plain White T's -- ended up being the biggest success of the 2007 fair. By the time the band took the stage as a headliner they had risen to the top of the Billboard charts with the help of their hit single, "Hey There Delilah." They performed to a crowd of about 5,500 people, despite a 90-minute power outage that delayed the start of show. "Talk about a return on your investment," Formento said.

3. A class act:

Willie Nelson refused to let a downpour cancel his 1995 performance at the fair. The country music superstar stepped onstage after a thunderstorm delayed the start of his concert by about three hours. "He said as long as there's one person in the grandstand he'd put on a show," recalled Bob Radkiewicz, a longtime fair board member. The fans who waited for the storm to pass were rewarded with a performance that went until after midnight. "He played a full show, plus," Radkiewicz said of Nelson. "He's one heck of a performer."

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4. Record-breaking crowds:

You think it's tough finding a parking space? Just think what county fairgoers went through in 1998 when the five-day event drew a whopping 232,488 people. That figure narrowly beat the previous all-time attendance high set in 1994, when just over 232,000 people walked through the gates. While country music acts Diamond Rio and Patty Loveless brought in the crowds, fair organizers said the fan favorite in 1998 was the demolition derby.

5. 'Scary' Nugent concert:

Rocker Ted Nugent lived up to his Motor City Madman moniker when he whipped a crowd into a frenzy during a 2002 performance. Formento remembers Nugent being "pretty calm" offstage. But once the show started, it quickly turned into a "scary" night. "When he got up there and took out his bow and arrow, everybody cringed," Formento said. Fortunately, there was plenty of extra security to break up the fights and confiscate alcohol containers. Once the show was over, Nugent returned to his calm demeanor. "He was a very nice man to talk to," Formento said.

6. Class Act Part II:

When Charlie Daniels learned from a young woman in a wheelchair that she had missed the meet-and-greet session before his 2002 show, he asked her to wait around after the concert. Once Daniels got cleaned up in his tour bus and donned a fresh set of clothes, the country rocker came out and spent more than 30 minutes talking to the fan. "That was pretty cool," Radkiewicz said.

7. Here piggy, piggy:

Former Warrenville Mayor Vivian Lund didn't play around when she competed against other municipal leaders during the fair's hog calling contest in 2004. She won the competition after taking lessons from a real hog caller imported from Virginia.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

8. Burning up the charts, bus:

Trisha Yearwood was burning up the country music charts in 1992 when she performed at the fair. The only glitch was a small fire in the country music singer's tour bus. No one was injured in the blaze, but Yearwood lost her wardrobe and some personal belongings to smoke damage.

9. Controversy in the derby:

A car displaying the iron cross and the words "white pride" appeared in the demolition derby during the 2009 fair. Fair organizers later said they were disappointed the car was allowed to participate with the symbol widely used by the Third Reich and a phrase often associated with groups that promote white nationalism.

10. Washout avoided:

Last year, organizers were reminded of just how weather dependent the fair is. The festivities opened amid record-high temperatures and endured three days of torrential rain. Jim McGuire, president of the fair association, remembered one overnight downpour that left behind more than six inches of rain and flooded the lower part of the fairgrounds. Fortunately, the fair ended with "beautiful" weather on the final day that drew a massive crowd. "It was a challenge, but we got through it," McGuire said. "Hopefully, we received enough rain and storms last year to last us for the next ten."