Yeehaw! 7 things to do at the DuPage County Fair
Just as football fans have their game-day rituals, DuPage County Fair regulars have their obligatory traditions.
Those are the folks who know you haven't really been to the fair if all you've done is taken a joy ride on the Ferris wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl.
At bare minimum, you have to at least once dust the powdered sugar off your nose from a mandatory cream puff, compete in a watermelon-eating contest, hit up the sweet corn stand and, above all, reunite with the families who reliably return to the fair year after year with their farm animals.
Truth be told, you have to cram a lot into one visit to make the most of the fair. But here's the good news: You've got five days to revisit your childhood memories, honor the county's rural past and relearn how to go through life at a slower pace.
Here's a look at seven time-honored ways to reconnect with the fair over its run starting Wednesday, July 24, in Wheaton:
1. See the sunflowers
You know it's county fair time by the sunflowers that somehow bloom just in time to greet families and Instagram devotees at the Manchester Road entrance. After an unusually wet spring, there were concerns the sunflowers wouldn't be ready for their close-up, but Mother Nature is cooperating, says Jim McGuire, manager of the nonprofit fair association.
"They're right on schedule. They're ready to go," McGuire told a relieved reporter.
The trick to getting the sunflowers to pop?
"It's luck, and we pray a lot," said McGuire, with a smile just as cheery as his prized flowers.
Besides the barns, the Ag-Ventureland tent bears the closest resemblance to life on the farm. The tent holds all kinds of rural novelties around these parts: hatching chicks, woodworking, sheepshearing demonstrations and calves from Century Acres Dairy Farm.
At the dairy exhibit, Debbie Vaughn represents the farm that her family has operated for generations. Her husband's great grandfather started Century Acres in 1927, and you can get a sense of those early days from the family pictures Vaughn displays with a replica barn.
Vaughn and her docile cows -- they blissfully rest on wood shavings -- will return to Ag-Ventureland, which has moved to a new location.
Usually steps from the expo center and the main entrance, the tent has moved to the northwest edge of the fairgrounds, where organizers have created a parklike, family-friendly setting on the lawn.
"We've spread the footprint of the grounds out quite a bit," McGuire said.
It's already a popular spot because of the pony rides, rescue dogs and the pig races, a must-see competition for two reasons: the impressive speed of the porkers and the race-callers from Show-Me Safari Petting Zoo who go a little hog wild with their puns at the racetrack, "Pork Chop Downs."
3. Listen to country music
In Ag-Ventureland's old location, a bigger stage will face north in front of a more expansive upper food court. Acts will continually perform there during the fair.
• Country singer-songwriter and Plainfield native Eric Chesser makes a stop at 6 p.m. Sunday. His "Good Times & Summer Days" is the perfect jam for a county fair soundtrack.
• Wayne Messmer and his trademark baritone -- the voice that's powered anthems at Cubs and Blackhawks games -- will take the stage 3 p.m. Thursday.
• Michael Lynch, the Nashville artist and St. Francis High School alum coached by Christina Aguilera on NBC's "The Voice," returns at 8 p.m. Friday.
4. Meet the goat lady
It's also not a fair without Marilyn Goodrich, who has served as the goat superintendent for the entire 65-year run at the Wheaton fairgrounds (there's been a county fair far longer, since 1841).
Goodrich is a hoot because of her wisecracks about the goats she and 4-H'ers have raised at her farm near Carol Stream. Her grandkids are now the fourth generation to show prizewinning animals.
5. Celebrate Mexican culture
Mariachi Monumental de Mexico will bring its "dynamite" ensemble and cross-cultural concert -- the musicians even play Beatles hits -- to an area surrounded by a repurposed horse barn with flower baskets hanging off the eaves.
The spot also returning to its equestrian roots as the venue for dancing horses in traditional regalia Saturday and Sunday.
"It's really cool. They're beautiful animals and really well-trained," McGuire said.
6. Know the new exit
Cars will still enter the fairgrounds off Manchester Road at the main gate. But instead of exiting on Manchester, traffic will funnel out west through the county complex to an intersection with signals at County Farm Road.
"We think that's going to be a whole lot more comfortable and keep a lot of the congestion off Manchester," McGuire said.
Rob Lawlyes of Perrysville, Ind., wrestles a steer during a previous DuPage County Fair. The fair's rodeo returns Saturday.
- Daily Herald file photo
7. Go to the rodeo, demo derby
Fans of the Saturday rodeo and Sunday demolition derby no longer have to pay extra fees. Those shows are covered in admission.
"For a family to be able to go to the rodeo all-inclusive or the demo derby, what we found last year, they were the best-attended events we've had in years," McGuire said.
DuPage County FairWhen: Wednesday, July 24, through Sunday, July 28
Where: DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton
Admission: Kids free Wednesday; seniors free before 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; $15 for adults; $8 for kids 3 to 12 Thursday through Sunday; and free for kids 2 and younger
Info: (630) 668-6636 or dupagecountyfair.org