Labor Day may be the unofficial end of summer, but in Illinois they save some of the best for last. Towns and cities throughout the state hold long-running festivals every year, celebrating food, fun and a few things you might not have thought of. Get outside, enjoy the last few days of the season, and discover something new!
Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center
You’ve found it: the most extensive celebration of jazz on the planet. Since the 1970s, thousands have made the pilgrimage each year to listen, dance, picnic and enjoy the waning days of summer in the company of local jazz talents and world-famous names. Chicago has an important jazz legacy, and this is the best way to experience it. This year the headliners are Eddie Palmieri, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Art Ensemble of Chicago and more.
Love lobster? Then Navy Pier is the place for you on Labor Day Weekend, as the Great American Lobster Fest fêtes this great American delicacy.
You’ll enjoy lobster flown in fresh from the East Coast, prepared in just about every fashion you can imagine. Whole lobster, lobster rolls, lobster mac & cheese, lobster tacos, an all-you-can-eat Lobster Hero Feast—we could go on, but it’s a whole lot easier to experience it for yourself. Live music, family-friendly games & activities and arts & crafts stalls means you’ll leave with a full spirit as well as a full stomach.
Lake in the Hills
Send off summer in small-town style. Lake in the Hills’ Summer Sunset Festival is home to all kinds of fun: a carnival, car show, parade, craft fair, live music and wine tasting. Plus there’s a bags competition, so be sure to practice your toss technique and sign-up at 11.00AM on Sunday. Yes, you’ll remember these dog days of summer for many years to come.
This is how downtown Naperville says farewell to summer. This four-day, family-friendly street party offers a wide variety of attractions including great food, fun games, exciting rides and national and local musicians on two stages. Watch out for the Frank E’s Fling Mile, a one-mile race against the Fling’s giant hot dog mascot.
Enjoy the holiday weekend taking in this quintessential American experience. The Du Quoin State Fair is one of the nation’s best agricultural events, offering races, competitive events, livestock shows and agricultural exhibits. It’s also got all the classic fun of the fair, including a carnival, petting zoo, stage shows, live music and all kinds of delicious food.
Enjoy a world class lineup of artists from blues, roots, funk, soul and everything in between. The Peoria Blues and Heritage Music Festival brings downtown Peoria to life as the event stretches off the waterfront into bars, venue and businesses through after hours events, late night club shows and much more!
Have you ever wondered if you’d ever make it to the world’s largest outdoor pork barbecue? Okay, you might not have actually asked yourself that exact question, but in any case, now’s your chance to make it happen.
The Kewanee Hog Days is a weekend of food, festival and fun held each year since 1954. Back then, it was a chance to celebrate Henry County’s status as the nation’s leading producer of hogs, and festivities even included a hog race down the main street. Today, it’s only humans racing, along with the Hog Wallow Mud Volleyball Classic (yep, it’s in the mud), a flea market and craft show, Model T and Model A road rally, parade and, of course, the World’s Largest Outdoor Pork Barbecue, serving up more than 30,000 pork chops and pork burgers—at an average rate of 17 a minute!
Illinois’ wine industry began in Nauvoo at Baxter’s Vineyards, so there’s no better place to celebrate the humble grape’s finest application. The Festival is a grand tradition which has been going for more than 80 years, packed with activities including car shows, live music, food booths and a flea market—not to mention cellar tours and tastings.
Thrill to the sounds of karts screaming down the city streets of downtown Rock Island at almost 100 mph, just one inch off the ground. This is the world’s largest and most prestigious karting street race, attracting more than 40,000 spectators each year. The free festival includes nightly outdoor concerts, driver’s parade, fan autograph session, food and merch booths, kids activities and other karting-related activities.
90 percent of the world’s popcorn is grown in the Manito area, which is why the town made it the center of its annual Labor Day weekend celebration. Although there’s a lot to see, do and taste, delicious popcorn is the main attraction, popped fresh daily for your enjoyment. Other highlights include the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, car show and the most popular event of all, the annual Lip Sync Competition.
Join us for the 10th Annual Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival for Charity. This event has raised over $87,000 for area charities! Features over 130 different types of Craft Beers, 5000+ Gourmet Oysters, Live Music and Local Food Trucks. Having a good time is much easier when it's for a great cause.
It’s the world’s fastest mile! Every Labor Day Weekend you can enjoy fast-paced action and non-stop thrills of national-level motorcycle racing at one of the oldest speedways in America, the Illinois State Fairgrounds Racetrack.
Is it any surprise that a celebration of all things cheese has lasted almost half a century? In this lively annual festival you can sample free cheese (cut from an enormous 300-pound wheel!), test your mettle in the National Cheese-Eating Championship or take part in the International Cheese-Curling Championships. “Cheese-Curling,” you say? Based somewhat on ice curling, teams of four work together to get a four-pound wheel of cheese down a smooth surface toward a designated target. It may well be the only place you can do this, so get in there and try it!
This article was written as part of the Illinois Bicentennial 200 Years, 200 Stories project. Read more stories from the project.