By Cara Jepsen
For 33 years, Summerfest has provided a pleasant and manageable hot-weather alternative to our own overblown crowd pleaser, Taste of Chicago. Our neighbors to the north also appear to value diverse entertainment over food on a stick; for example, on July 1, while Christina Aguilera plays the main stage, the smaller stages host Al Green, Ben Harper, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, Enuff Z’Nuff, Paul Cebar & the Milwaukeeans, and Those Darn Accordions. Other groups slated for the 11-day event along Milwaukee’s lakefront include everyone from Morris Day & the Time to REO Speedwagon; there are also separate children’s, comedy, and sports stages. And, of course, there’s food (sticks optional). The festival runs from 11:30 AM to midnight June 29 through July 9 at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive in Milwaukee. Adult admission is $9 Sunday through Thursday, $10 Friday and Saturday. Chicago residents who take Amtrak’s Hiawatha train ($40 round-trip) on certain days get in free. Call 800-273-3378 or see www.summerfest.com for more info.
The Wabash River was home to indigenous people for 10,000 years. That effectively ended on November 7, 1811, when then-general William Henry Harrison and his forces won the Battle of Tippecanoe in Prophetstown and proceeded to burn the outnumbered locals’ homes and food supply. The rout opened expansion into the Indiana Territory, which included Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. For the last ten years more than 20 tribes with historical connections to the Hoosier state return each summer to celebrate the Waahpaahshiki Peoples Pow Wow. They also lead workshops on how to craft such things as friendship bags, storage baskets, ribbon-work vests, and gourd dippers. This year the classes will be held at Ross Camp, 9225 W. County Road 75 S., ten miles outside of West Lafayette, Indiana, from July 10 through 14. A three-day session is $60, with variable supply fees for each workshop; scholarships are available for Native American participants. The powwow takes place July 8 and 9 at the Tippecanoe County Amphitheater Park at 4448 State Road 43 N. in West Lafayette. Admission is $5, or $3 for kids. Call the Museums at Prophetstown at 765-423-4617 for information about both events.
On July 8 a half-mile-long circus train featuring 75 antique wagons (including a specially constructed model for a giraffe) will begin a 380-mile trip from the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, to Milwaukee County’s Veterans Park near the Lincoln Memorial Bridge at Mason Street and Kilbourn Avenue in Milwaukee, where it’ll unload for five days of big-top shows ($7). The highlight is July 16’s Great Circus Parade through downtown Milwaukee, which will include 700 horses, 1,000 musicians, a steam calliope, a trunk-to-tail elephant chain, 100 clowns, and 2,000 costumed participants. It starts at 2 and prime bleacher seats are $25; it’s free elsewhere along the route, which includes Michigan Street, Wisconsin Avenue, and Kilbourn Avenue. Or you can stay home and watch it in air-conditioned comfort from 2 to 4 on Channel 11. Call 608-356-8341 for more.
Most hot air balloons are 55 feet wide, seven stories tall, and use 1,800 square yards of nylon fabric, three miles of thread, and a half mile of reinforced nylon webbing. Once inflated the things weigh about two and a half tons. Many of the nation’s fastest and fanciest balloons will hit downstate Rantoul for the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships. The race starts August 11 as part of the Fire on the Prairie Air Festival, which runs from August 4 through 13 at the Rantoul Aviation Center near Champaign Avenue and Steffler Street. Admission is $5; kids under 14 get in free. The ten-day event also includes balloon rides, a carnival and circus, a motorcycle show, fireworks, an air show, and more. Call 217-893-9955 or visit their Web site at www.balloonchamps.com for further information.
“By ‘folk’ we do not mean a festival featuring Arlo Guthrie and James Taylor,” says the info sheet for the 62nd National Folk Festival, which takes place in East Lansing, Michigan, August 11 through 13. “[It’s] a celebration of the traditional and ethnic music and culture!” This year the free festival boasts five stages of music ranging from salsa, Hawaiian, Tejano, Celtic, and honky-tonk to Native American, Arabic, Afro-Caribbean, and gospel. There will also be food, games, and a craft fair. It’s along Albert Street in downtown East Lansing Friday from 5:30 to 10:30, Saturday from noon to 10:30, and Sunday from noon to 6. Call 517-351-2735 for more.
For the Illinois State Fair’s sheep costume show, people “dress up a sheep and lead it around the ring.” Says a fair spokesperson, “It’s a lot like the rabbit costume show.” Other audience-participation highlights include a ponytail contest, a decorated diaper contest, and a husband/hog-calling contest, in which “the wife calls the husband like she would a pig.” The fair also offers the usual agriculture shows, arena rock, and tractor pulls, as well as two carnival midways, an ethnic village, sand sculpture, and a salute to Charlie Chaplin. It’s all at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, at Sangamon Avenue and Peoria Road from August 11 through 20. General admission is $3, $2 for seniors, and it’s free for children under 12; the sheep costume contest is on August 12. Call 217-782-6661 or see www.state.il.us/fair.
Over 500 flatbeds, tankers, bobtails, dry vans, reefers, low boys, and drop-decks are expected in Waupun, Wisconsin, for the 11th annual Truckers Jamboree, which takes place August 11 and 12. Friday night culminates with the Lights of the Night Convoy, in which the town’s lights are turned off and the truckers’ lights are turned on. “It’s beautiful,” says the wife of one of the organizers. “Some of them have oodles and oodles of lights.” There’s also a pancake breakfast, model truck contest, and remote control races. Most events take place at the Waupun Community Center near the corner of Spring Street and Fond du Lac Street. Call 920-324-9985.
According to the 20th Century Railroad Club, the town of Marshall, Michigan, has neither fast-food chains nor tacky discount stores. What it does have are 103 homes on the National Register of Historic Places and “a main street Norman Rockwell would approve of.” Amtrak only stops in Marshall twice a year, when the club sponsors a one-day getaway to coincide with the town’s annual Historic Home Tour. The train leaves at 7 AM from Chicago’s Union Station, 210 S. Canal, and returns at 9:30 in the evening September 9 and 10. The $90 fee includes train fare, admission to the home tour, and a snack at the end of the day. Call 312-829-4500 by August 19 to register.
The big draw for the Duneland Chamber of Commerce’s (219-926-5513) annual Wizard of Oz Festival isn’t the Oz character look-alike contest, the Oz fantasy parade, or the Judy/Oz swap meet–it’s the munchkins themselves. Nine of the actors who played the little people in the 1939 film will appear at this year’s event, where they’ll sign autographs and attend a picnic and breakfast with fans. The festival takes place September 15 and 16 at the Thomas Centennial Park at Calumet and Broadway in Chesterton, Indiana. Admission to most events is free; the munchkin picnic and breakfast are $15 each for adults and $8 (picnic) and $10 (breakfast) for children under 12.
Her family’s homestead and the surrounding woods may be long gone, but Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace just northwest of Pepin, Wisconsin, lives on in the minds of countless folks who grew up with her “Little House” books. Her classic Little House in the Big Woods was set in the area, which is home to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, hosts of Pepin’s annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Days. This year’s offering includes a marathon reading of the “Little House” series, a hoop-rolling contest, reenactments of the early days of Pepin, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder look-alike contest. It’s September 16 and 17 at Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Park, on Highway 35 across from the Park View Cafe in Pepin. Admission is $1. Call 715-442-3011.