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Big holiday, big celebrating: Three major festivals ring in the 4th of July

Rides are major attractiNaperville's annual Ribfest.  |  Submitted photo

Rides are a major attraction at Naperville's annual Ribfest. | Submitted photo

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:25AM



Summer is in full swing, and three big festivals hope to draw in the crowds in the coming days.

The Taste of Joliet bows this weekend with appearances by arguably two of the hottest names in pop culture right now: country music star Hunter Hayes and Zendaya, runner-up on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”

The Fourth of July weekend brings Naperville’s Ribfest, where in addition to ribs, you’ll find Slash, Styx, Rick Springfield and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

That same weekend, Lisle rolls out its Eyes to the Skies Festival, which features hot air balloons taking flight twice a day along with nightly fireworks, live music and lots of other activities.

It’s a good time to live in the Chicago area.

TASTE OF JOLIET

REO Speedwagon can’t fight this feeling, and in 2012 the band couldn’t fight Mother Nature, either.

Rain showers forced the 2012 Taste of Joliet headliners off the stage a mere 45 minutes into their set, said Joliet Park District spokesman Brad Staab. Park district officials heard about it afterwards, too.

The 20,000-some people who showed up for REO Speedwagon were the most for a Taste of Joliet band.

“People have been asking for them to come for years, and then the fact that they didn’t get to play a full set — everybody kind of came up to us and said, ‘Man, it would be great to have them come back this year,’” Staab said.

Ask and ye shall receive. REO Speedwagon is once again set to play the Taste of Joliet, with a 9 p.m. show June 28.

“They’re back to finish it up this year, so hopefully they will get to play a full set,” he said. “We’re happy to bring them back.”

This year, however, the group may be overshadowed by a Disney star.

Zendaya, who stars on Disney’s hit show “Shake It Up,” is slated to perform at 4 p.m. June 30. Zendaya received major national exposure this spring when she came in second place on “Dancing with the Stars.” She will do a meet and greet after the show.

“That’s a big one,” Staab said. “Our lineup is pretty good this year, so she will be a good finish to the weekend.”

On June 29, Joliet goes country with Maggie Rose, Dustin Lynch, Easton Corbin and headliner Hunter Hayes. Hayes is the Country Music Association’s 2012 new artist of the year and his debut album, “Encore,” has hit the top of the country charts.

In addition to REO Speedwagon, other main-stage entertainment includes ARRA and 7th heaven beginning at 7 p.m. June 28.

Putting the “taste” in Taste of Joliet this year will be food from 25 local and regional eateries.

“We try to keep it local as much as we can, but we also try to provide a variety,” he said. “We don’t want seven pizza vendors in there.”

Among the delicacies at the Taste are hot dogs and pulled pork nachos from Babe’s Hot Dogs; deep-fried Twinkies, Oreos, pickles and candy bars from K&D Treats; giant turkey legs and giant fried hot dogs from Blackhawk BBQ and Seafood; sweet corn from the Joliet Fire Department; corn dogs, nachos and lemon shake-ups from Pam’s Dance Academy; and smoked turkey legs, kettle corn, fudge and draft soda from Siegel’s Cottonwood Farms.

Other selections include pizza, smoothies, a plethora of frozen treats, burgers, bratwursts, Italian beef sandwiches, deep-fried candy, and classic festival foods like kettle corn, funnel cakes and cotton candy. See the website for a complete list of vendors.

At the Kid Zone, you’ll find a bounce house, face painting and a balloon artist. Radio Disney and Disney Junior will be on hand as well.

♦ With 25 food vendors, a carnival, kids zone and headline entertainment, the Taste of Joliet runs from June 28-30 at Memorial Stadium, 3000 W. Jefferson St., Joliet. Hours are noon-midnight June 28-29 and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. June 30. A $50 mega pass to the carnival is on sale at the Inwood Athletic Club front desk. Follow on Twitter @TasteofJoliet for up-to-the-minute information.

NAPERVILLE RIBFEST

Naperville’s Ribfest, one of the Chicago area’s biggest festivals, returns during the Fourth of July weekend with lots of ribs and some big-name entertainment. Headlining entertainment includes Styx, Slash, Rick Springfield and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Presented by the Exchange Club of Naperville, in cooperation with the city of Naperville and the Naperville Park District, Ribfest runs from 4-10 p.m. July 3 and noon-10 p.m. July 4-7 in Knoch Park in Naperville.

Exchange Club volunteer and Ribfest spokeswoman Julie Lichter said there are a few new things
at the fest including a new 500-person eating tent and a big screen in the eating tent that’s double the size of 2012’s.

“So they will be able to enjoy their ribs and see the concerts,” she said.

There are 13 rib vendors that come from such far-flung places as Ohio, Texas and Georgia in addition to a few from Illinois. BBQ Masters, of Georgia, is the lone new vendor to Ribfest. Ribs are judged by sponsors, local celebrities and even by children. They use the Kansas City Barbeque Society evaluation process to judge both ribs and sauce, she said.

Don’t like ribs? Not a problem.

“Besides the ribs, we have all kinds of things from filet mignon sliders to the onion blossoms and things that are good for you and not so good for you — all that awesome stuff people like to get once a year,” she said.

The music is going to be great this year, she added.

“We have Styx [July 3] night and a little country for the Fourth of July. Nothing’s better than a little apple pie and ribs and a little country music on the Fourth of July.”

Speaking of the Fourth of July, what’s Independence Day without some skyrockets?

“We also have the fireworks, which are a big deal,” Lichter said. “Last year we were one of the very few suburbs that had any fireworks.” There is a musical simulcast to go with the fireworks found on WERV-FM (95.9).

Some 30,000 people come to see the fireworks. Gates are opened at 7:30 p.m. for people to enter the park and stake out their spots.

“There’s not a bad seat in the place to see the fireworks,” she said. “It’s a nice way to watch the fireworks.”

On July 4, country music is king with acts like Mason River, Michael Krejci, Casey James, Love and Theft, and Billy Croft & The 5 Alarm. ARRA takes the stage at 8 p.m.

Headlining July 5 is Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.

July 6 will see a couple of blues bands, a couple of rock bands, and finally 1980s rocker Rick Springfield will take the stage at 8:30 p.m.

Lynyrd Skynyrd closes out the festival with an 8:30 p.m. show July 7.

The best way to ensure you see your favorite act is to buy tickets online.

“I’m not saying it won’t be busy and crowded, but we certainly try to accommodate those who have prepurchased their tickets,” Lichter said.

“In addition to the carnival, we have a petting zoo, we have bouncies, we have a Euro bungee, we have face painting and we have a magic show. All of those things are free with admission to the park.”

That can all be found in the Naperville Bank and Trust Family Area.

“They are providing all this extra entertainment for families to enjoy at no additional charge,” Lichter said. “And the petting zoo is double the size [of previous years]. We have multiple magic shows throughout the day as well.”

All monies raised from Ribfest go toward more than 50 agencies working to erase child abuse and domestic violence

“In over the 26 years that we have been putting on Ribfest, we’ve been able to give out about $13 million from the proceeds of this event,” Lichter said. “It is put on by about 140 Exchange Club members, who then work with about 4,000 community volunteers to man the event.
It’s a big deal.”

♦ Ribfest runs from 4 to 10 p.m. July 3 and noon to 10 p.m. July 4 to 7 in Knoch Park, 724 S. West St., Naperville. Tickets cost $15 at the gate (kids 11 and under are always free with a paying adult) or $10 during Family Fun Time hours of noon to 3 p.m. daily except July 3. Carnival mega passes can be purchased during that time for $10. Parking is recommended in the remote lots at the Burlington Lot, Naperville Central College, Naperville North High School, Neuqua Valley High School and Cowlishaw Elementary School. Accessible and volunteer parking can be found at All Saints Academy. Twelve additional remote lots can be found on the Fourth of July. Visit Ribfest’s ribfest.net, the Facebook page or on Twitter @Ribfest_NXC for detailed maps on where to park and where to find your favorite ribber.

EYES TO THE SKIES

The famous hot air balloon festival includes a carnival, live music on two stages, a children’s area, a craft fair and a nightly fireworks show.

And, of course, there’s also the balloon launch and balloon glow.

Balloons take flight at 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily, conditions permitting. The morning flight is free to watch; the evening flight requires the $5 admission. The glow should begin around 7:30 p.m.

“We get a couple thousand people out in the morning to see that,” Eyes to the Skies spokesman Roger Leone said. “We caution people — it’s dependent on the wind speed. The balloons don’t always go up, but we do have a balloon glow every night, and those are always fantastic. It’s a beautiful sight — the colors — because every balloon is different. It’s quite an impressive sight.”

The festival is a community event put on by the nonprofit Eyes to the Skies Committee. More than 100 booths will be at the craft show, which is located on the main thoroughfare of Short Street west of the bridge and east of the main festival entrance.

Music includes local favorite the Gina Glocksen Band opening the main stage July 3, with Pat Travers following. Acts on the Fourth of July include Infinity and American English. Semple and Ambrosia play on July 5, and country-rockers Poco play July 6, followed by headliners Pure Prairie League.

There also will be two food courts and a children’s area.

“We have a new outdoor feature in the children’s area,” Leone said. “Part of it’s a climbing wall; another part is like an obstacle course for kids.”

Look also for face painting, temporary tattoos, arts and crafts, games, inflatables, demonstrations, glitter braids (for a fee), exotic animal show, science show, reptile show, magic show, trick dog show and an ice cream-eating contest.

“If you can’t find it at our festival, it’s just not out there,” Leone said. “One of the reasons people like it so much is that once you enter the park, you have 110 acres to do what you want. If you want to sit under a tree by the water, you can. If you want to go on the carnival rides, you can. If you want to get a beer, you’re not confined to a beer tent. You can grab your drink and walk around. It’s really fun.”

♦ The Fourth of July parade is at 11 a.m. in downtown Lisle. The fireworks show will be presented at 9:45 p.m. and is set to music. Festivalgoers can take tethered rides on a first-come, first-served basis. Tethered balloon rides cost $20 for adults and $15 for children. Craft show hours are 5-11 p.m. July 3, noon-11 p.m. July 4, 3-11 p.m. July 5 and noon-11 p.m. July 6. The festival takes place at Lisle Community Park, 1825 Short St., Lisle Visit eyestotheskies.org.

Annie Alleman is a local freelance writer.



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