100 Years of the Du Quoin State Fair: A Family Tradition


Sophie Whitten | @sophiewhitten_

Nick Woodcock (left) and Emma Knapp spin around in an amusement park ride at the Du Quoin State Fair Aug. 27, 2022 in Du Quoin, Ill.

Less than 30 miles north of SIU campus lies the city of Du Quoin, home of the Du Quoin State Fair. This year, it is celebrating a century of events, livestock shows, parades and family fun. 

The fair got its start in the early 1920’s when a group of go-getting local business leaders decided to sponsor an event; one they hoped would be as attractive as the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and bring visitors from all across Southern Illinois.

“Not shy about making big claims, even from the very start, the group called it ‘The Du Quoin State Fair,’”according to the fair’s website.


“It’s always a pleasure to host [the fair]. It’s a rich tradition for the town. I think it’s a time when  not only the community, but the region, comes together and celebrates with their family,” said Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi.

In years past, the fair has offered southern Illinoisians the opportunity to enjoy entertainment from the likes of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Sonny & Cher and Johnny Cash. More recently the fair has drawn top talent such as REO Speedwagon, Ludacris, Brad Paisley, Sublime, Snoop Dogg & Friends, Hootie & The Blowfish and Reba McEntire.

There is truly something for everyone at the Du Quoin State Fair. Harness racing has been a staple since the fair’s founding. Other racing events such as dirt car racing, motocross and ATV racing can also be seen.

Livestock shows and contests are a long-time staple of the fair, celebrating the long and deep-rooted history of farming and agriculture in Southern Illinois. Live performances by local and lesser-known bands are also available to attend.

Attractions for the younger crowd include carnival rides broken into different age groups and numerous games and activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.

History and tradition are celebrated the world over, Du Quoin has been helping Southern Illinois keep those alive over the past century.

The first night of the fair is Family Night and one of the biggest attractions of the evening is always the Twilight Parade. Held this year on Friday, Aug. 26, the streets of the fairgrounds were lined along the parade route to and from the grandstands with spectators. Eager children waited impatiently for the fair to begin, holding empty grocery bags in hopes of filling them with candy thrown into the crowd.


“Get ready! Get your feet ready!” said one youngster to his friend as they saw the famous Budweiser Clydesdales approaching; the most recognizable sign that the parade has begun.

Walking along the parade route, the crowd is speckled with families of all shapes and sizes, some old and some young. One such group was a family of four generations of fair-goers. The matriarch, Shirley Emling, a Du Quoin resident, sat in a side-by-side with her great grandson, Jordan Conte. Emling’s daughter, Denise Thompson, and granddaughter, Kelsey Conte, were standing nearby as they waited for the parade to begin.

“I’ve been coming to the races for … 60 years,” said Emling. “They used to have more stands you could go in and buy things. Now it’s mostly food and games,” she concluded.

Thompson said she has been coming to the fair for 54 years, and has brought her children since they were young.

One couple, Tom and Diane Garner of Pinckneyville, have been coming to the fair since the 1980’s when they showed cattle at the livestock shows.

“There’s a lot less cattle now than there used to be,” said Tom Garner.

Local and state fair queens ride on floats, or in convertible cars, waving to the crowd as their crowns glisten in the last rays of the setting sun. School bands from all over Southern Illinois participate by performing their up-beat and energetic routines, including our very own SIU Saluki marching band and cheerleaders. The Shriners zip along in their mini cars, driving in a variety of choreographed patterns to the delighted squeals and cheers of onlookers.

Despite some changes over the years, the mayor said, there is still a lot to love.

“It’s 3,200 acres of bass fishing grounds and campgrounds, and we host a lot of people. The fair itself goes back 100 years, and the tradition over the years, some of it has changed because it’s had to change with the times, but it’s still the Du Quoin State Fair,” said Alongi.

The Du Quoin State Fair also provides a free entertainment tent with a wide range of family-friendly entertainment at no cost. This year, organizers brought in the Chicago Honey Bear Dancers for their first appearance at the fair.

Originating from the talent troupe of the Chicago Bears Cheerleaders, the traveling song and dance show, the Chicago Honey Bear Dancers, have been singing and dancing independently of the Bears franchise since 1985. Traveling around the world, the Honey Bears have performed at over 180 United States military bases, more than 70 Fortune 500 companies and numerous state and community fairs.

The group of four will be performing three shows per day at the fair this year; with their 1950’s song and dance show, a kid’s dance workshop and their Pop show, these talented performers said they love what they do, especially the audience interaction and participation.

“One thing that we really love about the fairs is the interaction with the kids. It’s so important to us,” said Line Captain Lisa Michelle. “Our kid’s dance workshop is an anti-bullying program. We teach the kids ‘be a buddy, not a bully’ along with easy, fun dance moves,” she said.

Another fun and interactive event that took place in the free entertainment tent on Saturday, Aug. 27, was the Lip Sync Battle. Anyone was welcome to sign-up for the contest, performing for the crowd their best lip sync skills in hopes of walking away a winner.

The contest featured three age categories; 12 and under, 13 to 20 and over 20. The youngest performers showcased their lip sync and dance skills, often bouncing all over the stage. The Miss Illinois County Fair Queen, Addisyn Calloni, was on hand as one of three judges and acted as awards presenter at the event’s conclusion.

There’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy the fair. It doesn’t close until Sept. 5.