Champaign County Fair hopes to draw in more out-of-town visitors

For the first time in six years, the Champaign County Fair will also host a country music concert at its annual eight-day event.

Brantley Gilbert, country musician from Jefferson, Ga., will perform Saturday, July 23 at the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana. Tickets will be $10 and can be purchased from the Champaign County Fair Office and the three Car-X locations in Champaign.

Fair board member John Bell has been planning the concert aspect of the County Fair since January. He said he is very excited to bring back the concert, an attraction he hopes will draw in many country music fans.

“We have people traveling from states away to see this concert,” Bell said. “We’ve been getting calls from Kentucky, Michigan and Minnesota.”

Local businessman Parham Parastaran has been helping Bell put together the concert and advertise the event. Parastaran said the concert will be a highlight of the fair.

“The fair is a cheap source of entertainment for the community,” Parastaran said. “More than anything, it speaks to history and tradition.”

Champaign County Fair Board president Mike Kobel said some of his favorite memories of the fair included the country music concert.

“I saw people that became big stars like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, very famous country singers that were up-and-comers when they came through the fair,” Kobel said. “I got to see some really amazing singers as a kid.”

Matt Poss & Rolling Thunder and Renegade will open for Gilbert, who is currently on tour.

Besides the country concert, the fair regularly draws thousands from central Illinois and the surrounding areas to other events such as the demolition derby, the talent show, motorcycle races and the rodeo.

Kobel explained that the County Fair began as an exhibition for local farm equipment dealers to promote and sell their latest equipment. It has since grown to be a community-oriented event, he said.

Local food vendors rent spaces to sell food to fair-goers, and Kobel invites local businesses to do the same in order to promote their company.

Kobel also said the carnival was a large draw for young families with children. The carnival will span the eight days of the fair.

This will be the 159th year of the Champaign County Fair, one of the oldest county fairs in the U.S. Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of the Champaign Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 52,500 people from Champaign County and beyond attended last year’s fair.

“It’s a great event for both locals and visitors, and our goal would be to invite out-of-town guests to enjoy the fair, among the many other attractions in the Champaign County area,” DeLuce said in an email.

Bell said the organizers of the fair have worked hard to keep costs down for families.

“The fair is an affordable time where you can do so may different things,” Bell said. “It’s like you’re taking a vacation away from home, but being right at home.”