Corn, country and celebration: Corn Fest 2023 (2024)

Joseph Howerton

Corn Fest attendees enjoy rides and carnival games on Saturday at the 46th annual Corn Fest in downtown DeKalb on 1st and 4th Street. The festival took place from Aug. 25 to Aug. 27 and expects up to 15,000 festival-goers every year. (Joseph Howerton | Northern Star)

DeKALB – During move-in weekend, students were given one last opportunity before the college grind to reunite with old friends or make new ones at Corn Fest.

The weekend music festival and corn boil in DeKalb is one of the last free admission festivals in Illinois, said Corn Fest Chairperson Lisa Angel. This year, the festival celebrated its 46th anniversary from Aug. 25 to Aug. 27 in downtown DeKalb between 1st Street and 4th Street.

The festival began in 1977 as a local corn boil; but over the years, other attractions including live music, sidewalk sales and a carnival have been added to the festival.

According to Angel, the Corn Fest Committee estimates Corn Fest draws in a crowd between 10,000 to 15,000 over the weekend.

Corn Fest was free all weekend to attend because of its sponsors and vendors.

“We have sponsors that go back years and years,” Angel said. “It’s just nice every year that we have more and more coming on to help support this, because obviously it’s not cheap to put on a festival. So, having more community sponsors come to keep this free for the community is wonderful.”

Headlining the musical acts of this year’s Corn Fest was Scotty McCreery who performed Saturday. Included in this year’s roster were 11 other bands playing a mix of country and classic rock. The crowd could be heard singing along to the band Blind Date’s cover of “Crazy Train”.

Music was not the only event offered for festival-goers.

Carnival vendor stalls sold classic festival foods like corn dogs and funnel cakes and lemonade and frozen treats to beat the heat.

Attendees could purchase handmade crafts including toys, jewelry, clothing and decorations at the Craft Fest portion of the festival downtown.

One stall sold custom necklaces and bracelets with attendees’ names written on a grain of rice.

Carnival rides like the Ring of Fire and Pharaoh’s Fury had lines extended past their own areas into neighboring rides and food vendors. Patrons were rewarded for their patience with laughs of delight and exhilaration. The various rides’ neon colors added to the thrills throughout the weekend.

Local businesses on the closed-off Lincoln Highway part of the downtown partook in the celebration, making displays in front of their store, selling their wares and mingling with the crowd. Kid Stuff, a children’s store located on Lincoln Highway, had toys set up on the sidewalk available to purchase.

Douglas Ballou, vendor for Ballou Concessions, has been coming to Corn Fest for the past six years. Ballou, who sells kettle corn and licorice, said Corn Fest is easier to handle than larger fairs and looks forward to when he comes back.

“They have great people running it. People in the past that have run it, they’ve done a great job too, so they built it up pretty nice and I look forward to coming back every year,” Ballou said.

But what would Corn Fest be without the corn?

The Chuck Siebrasse Corn Boil – renamed in 2009 after the former Corn Fest Chairperson – upheld its tradition since 1957 of providing 8,000 ears of free steamed sweet corn to attendees. Free corn was provided from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and was completely consumed by the end.

“You’ll never have fresher corn,” Angel said. “They literally pick it from the field, bring it in, boil it, steam it and hand it out.”

McKinley P. Baggette, an attendee with his wife and son, said he looks forward to seeing so many people in the community at the event each year.

“We’ve been out here for over 23 years, and just seeing everybody come together is just positive,” Baggette said.

This year, the Corn Fest beer garden was dedicated to former Corn Fest Board Member Ben Coulter who died earlier this year in a farming accident and previously oversaw the beer gardens.

The beer garden was officially renamed “Ben’s Beer Garden” during a dedication made for Coulter on Saturday when Coulter’s wife Christi Coulter, their children and fellow Corn Fest board members took the main performer’s stage to commemorate Coulter’s life.

Phil Peterson, Coulter’s childhood friend, recounted Coulter’s generosity and raised a toast to Coulter with the crowd bellowing in agreement.

Corn, country and celebration: Corn Fest 2023 (2024)


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