DeKALB – Sawyer Dixson, 4, sat on the sidewalk in front of the Ferris wheel at DeKalb Corn Fest on Friday afternoon, sharing a funnel cake covered in caramelized apples with her mom, Jessica Dixson.
The Dixsons, of DeKalb, were with the Hamblen family of Sycamore, sharing a snack between rides at the carnival at the 42nd annual DeKalb Corn Fest, which began Friday and runs through the weekend. The music and craft festival will draw thousands to downtown DeKalb through Sunday.
“I’m so excited to go on the rides,” Sawyer said as she ate a bite of funnel cake and then asked her mom for ice cream. “I like the scooter and horses.”
The carnival is set up in the festival area in front of the DeKalb Public Library.
“She wants to ride the Ferris wheel,” said Jessica Dixson, 24. “We’ll probably end up riding the carousel one more time.”
Ian Hamblen, 34, along with his wife, Breanna Hamblen, 24, and kids Lucas Hamblen, 4, and Lilly Hamblen, 2, also were sharing a funnel cake as they talked about how they’ve been coming to Corn Fest as a family for years.
“We live in Sycamore, but my sister lives like three blocks outside of downtown,” Ian Hamblen said, as he remarked on the convenience of being able to park at his sister’s house for the festival.
Festival organizers shuffled around some locations because of downtown construction at the Egyptian Theatre and Plaza DeKalb, but said otherwise it’s business as usual.
With the Palmer Court construction, the VIP area for sponsors has been moved and the VIP viewing deck is in the beer garden. The craft fair, usually held in the Nehring building parking lot, will be on Locust Street for improved visibility.
Along Lincoln Highway, more than 95 food and carnival treat vendors lined the street, which will be blocked off from traffic for the three-day weekend. Everything from shish kebabs and Indian food to cotton candy, burgers and, yes, corn, tantalized the taste buds as crowds began to line up for an early dinner Friday afternoon.
The Kiwanis Club of DeKalb was serving up roasted corn grown in Mendota – buttered or unbuttered on the ear or in a cup, or the ever-popular elote-style Mexican street corn on the cob: roasted corn smothered in a layer of mayonnaise and then rolled in salt, chile powder, butter, cotija cheese and lime juice.
The Kiwanis Club has been participating in Corn Fest since 1921, said member Bob Hadley, 76, who’s been with the organization since he retired in 2001.
“We’re excited about all the people,” Hadley said. “This is one of our largest fundraisers for programs for kids.”
The Kiwanis Club will collect donations throughout the weekend, which will go to support local programs for children from birth to 5 years old, including swim lessons, reading programs and sports.
The group is also collecting donations for a UNICEF program to help eliminate maternal neonatal tetanus.
The festival began in 1977, when food production giant Del Monte began hosting a free corn boil for residents in downtown DeKalb. Over the years, the event has expanded greatly, adding carnival rides, local merchants booths, sidewalk sales and musicians from all around to play packed shows for three days, all for little to no money.
Festivalgoers can pay $5 to get into the beer garden to enjoy live music all weekend, or listen outside of the beer area for free.
Saturday’s Chuck Siebrasse Corn Boil is a popular feature, which 42 years later still is sponsored by Del Monte, and is expected to serve about 15,000 ears of corn cooked with an old-fashioned steam engine.