DeKALB – Downtown construction isn’t going to put a wrench in the works for this year’s DeKalb Corn Fest, and festival organizers are full steam ahead as they prepare to welcome thousands of visitors downtown to kick off the 42nd annual weekend of free music, corn boils and family fun.
Lisa Angel, chairperson of the Corn Fest Committee, said festival organizers shuffled around some locations due to 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 will be moved and the VIP viewing deck will be in the beer garden. The craft fair, usually held in the Nehring building parking lot, will be on Locust Street for improved visibility.
“This year we have a new vendor layout,” Angel said. “Vendors will be down the center of Lincoln Highway so you can see all the new shops.”
The festival began in 1977 when Del Monte began hosting a free corn boil for area residents in downtown DeKalb. Over the years, the event has expanded rapidly, 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.
More than 95 vendors, most of them DeKalb County businesses, will set up shop along Lincoln Highway during the three-day festival, which is one of the last free admission festivals in the state, Angel said.
“You can pay $5 and go into the beer garden and hear John Waite,” Angel said. “Or if you don’t want to pay $5 and you’re not a drinker, you can stand on Locust Street and watch them for free.”
Each year, the Corn Fest Committee donates a portion of the proceeds to local nonprofits, and this year the beneficiary is Safe Passage. Angel said over the years, Corn Fest proceeds have donated more than $100,000 to local charities. A 50/50 raffle already is underway for those wishing to donate and also get their name in for a chance to win a minimum of $1,000. Tickets can be found at local businesses downtown.
“We were really thrilled when we found out,” Safe Passage Executive Director Mary Ellen said. “It’s always good to get funds but it’s also nice to be worthy of funds.”
Schaid said the funds could be used for many Safe Passage programs, but a priority this year is collecting money to the emergency fund they have for clients, which helps clients with unexpected costs such as car repairs, day care payments, child support and more, and is limited to $300 a client.
In addition to are food vendors, Boy Scout Troop 33 will be on hand with their own food booth over the weekend, and also volunteer cleanup services, said Chad McNett, troop liaison on the Corn Fest committee booth, which the Scouts have done since 1987, includes cheeseburgers, bratwursts, funnel cakes and Oreos deep fried in funnel cake batter.
“It’s a fundraiser for the boys because we do sell a lot of food and then the boys raise money to go on trips like summer camps,” McNett said. “And the flip side of that is community service, because scouting is all about service.”
McNett said the Boy Scouts also help clean up the beer garden each night of the festival, and collect discarded aluminum cans to scrap for extra funds.
Saturday’s Chuck Siebrasse Corn Boil is a popular feature, Angel said, which 42 years later still is sponsored by Del Monte, and is expected to serve about 15,000 ears of corn from an old-fashioned steam engine.
“It’s the freshest earn of corn you’ll ever have,” Angel said.
The three-day festival also would not be possible without the 300 volunteers who work tirelessly throughout the season and during the weekend to ensure the music family fun goes smoothly.
“The volunteers are so important to us,” Angel said. “We’ve had residents whose kids started out [volunteering] at a young age and now they are young adults and they’re helping. It becomes a tradition because they know we all need to do this together to keep going.”