44th Lakeside Fest Keeps the Tradition Going

Crystal Lake’s signature summer festival is on its way, with four days full of family fun at Lakeside Festival at The Dole. The fun kicks off at noon on July 4 and ends with a spectacular fireworks show on Sunday, July 7.

In between, this festival brings out everybody’s favorite activities, all of it centered around an historic mansion built in 1865. For 44 years, Lakeside Festival has been a gathering place for the people of Crystal Lake and beyond.

“I think people love it because it’s a combination of seeing families and the camaraderie and the people enjoying this venue, with its old oak trees and its historic property,” says Chip Whitman, who co-chairs the festival with Ron Russell. “At the end of the day, the money we’ve collectively raised because of this festival has all gone back to restoring this property. That’s satisfying.”

Live music sets the soundtrack for the weekend, with 16 acts across two stages. Thursday’s stage opens with Johnny Russler and the Beach Bum Band, a former Jimmy Buffet opening act whose playlist ranges from Margaritaville to Bob Marley and Sublime. They’re followed by Beyond the Blonde Band, a tribute to Pink, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga. The evening’s headliner is Journeyman, a Chicago-based tribute to the music of Eric Clapton.

That’s just a taste of what’s to come. On Friday, the Blooze Brothers open for the Chicago Experience tribute band before they appear again, just ahead of Hi Infidelity. On Saturday, catch Billy Elton, Don’t Rock the Jukebox, Brass on Fire and the Modern Day Romeos. Sunday brings a rousing send-off with the likes of Whiskey Romance, the Crystal Lake Strikers drum corps, Radio Gaga and Pirates Over 40. The night closes with Semple Band, whose lead singer appeared on NBC’s “The Voice.”

Of course, great music is just the start. All weekend, food vendors bring the best of local cuisine and festival favorites. Vendors include local staples like Georgio’s Pizzeria, Chen Chinese Cuisine, Taqueria Las Cumbres, La Mexicana Buena Vista and Moontime Smokin’ Que. Local food trucks like Smash’D are also planning an appearance.

Between the food vendors and two stages, this is where you’ll find many friends, families and homecomings. “A lot of class reunions will call us and have us block out a table,” says Whitman.

“There are so many big gatherings that happen here.”

Over at the Crystal Lake Brewing beer tent, festival co-chairs Whitman and Russell are brewing something special.

“Crystal Lake Brewing has its own tasting tent, and the big thing this year is that Chip and I brewed a beer with them,” says Russell. “It’s called Whitsel 44, like Whitman and Russell. It’s a Weisse beer. We’ve done this a few times before and it always sells out.”

Lakeside Festival is one of McHenry County’s largest and longest-running festivals, and it brings people from all corners of the county. Fun family events keep things engaging for the children all weekend long.

Saturday brings a host of superhero characters, Chicago-area sports mascots and a bike parade that’s just for the kids.

“We have a kids’ ice cream eating contest on Friday, which we’ve been doing off and on for years,” says Russell. “We have a family that volunteers the time and the ice cream to make it all happen. It starts around 1 p.m.”

And speaking of contests, Lakeside Festival’s biggest showoff is the bags tournament on Saturday. More than 40 teams are already signed up to play for cash prizes, including the $500 award for the first-place finishers. All competitors get free drink tickets and entrance to the festival. Sign up now at TheDole.org or on-site Saturday morning.

Crystal Lake’s beloved Independence Day parade kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m., although it’ll look a little different this year. Construction along Dole Avenue, from the mansion past U.S. Rt. 14, is forcing the parade onto a different route. This year, rather than ending at the festival, it’ll leave City Hall and head down Dole Avenue to Crystal Lake Avenue, where it then turns onto Oak Street toward Bernotas Middle School.

The weekend closes with a bang Sunday night as the city launches its traditional fireworks show from Crystal Lake. Since The Dole’s 10 acres overlook the water, this is one of the best views in town. In fact, the festival stays open until 10 p.m. this year so people can soak up those last few memories.

As dusk settles in, the Dole’s stages go quiet and the Crystal Lake Community Band, playing at a band shell by the water, sets the mood.

“They generally finish with the ‘1812 Overture’ as the fireworks start,” says Marty Moister, The Dole’s board vice president. “It’s another one of those traditions that has been going on for years.”

Festival admission is $10 for anyone age 13 and older. It’s free for active military and kids under 12, and it’s $5 for seniors. Parking is free, especially in nearby lots at Main Beach and South Elementary School.

All proceeds from Lakeside Festival help to support The Dole’s historic 1865 mansion and its annex, built in 1922 as part of the city’s first country club. The property was later a seminary and church center before it was saved from the wrecking ball in 2002. The Dole now hosts nonprofit events, artist studios, a monthly art show, live music and a farmers market that was twice ranked as the tops in Illinois.

“People should feel good about this,” says Sharon LeCoque, interim executive director and co-chair of Farmers Market+ at The Dole. “People are having a great time here, but they’re also supporting a historic property.”

Thanks to the proceeds of these public events, recent renovations are bringing The Dole back to its grandeur.

“It’s never looked this good,” says Moister. “This building looks enormously better than it looked five or even 10 years ago.”

For Russell, who’s been part of Lakeside Festival and The Dole for 40 years, there’s a lot of passion and joy mixed into this weekend celebration. He’s grateful for the support he has from nearly 500 volunteers, the City and local sponsors including Stryker, Home State Bank, and Crystal Lake Bank & Trust.

“This is absolutely a tradition,” says Moister. “People look for the sign to go up, and the kids get excited. The whole community of Crystal Lake, and beyond, looks forward to this.”

To learn more about Lakeside Festival, visit TheDole.org or call (815) 455-8000. The Dole is located at 401 Country Club Road in Crystal Lake.