All it took was an Eddie Money autograph to her forearm for Tabitha Butler to know she would be coming back to McHenry Fiesta Days for years to come.
The 16-year-old McHenry resident was one of many returning patrons at the opening weekend of the McHenry Fiesta Days festival at Petersen Park on Saturday. The 10-day festival is expected to attract more than 20,000 visitors in the first three days.
Butler, who vividly remembers getting an autograph on her arm from the classic rocker at a previous edition of the festival, said it is those rare experiences along with the rides, food and games that keep her coming back every year.
“I’ve been coming here ever since I can remember,” Butler said. “It’s just fun to get out and see people.”
The festival has become a tradition for many local residents who use Fiesta Days as a way to catch up with friends.
McHenry resident Kyle Kekering attended the fest Saturday with his 13- and 11-year-old sons and said his family has been going for more than eight years. Kekering said even as his sons get older, the festival offers rides, games and entertainment to keep all ages satisfied.
“They’ll be spending time in the adult section of the fair soon enough,” Kekering joked about his sons. “This really is a great way to spend time with the kids and see some familiar faces.”
Fiesta Days has already featured musical acts such as Firehouse, Queensryche and Great White, but will provide many more events in the next eight days. After closing out the musical portion of the festival with Libido Funk Circus Sunday night, Fiesta Days will host events throughout the week including a river run and an ice cream social before closing on July 21 with a parade.
Dick Paegelow, chairman of the Fiesta Days board of directors, said even after 17 years of organizing the event, it offers something new every year.
“I just love being around all the people,” he said. “I’ll probably keep doing this until I can’t walk anymore.”