The first time I attended Fair St. Louis they probably had nearly a million people in attendance over the Fourth of July weekend. This was before there was a Metro Link and parking was a huge problem, even though they did have shuttle buses running back and forth from the riverfront where the festival was held to additional parking downtown. We decided to make the 20-minute walk instead of trying to squeeze onto one of the shuttles. The whole celebration grew out of a rather bizarre summertime event we had here called the Veiled Prophet Parade. The parade co-incited with the Independence Day holiday and was sort of a coming out party for St. Louis’ crème of society. A mysterious hooded figure led the parade and there was a formal ball at the Chase Park Plaza hotel afterwards. Over the years the fair on the riverfront began to disassociate itself from the parade, first becoming the VP Fair and then Fair St. Louis. The Veiled Prophet Parade started over 128 years ago as a way to promote business in the city and the parade and after-party continues today, usually a couple of days before the holiday.
The long trek down to the riverfront was worth the walk. We checked out some of the many food booths, and sat on the steps leading up to the Arch to watch the overhead military air show. But the most awesome thing was the fireworks display. We had gotten there early enough to stake out a sardine spot directly underneath the 630 ft. tall stainless steel arch, and directly across from the several barges out in the middle of the Mississippi River that held the fireworks. The ground shook and our ears split as we watched barrage after barrage explode across the sky. In the background between bursts we could hear the guitar of legendary Blues player Albert King, whose set had ended, but he decided to play right through all of the fireworks anyway.
Over the past few years the fair has lost some of its luster, suffering from decreased attendance and red ink. This year the fair organizers have decided to combine the now smaller fair with the hugely successful free music concerts under the Arch called LIVE On The Levee. There will be music and fireworks each weekend in July and the first two weeks in August.
Another great summertime festival in St. Louis is the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden that is held over the Labor Day weekend every year. Celebrating the history, culture, and people of Japan, the festival has grown to be one of the largest in the country over the past 28 years. Highlights include a Japanese street magician, the world-renowned Japanese Garden and a candlelight walk.
The St. Louis Art Fair is held on Friday and Saturday, September 8th and 9th. The art fair is recognized as one of the top five in the country. The festival is a free event held in Clayton, right outside of St. Louis. Row after row of tents hold lots of art and craft treasures, heavy on the art, unlike some of the other art fairs that are mainly craft exhibitions. There is also plenty of fine food and drink. If you like your art fairs a little smaller, check out the Art Outside Fair, sponsored by Schlafly Beer. This alternative fair started when the beer maker lost their license to sell beer at the bigger event, some say because of pressure from Anheuser Busch.
Finally, to round out the summer on a full stomach, check out Taste of St, Louis Food Fair down on the riverfront on September 29th and October 1st. Their website sums it all up:
Recipe for fun:
Preheat the Gateway Mall at 9th and Market September 29th and October 1st.
Add over 70 local artists.
Stir in over 30 premier St. Louis restaurants and 3 live culinary cook-off competitions.
Season generously with national and local music acts.
Sprinkle with St. Louis businesses and celebrities.
Simmer over two days.
Serves over 100,000 hearts, minds, and senses.
However, if you don’t feel like dealing with the crowds, you can always do what so many people in St. Louis do: get some ice cream from Ted Drewes, throw a pork steak on the grill and sit in the backyard listening to the Cardinals game.