Full-Scale Petunia Festival Returns to Dixon

The 58th annual Petunia Festival, always celebrated in conjunction with the Fourth of July, will be back in full force after no festival in 2020 and a scaled-down pandemic version in 2021.

“The main evidence of our community getting back to normal is the number of people eager to get back into volunteering,” says Jenna Dempsey, vice president of marketing for the Dixon Petunia Festival. “The festival is all about our volunteers giving in so many ways. It’s great to see the excitement in new people wanting to help and the return of longtime volunteers.”

This year’s event will take place in downtown Dixon Thursday through Monday, June 30-July 4, with the theme “The Wonderful World of Sauk.” The Sauk Valley includes Dixon, Sterling, Rock Falls and smaller communities.

Dempsey has worked with the festival for 17 years and was president in 2012. She has fond memories of it from childhood.

“The festival has always been very family friendly and that hasn’t changed,” says Dempsey. “We’ve just grown through the years, mainly in our ability to bring in more and better entertainment.”

Entertainers will perform on the G&M Stella Main Stage, at the corner of River Street and Galena Avenue, and on the Palmyra Pub and Eatery Stage near the President Ronald Reagan statue at River Street and Hennepin Avenue.

Thursday’s G&M Stella Main Stage headliners will include singer/songwriter and Dixon native Tristan Bushman of Nashville, at 6:30 p.m., followed by guitarist Dexter O’Neal & The Funk Yard at 9:30 p.m.

On Friday, Dixon native Gina Venier, a midwesterner whose fun-loving, down-to-earth personality makes everyone feel a part of the party, will perform at 6:30 p.m. Singer/songwriter and Mercury Nashville recording artist Travis Denning follows at 9:30 p.m.

On Saturday, Secondhand Smoke of Chicago, which tours internationally, will perform at 6:30 p.m. followed by Too Fighters, the original Foo Fighters Tribute band from the Chicagoland area, at 9:30 p.m.

Sunday’s musical lineup includes Lyle Grobe and the Rhythm Ramblers at 3:30 p.m.; Invisible Cartoons at 6:30 p.m.; and an artistic performance with comedy and a party atmosphere by Two Hype Crew at 10 p.m.

At the Palmyra Pub & Eatery Stage, on Thursday, Sauk Valley’s Nova, a four-piece rock band, will play tunes from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, plus some original numbers at 5:30 p.m. followed by Mirabilia at 8:30 p.m., an indie/alternative band with influences from Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Pinegrove and Frightened Rabbit.

On Friday, Route ThirtyEight, a Dixon hometown rock band, will perform at 5:30 p.m. followed by Slick Trigger at 8:30 p.m.

Saturday’s entertainment on the Palmyra stage begins with Radio Silence at 5:30 p.m. followed by Class Field Trip, a five-piece pop punk cover band from Dixon, at 8:30 p.m.

Heartache #1 plays at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

New this year are instructed paint parties for children, hosted by the Next Picture Show.

Traditional features of the festival will include tours of late President Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home; pancake breakfasts; arts and crafts; an ice cream social; bingo; the annual KSB Tennis Classic; a fishing derby; a volleyball tournament; a disc golf tournament; the Cruise in Style Car Show from Ken Nelson Auto Group; a food tent; a bags tournament; games; amusement rides by North American Midway Entertainment Carnival; a Family Fun Night on Friday with a performance by the Dixon Municipal Band Concert; and a community worship service on Sunday at 9 a.m.

Dixon Dish food vendors in the entertainment area will sell pizza, tacos, corn dogs and elephant ears. Other food vendors will set up along the riverfront from Thursday to Sunday.

The Dixon High School Athletic Boosters will host a pancake breakfast 6-11 a.m. Friday through Monday at the Dixon High School cafeteria.

Floats, bands, dancers, clowns, jugglers and local businesses will take part in the traditional parade on Sunday at 1 p.m., traveling from St. Mary’s Catholic School to the high school. At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, fireworks will be launched. Tune into River Country 101.7 to hear synchronized music during the display.

The festival began as a carnival and beer garden in a store parking lot in 1964, in conjunction with the planting of petunias to beautify the city, after Dutch Elm Disease destroyed most of the tree canopying over Galena Avenue. Today, the Dixon In Bloom Committee plants about 300 baskets, in part funded by individual donations mailed to Dixon in Bloom, P.O. Box 127, Dixon, IL, 61021.

Festival tickets are $10 per day. Presale four-day tickets are $25, sold at Petunia Festival Headquarters, 77 S. Hennepin Ave. For a full schedule of events and activities, go to petuniafestival.org. ❚