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Onetime summer picnic evolves into annual Friendship Fest

By Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett recalls that the city’s earliest festival dates back to a summer picnic.

“When I first started getting involved with the council, the city held a bicentennial picnic on the grounds of Moraine Valley in 1976,” Bennett said. “It was just a small group with people playing softball and they brought some sandwiches to eat. They continued to hold picnics off and on over the next couple of years near Moraine Valley.”

After becoming a member of the council and later the mayor in 1981, Bennett believed that a larger annual summer festival could be held near the Moraine Valley Community College grounds.

And that was the beginning of the annual Friendship Fest. Bennett said the Friendship Fest was also held at different locations near the Moraine Valley campus due to ongoing construction for the expanding college. The festival has now been held at the same location over the years at 107th Street and 88th Avenue on land owned by the community college on vast property just east of the campus.

The 39th annual Friendship Festival will be held from 6 to 10:30 p.m. today (Thursday, July 11). The festival will also be open from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, July 12; noon to midnight Saturday, July 13; and 1 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday, July 14.

The mayor said that over the years more vendors have been added along with additional musical acts. He credited the administration over at Moraine Valley as playing a large role in the expansion of the Friendship Fest.

“They have always been accommodating going back to that bicentennial picnic,” Bennett said. “They have always provided space and helped us out right from the beginning.”

The mayor said the name for the festival was due to a suggestion from a part-time resource staff employee not long after he became mayor. A major appeal of the festival is that admission and parking are free.

“We are getting down to the point where there are not too many free festivals anymore,” Bennett said. “And Moraine provides free parking for 3,000 vehicles. We hope a lot of people come and have fun.”

The event begins on Thursday evening with Identity Crisis taking the stage at 6 p.m. They will be followed by The Chicago Experience Band, a Chicago cover band that was warmly received last year, Bennett said. They will take the stage at 8 p.m.

“They sound like Chicago in their earlier years,” Bennett said. “They are really something to see.”

The Wilson Family Carnival will be available from 6 to 10 p.m. on opening night as guests can pay the price of $20 during that time. Face painting will be offered from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and bingo will be under the tent from 7 to 10 p.m. today. The carnival will be set up from 6 to 11:30 p.m. with the food court opening at 6 p.m. Friday. Bingo will be offered again from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday.

There Goes The Neighborhood, a ‘90s pop band, will perform beginning at 6 p.m. Friday. Infinity, which plays music from Journey and music from the ‘80s, will take the stage at 9 p.m. Friday.

The carnival will be open from noon to 11:30 p.m. Saturday with a pay one price of $20 from noon to 4 p.m. The food court opens at noon and arts and crafts vendors will be available from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday. The Palos Hills Horsemen Association will be available from 1 to 4 p.m., along with free pony rides and a petting zoo from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Bingo returns from 7 to 10 p.m. Kids entertainment includes Cold Blooded Creatures from 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The Ron Burgundy’s, who play the rock sounds of the ’70s, will perform at 6 p.m. And they will be followed by American English, the popular Beatles tribute band, at 9 p.m.

The Double K Productions Classic registration will be held at 9 a.m. Sunday. The fee to enter is $25 the day of the show. They can also be reached at www.doublekproductions.com.

The carnival will be held from 1 to 10:30 p.m. and the food court opens at noon on Sunday. The Animal Welfare League will be on hand from 1 to 4 p.m. and the Palos Hills Horsemen Association from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Free pony rides and the petting zoo will be available from 1 to 5 p.m. Bingo will be offered again from 7 to 10 p.m., and Andrew Kidzmagic will entertain youths from 6 to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Wicked Vic will perform at 4:45 p.m. and Epic will take the stage at 7 p.m. on the final day. A giant fireworks display will be held at dusk.

Mega passes can be purchased up until noon today (Thursday, July 11) at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St., for $40. They can also be purchased for $50 at the Friendship Festival.

Bennett said the annual event is well received every year.

“I think every town likes to say they want a sense of community,” Bennett said. “I think it’s that spirit of friendship and camaraderie that makes it special. I think it is great and it is like a summer reunion for the kids at Stagg High School and for all the people that go to this.”

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