Hold on-The Western Fair has craft beer, locally sourced dishes, and local bands?

You bet!

Along with rides, games, treats, and barn animals, you can find local talent, drinks, and food at the annual Western Fair. The I Love Local Tent, which is nearby the King Street Entrance, has been part of the Forest City tradition since 2016.

Being a Londoner, the annual fall fair has been a big part of my life. I usually go to the Western Fair for rides, but this year I wanted to explore the I Love Local tent as well to check out the food and the music. Spending most of the night there was an evening well spent.

If you want a break from the midway, the I Love Local tent is the place to be. In addition to the great food and catchy music, the tent is filled with friendly Londoners who share their own stories about the Western Fair.

The white "I Love Local" tent at sunset in London, Ontario. About five people between the two tables are nearby the tent.
The I Love Local Tent serves lots of flavours from London, Ontario

Featured on the menu

We know that the I Love Local Tent features the best from the Forest City and beyond, so what can you find? Londoners can drink local brews from Toboggan Brewing Company.

A cup of Toboggan Amber Ale beside a black can with gold letters that say "Toboggan"
Toboggan’s amber ale is one of the local drinks featured at the Western Fair’s I Love Local tent.

The menu features smoked turkey wings from Hayter’s Farm and fried cheesecake with locally sourced dairy and Ontario blueberries.

For a savoury meal, try a flatbread with Gunn’s Hill brie cheese, locally sourced plums, arugula and a balsamic drizzle. It is the perfect side dish to the main course featuring local talent and conversations about the fair.

Plum and brie flatbread with arugula and balsamic drizzle.
Be sure to try the flatbread while listening to local music.

A new take on a traditional Western Fair treat can also be found there – an I Love Local corn dog served with an apple mustard sauce.

A corndog on a white plate with apple mustard sauce.
This may be the fanciest corn dog you will have in your life.

Food – especially local food – is a huge draw for hungry Londoners. Connie Gilbert and her friend came to the I Love Local tent to test the fare, with an Ontario grass fed beef burger, topped with an onion ring, Gunn’s Hill cheddar cheese, Sikorski double smoked bacon jam, and Slegers butter lettuce.

A burger from the I Love Local Tent at the Western Fair.
Plenty of local flavours are packed in this burger

Her choice is as much about taste as it is supporting London business.

“It’s always promoting local people,” she said. “What they raise and what they grow.”

Steve Batzold prefers supporting local businesses whenever he can. “It’s worth spending the extra sometimes because [it’s] good quality.”

Cover to Cover

The I Love Local Tent also features local musicians every day of the week, including the unsung heroes of the dance floor – tribute bands and cover artists.

Swagger was playing covers of popular songs from a variety of decades at the Western Fair.
Swagger was playing covers of popular songs from a variety of decades at the Western Fair.

Cover band Swagger hit the ILL stage with a mix of new and old, playing hits like MJ’s Billie Jean, Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69, and Exes and Ohs by Elle King.

There is something about playing familiar music that gets people out of their seat and dancing. The beauty of a cover act is the audience knows the song and the lyrics and there were definitely some closet singers in the I Love Local crowd.

Darla Stratton, lead singer of Swagger, said the band has been active for four years and played at the Western Fair before. When you’re playing popular hits as opposed to originals, he said a band has to deliver.

“With the songs that we cover, we try to make them sound as close to the original as possible,” Stratton said.

Covers are one thing – tributes are another. Full Petty Fever had the crowd free-falling to their sound and their look.

Jim Forbes, bass player for Full Petty Fever, explained if you are paying tribute to an artist, you should look the part. Full Petty Fever vocalist, Cameron Grant, made a very convincing Tom Petty.

Left to right: Jay McMillan and Cameron Grant of Full Petty Fever.
Left to right: Jay McMillan and Cameron Grant of Full Petty Fever.

Forbes added that tribute bands should feature the original artist’s persona.

“You give a little bit of the look of the band, the feel of the band,” he said. “I think you really need to embrace the essence of who you’re trying to pay tribute to.”

What else do Londoners enjoy about the Western Fair?

Everyone has their own Western Fair traditions such as screaming on rides like the Zipper. Perhaps that’s just me.

The zipper ride at the Western Fair.
I didn’t go on the zipper this year, but perhaps taking photos of the ride will be my new tradition.

When she’s not on stage, Stratton said that she likes to play some games, ride some rides, and buy some treats.

“I always have to get a candy apple, some cotton candy,” she said. “Maybe an elephant ear, and I’m happy.”

You can visit the Western Fair until September 17. Be sure to ride some rides, visit some animals, try some fair food, and check out the I Love Local Tent!

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