Charm, art and wine draw visitors to Grayslake fest

Event serves as Chamber of Commerce’s kickoff to summer season

GRAYSLAKE – Even though it was the 26th annual event, the Grayslake Arts Festival and Wine Tasting felt like a fresh start for the Grayslake Chamber of Commerce.

And for many who attended, the event served as a kickoff to summer.

The pandemic forced the Chamber to cut back on in-person events the past couple of years, said Jordan Debbink-Lesniak, marketing consultant for the Grayslake Chamber of Commerce.

“This is the first year we’re really coming back with a lot of new excitement and activity,” Debbink-Lesniak said.

Despite the pandemic, he said, the Chamber consistently offered programming through virtual opportunities and has grown by more than 75 members.

“We really have done a lot for our members and the community despite the pandemic, so this is a great way to get together and kick off the summer and the festival season,” he said of the June 18 event.

Hosted in downtown Grayslake, the free Grayslake Arts Festival and Wine Tasting featured at least 25 artists, ranging from those specializing in blowing glass and woodwork to jewelry makers, fine artists, sculptors and ceramic artists.

Artists submitted samples of their work before the event and were invited to participate in the juried festival.

Scattered amid the artists’ booths, wine vendors offered varieties of wine for visitors to taste in between viewing the art on display. The wine portion of the festival was added to the art fair about five years ago.

Along with wine tasting, visitors were treated to food trucks and performances by Dance Connection, the Jazzeros and Slam Funk, a jazz band organized by Grayslake North High School. Members of the Grayslake Performing Arts Collaborative presented “Summer Cabaret.”

“Summer Cabaret” featured local artists Angela Carrington, Samantha Mayer and Debbink-Lesniak, the co-founder of the Grayslake Performing Arts Collaborative. The group performed hits from Broadway shows such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Company,” “Wicked” and “Songs for a New World.”

“We are a group of individuals who are passionate about and dedicated to providing collaborative performing arts experiences for youth and adults in the Grayslake area,” Debbink-Lesniak said.

The collaborative hopes to add the festival to its yearly repertoire, he said, along with the Voices of Grayslake Holiday competition and a teachers appreciation week for fine arts teachers in the schools.

Among those participating in the festival, Ambitions Boutique featured trendy women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories. Business owner Sammi Lenz recently moved from Ohio to Gurnee and looks to move the online business into a building, preferably in Grayslake, in the future.

“I’ve always loved Grayslake,” she said. “I know there’s not many clothing boutiques there and I would be one of the first.”

With a background in marketing, fashion and retail, Lenz opened her business during the pandemic.

“I describe it as trendy women’s clothing, but they’re really trends that never really go out of style,” she said.

The business targets young millennials, but she looks to expand offerings to other age groups upon moving into a building.

The charm of Grayslake drew her to the town and the festival. It’s a sentiment many share.

“Grayslake is just a really idyllic downtown,” Debbink-Lesniak said. “We work really hard. Our downtown is that little escapism for people – plenty of shopping, lots of places to eat, a couple of breweries.

“Even if you just come to the festival for a little bit, the downtown as a whole is a really enjoyable place to be. It’s warm and welcoming. It’s a tourist attraction you want to come back to every year.”