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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005 07:13 am

Redefining "Springfield Sucks"

Reviewing the highlights of the local music scene

Last year at this time, I compiled a short wish list of items that, if delivered, would allow our hometown to not suck, or at least to continue sucking with much more excitement and fulfillment. A few of my dreams came to pass, but most ended up in the wastebasket of hopeless wishes, soon to be thrown on the garbage heap of forgotten ideas. So this year, instead of searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, let us bask in the glory of what was and is. Like some strange beast spewing good music from both ends, the mighty Hilton Springfield continues to be our bastion of live music. The top of the building has held steady with new, original rock, rap, funk, and blues bands; the bottom books mostly roots rock and rockabilly acts, with world-renowned artists stopping by now and then. Both bars favor local acts, which is very nice of them. Several other nightclubs — among them Buster’s, Norb Andy’s, Marly’s Pub, MoJo’s, MC Tap, and the Trading Post — consistently book area talent. Expressions in the Dark, a collection of poets and musicians, is a monthly gathering of cutting-edge artists performing in a tranquil and enticing atmosphere. In the wilds of rural Pleasant Plains, the Cabin Concerts have blessed us with a series of performances by world-class acoustic artists. Our music organizations — for instance, the Illinois Central Blues Club, the Springfield Jazz Society, and the Sangamon Valley Roots Revival — have survived another year and excelled at hosting national, regional, and local acts at various venues and events. Metal music, once a bastard child of the Springville music scene better kept locked in the closet, has come out into the hall, thanks to support from DJ Metal Chris, Club 217, and Viele’s Planet. The Hoogland Center for the Arts is beginning to blossom, with various organizations and individuals booking diverse artists for performances there. We still don’t have an all-ages venue, but some of us do believe in miracles. And — I’m not making this up — I’ve heard more people defending the local music scene than ever before, and though I must admit that most of the praise comes from out-of-towners amazed at the diversity and talent available at little or no cost to the consumer on any given night in Springdale. Things are coming around. Now if we could just find a way to resurrect the Orpheum . . . but, I guess, some wishes won’t ever come true.

First Night Springfield heads the list this week in fine entertainment, for sheer diversity and quantity if nothing else. Highlights of the alcohol-free event include bluegrass beauty Wil Maring at the First United Methodist Church, the Alternative Rock Teen Dance Club in the old On Broadway, silent movies and other things at the Hoog (the hip name for the Center for the Arts), and classic big band and reggae at the Chase Bank. Ken Carlyle, sans the Cadillac Cowboys, is a blast from the past for locals at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (no hip name here).

Let’s give a plug to the midnight fireworks — but never, ever listen to the synchronized radio music accompanying the display. Pretend it does not exist and let your mind make up its own music, please. For those seeking alternatives to the big alcohol-free celebration, most of Springfield’s regular music clubs are hosting bands, usually a favorite performer, and a few are jumping into the live-entertainment business just for New Year’s Eve. All taverns have the option of staying open until 3 a.m. on this special night, so if you’re waiting for the bouncer to toss you at the usual time, keep one eye on the clock (especially if you’re seeing double), or you may end up past your pass-out time.     The Brat Pack hangs at the Hilton, Late Arrival makes its way to Spillway Lanes, Jill Manning and the New Beaver Valley Band roll into Freebirds, and Jumbo Elliot and Springfield Shaky duke it out at a battle of the bands at Café Kanichi-Wa. Razin’ Kane and the Urban Jazz Project do the American Legion Post 809 thing, Early Warning covers the Springfield Firefighters’ Club on Lake Springfield, and Mark Hurley is flying solo at Knuckleheads.      See the ever-faithful and (almost) always accurate Pub Crawl listings for further proof that Springfield is a happening place this New Year’s Eve.

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