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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 07:02 am

Picks of the season

What's hot this summer

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Old Capitol Farmers’ Market Through Oct. 29

Asparagus. Strawberries. Green beans. Tomatoes. Peaches. Honey. Jellies. Eggs. Chicken. Cheese. Apples. Pumpkins. Gourds. That’s only the beginning of what you’ll find at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. “This event is six months long,” says Ann Frescura, Downtown Springfield Inc. event director. “Anything that can be grown in the state of Illinois, you can assume that you might find it here.”
The 2008 farmers’ market got under way Wednesday and runs through Oct. 29. More than 60 farmers and growers sell their produce 8 a.m.-1 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday from stands set up along Adams Street between Third and Fifth streets. This year they’ll be joined by at least 20 artisans, who will exhibit and sell their artwork on the first and third Saturdays each month. DSI says that artisans expressed an interest in becoming part of the farmers’ market in the past, so the organization called for entries and added juried submissions to the market’s lineup. Visitors can expect everything from watercolors to pottery to weaving in the new Artisan Area. “The combination of creating an environment where you’re mixing local produce and local arts creates a very positive and fun environment,” Frescura says. “We’re trying to keep the market new and to add a little something each year.”
Local musicians will also entertain visitors as they wander through the market this year.
— Amanda Robert
Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Festival
August 23

As the smell of sizzling pork drifts by and the twangy soul of blues entertains your ears, you imagine for one minute that you’ve been transported to Tom Lee Park and Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. But then you realize that you’re just steps from home and lucky enough to be participating in one of the hippest happenings Springfield has to offer — the Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Festival. For the past four years, as many as 30 teams have set up shop downtown, grilling pork ribs and shoulders from 11 a.m. to the 4 p.m. deadline. Judges determine the winner on the basis of the meat’s appearance, tenderness, and taste — but in the meantime hungry Springfieldians can visit all of the contestants’ booths and judge for themselves. And because you shouldn’t have barbecue without the blues, music shares the spotlight at this summer festival. Sonny Landreth, a Grammy-nominated Cajun bluesman from southwestern Louisiana, was last year’s headliner. Many other musicians joined in, performing almost every variety of blues possible, from Chicago to urban to Mississippi. This year’s lineup hasn’t been confirmed, but organizers say it will be just as varied and satisfying as those of previous years’ festivals. The 2008 Old Capitol Blues & BBQ Festival is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 23, noon-midnight, at Fifth and Washington streets downtown. Keep an eye out for more information at www.downtownspringfield.org.

— Amanda Robert
Illinois Shakespeare Festival

For more than 30 years the Illinois Shakespeare Festival has hosted nationally known actors, who make the trip to  Bloomington each summer to perform three of the bard’s works or adaptations. This year’s offerings are the romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew, the cruel tragedy Titus Andronicus, and the laugh-out-loud The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Produced by Illinois State University, the festival sets up shop each year in an outdoor theater on the grounds of Ewing Manor. Forty-five minutes before curtain, theater novices and those looking to brush up on the play at hand can watch a brief discussion about the show they are about to see, along with fight demonstrations, a series of vignettes, and a performance by madrigal singers.
One of Springfield’s best-known actorsEric Thibodeaux-Thompson, director of theater at the University of Illinois at Springfield — performed at the festival in 2005 and 2006, playing Duncan in Macbeth and Cicero in Julius Caesar, as well as some minor roles. “[The festival] is a wonderful first-class operation,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “They have wonderful leadership right now. It’s a rich, very strong program, in my opinion.”
Theatergoers can make an evening of the event, starting at 5 p.m. with a picnic on the Great Lawn of Ewing Manor. Pack your own grub or pick up dinner items from one of the restaurants that fire up grills on the grounds. “I think it is really important [the festival] is where it is,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “Chicago is wonderful, but I think it’s important to have high-caliber professional theater at points in between. I would love for something like that to be here in Springfield.”

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival runs June 27-Aug. 10. For information, go to www.thefestival.org.
— Marissa Monson
Route 66 Drive-In Knights Action Park & Caribbean Water Adventure

In 1932, a guy from New Jersey nailed a white sheet to some trees in his back yard and mounted a movie projector on the hood of his car, and the drive-in movie theater was born. Drive-ins reached their peak popularity in the late ’50s, when there were about 4,000 outdoor cinemas across the U.S. Over the years, the advent and evolution of the color TV, family sitcom, cable television, VCR, cineplex, video-game system, DVD player, and home movie-delivery service, expanded families’ entertainment options and put the brakes on the drive-in. Today in most cities the closest thing you’ll find to a drive-in is the nearest Sonic. Just under 400 drive-in cinemas remain in the U.S., according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. So, Springfield, thank the heavens, go sit out under stars, and enjoy your favorite Hollywood luminaries at the Route 66 Drive-In (1700 Recreation Dr., 217-546-8881, www.route66-drivein.com) this summer. Route 66 shows a double feature each Friday and Saturday night at dusk, and starting Memorial Day, May 26, you’ll be able to catch flicks seven nights a week. The Recreation Drive entrance is closed as a result of construction, so traffic will be diverted to Old Chatham Road and Prairie Crossing. Adult tickets cost $6; children under 12 pay $3. Check Illinois Times for movie schedules.
Now that the Lake Springfield Beach is closed, Knight’s Action Park & Caribbean Water Adventure, located right next door to the drive-in, will be the place for a wet reprieve from the summer sun. Famous for its 50-tee driving range, batting cages, go-karts, Big Wheel, and Royal Flush water ride, Knight’s has added three fun features this year: the Spring Ride, Paratrooper, and Giant Slide. Prices for the different attractions vary. Go to www.knightsactionpark.com for complete information.

— R.L. Nave
Illinois State Fair
August 8-17

Fifteen years have passed since a magazine writer described the Illinois State Fair as a “conscious affirmation of real community, of state solidarity and fellow-feeling and pride” and a “Xanadu of chintzola.”
We’ll take them both as compliments. This year’s incarnation of the fair, which was started in 1853 to celebrate Illinois agriculture, promises as much chintz and statetriotism as ever before. “The fair is important to Illinois because it’s a great opportunities for families across Illinois to get together and embrace a great industry,” says fair manager Amy Bliefnick. This year’s grandstand lineup of Trace Adkins, Brooks and Dunn, Fergie, Vanessa Hudgens, Huey Lewis and the News, Weird Al Yankovic, and ZZ Top was assembled, Bliefnick says, to reflect the fair’s theme: “A Family Tradition.”
Of course, that means traditional favorites such as the Butter Cow, arenacross motorcycle racing, truck and tractor pulls, harness races, the Ethnic Village, Campus Town, livestock competitions, beer tents, deep-fried victuals impaled on wooden sticks, and carnival rides. Given the price of gas and the current state of the economy, the fair’s an excellent bargain. Consider that in 1894 admission cost 50 cents, or $12 in today’s dollars. Today, tickets for fairgoers over the age of 13 are just $3 — the lowest in the nation — and kids 12 and under get in free. Check www.agr.state.il.us/isf/ for complete schedules, event information, and concert-ticket prices. Fair planners are introducing a new ride called the Freak Out, which works like a bucket of water swinging at high speed. On this ride, you’re in the bucket, sitting in a seat that also spins. Manufactured in the Netherlands, the Freak Out reaches a maximum height of 22 meters, roughly 72 feet. We did the math; now go enjoy the fair.
— R.L. Nave
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