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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 02:57 pm

A summer of music begins

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Blues and BBQs Festival

Summertime is always a boon to live music performances, predominantly of the outdoor sort, but on some of those infamously hot and humid Illinois days, it’s a blessing to experience the modern convenience of air conditioning while checking out some music. Nevertheless, from outdoor theaters to city sidewalks, town squares to park plazas, personal patios to public grandstands, burgoos to barbeques, the majority of our summer entertainment excitement takes place in the great expanse of the open air.

One of my favorite warm weather shows, the long-running Artist on the Plaza series, happens every Tuesday and Thursday at noon from May through September on the south side of the Old State Capitol Plaza. Various musicians and entertainers representing a wide range of central Illinois talent, including Muni casts, singer-songwriters, ethnic groups and bands of assorted shapes and sizes, perform an hour’s worth of music for the downtown lunch crowd. The Springfield Area Arts Council — especially coordinator Penny Wollen-Kriel who nurtured the project through budget cuts and community sponsors — deserve a great big thank you from all the entertainers and the listening public for making this happen year after year.

First up on the local festival circuit is the Hill Prairie Winery’s Wine and Music Festival out in Oakford this weekend, with bluegrass picking on Sunday and country tunes on Monday. The Debbie Ross Band at Washington Park on Sunday makes for the first 2009 Music in the Park concert, with local bands scheduled monthly on Sundays throughout the summer at various city parks.

On May 30, in one of those inside entertainment experiences, the City of Springfield and the Prairie Capital Convention Center partner with local sponsors to present the Earth Awareness Fair and Greenfest. The daylong event (10 a.m. to midnight) features green vendors and information on environmental topics with the added bonus of live, local music on stage throughout the day and night. Proceeds from the evening concert, called a Party for the Park, benefit the new Southwind Park scheduled to open in the fall of 2009.

This summer downtown Springfield plays host to several outside music events beginning on the first weekend in June with the SoHo Music Festival, featuring the area’s finest alternative, original rock bands. The Washington Street Jazz & Blues Festival, happening since 1986 as a benefit for the Community Arts Access grant program, goes all day and into the evening on June 13 with local jazz and blues acts. For 2009 the highly successful American Music Stage, held in conjunction with the Taste of Downtown, moves to July 3 and 4. This means the also highly successful Capital City Celebration, already in service downtown at the same time, combines with the Taste to make a great, big party to commemorate Mr. Lincoln’s birthday bicentennial. The Old Capitol Blues & BBQ concert, scheduled for August 29 brings the summer downtown party to a raucous and tasty close.

It seems like every area burg hosts a homecoming, festival, shindig, something-days, or call-it-what-you-will sometime during the summer with many attractions, including almost always, live music as the main event. Along with the town parties, don’t forget the quaint county fairs and our enchanting Illinois State Fair, with beer tent bands and grandstand shows galore.

Now we’ve covered the central Illinois area, you’re on your own checking out the events all across the great everywhere, including shows all over St. Louis and the famed lakefront festivals in Chicago, plus the big ticket price and big name events already happening around the country.

’Tis the season to get outside and catch some live music.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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