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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 02:22 am

Summer Picks

The summerlong guide to fun in central Illinois

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Capital City Bicentennial CelebrationJuly 3-4
What happens when Abraham Lincoln meets the 21st century? The Capital City Bicentennial Celebration.
The inaugural event fuses the Springfield Jaycees Capital City Celebration, Taste of Downtown and the Secretary of State’s Ice Cream Social in a two-day festival that also continues the celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
The 16th president starts the party at 5 p.m. Friday, July 3, with a procession from the Lincoln Home National Historic Site to the Old State Capitol. Local musicians and period performers take the stage at three different locations: the Americana Music Stage at Fifth and Washington, Bicentennial Stage No. 1 at Sixth and Adams, and Bicentennial Stage No. 2 at Fifth and Capitol. Children’s activities, such as juggling, period crafts and games and puppet shows, are available at the Old State Capitol and the Lincoln Home.

The Taste of Downtown opens Friday at 5 p.m. for festival-goers in the area of Fifth and Washington streets, and continues Saturday from noon to midnight. Sponsored by Downtown Springfield, Inc., the event features tapas from 18 different downtown restaurants, such as Café Moxo, Holy Land Diner, Lincoln-Douglas Café and Sebastian’s. Diners have experienced everything from pony shoes to Cajun barbecue shrimp to gelato.
“It’s a real cross-section of what all the restaurants want to highlight, what they consider their specialty,” Ann Frescura, DSI event coordinator, says. “We [ask for] ethnic, regional and classic food and beverages.”

The Capital City Bicentennial Celebration runs from 5 p.m.-midnight Friday. A patriotic laser show begins at 9:30 p.m. at the Old State Capitol. The celebration runs from 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday. The Jaycees’ Fourth of July fireworks display begins at 9:30 p.m.
For more information, visit DSI at www.downtownspringfield.org. — Amanda Robert

Illinois Shakespeare FestivalJune 25-August 9
If you plan to attend the Illinois Shakespeare Festival — and c’mon, why wouldn’t you? — you might as well block out at least a day, if not an entire weekend. You could see Richard III one night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream the next, and then Scapin, an adaption of the 325-year-old Moliere farce Les Fourberies de Scapin — described as “a crazy, wacky, foolish slapstick comedy” —the next.

Arrive early and enjoy a free 15-minute “green show” of combat or comedy on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; or live jazz provided by Glenn Wilson and his Jazzmaniacs on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Or pay $5 extra and take a 50-minute guided tour of the theater’s backstage passageways, or a design tour, revealing how the production comes to life in the costume and set shops.

On a few Tuesdays, you can also stay late and enjoy a conversation with the cast and crew plus an ice cream social.

What about food? You don’t even have to pack a picnic. You can order your own picnic basket ahead of time from Destihl Restaurant, or choose from a selection of gourmet wraps.
But that’s not all. You could spend a day or two wandering the festival grounds, aka Ewing Cultural Center, built around the 90-year-old Ewing Manor. The 6.5-acre site includes a Jens Jensen garden installed in 1927, the Moriyama Japanese garden, installed in 1986, and a collection of neighborhood gardens known as the Genevieve Green Gardens, installed in 2007.
Tickets for the plays range from $20 to $40 for adults, $16 to $36 for students and senior citizens, and are available through Ticketmaster, or by calling 309-438-2535 days, 309-828-9814 on performance nights. Season passes cost $60 to $108 for adults, $48 to $96 for students and senior citizens. The theater is located at 48 Sunset Road, Bloomington. For more information, visit www.thefestival.org. — Dusty Rhodes

Old Capitol Blues & BBQs FestivalAugust 29
Capital city residents can expect less competition at this year’s Old Capitol Blues & BBQs Festival — but we’re not talking about between BBQ vendors or blues entertainers.
“We’re not planning on having to accommodate President Obama,” DSI event coordinator Ann Frescura says. “It was quite an honor to have him here on the same day as our event, but it wasn’t without its challenges.”

Even so, the 2008 event reached a record of 40 BBQ competitors — a number DSI would like to see repeated. During the contest, teams set up stations downtown and grill pork entries from 11 a.m. to the 4 p.m. deadline. Judges determine the winner based on the meat’s appearance, tenderness and taste. Spectators can visit BBQ booths and crown their own favorites.
Locally and nationally known blues talent join in the fun, both on the main stage lineup and during the Illinois Central Blues Club’s Third Annual Blues Challenge. As many as 10 bands and four solo-duo acts play for 25 minutes apiece for the chance to represent the club at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2010. Five judges decide who’s got the blues based on elements like originality, voice, instrumentals and stage presence.

“It’s always a high quality range of music and outstanding BBQ,” Frescura says of the fan-favorite festival. “It’s a perfect blend for a summer outing.”

The 2009 Old Capitol Blues & BBQs Festival is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29, noon-midnight, at Fifth and Washington streets downtown. Admission is $5. For more information visit www.downtownspringfield.org. — Amanda Robert

Illinois State FairAugust 13-23
State fairs have traditionally served as a venue for competing agriculturalists to present prize-wining pigs, ponies, petunias and pottery for bragging rights, and to celebrate the state’s history and culture.

But Illinois is just one patch on the big quilt that is America. And what with the collapse of the mortgage industry, bank failures, recession, ongoing overseas wars and swine flu, it’s been difficult year for the good ol’ U.S. of A.

In recognition of this, the theme of this year’s annual event is “An All-American Fair.” Fair organizers say the message is a nod to the landmark election of Illinois’ adoptive son, Barack Obama, as president, as well to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. So expect lots of red, white and blue.

As always, the fair begins with the Twilight Parade on Thursday, Aug. 13, but for the first time in many years without the speculation about whether Rod Blagojevich will be in attendance. It concludes Sunday, Aug. 23.

This year, the state fair is going to the dogs with the Purina Incredible Dog Competition as well as the first dog photo contest. Awards will be given in the categories of cutest dog and cutest pet costume. Also making a comeback is the Dock Dogs competition, a sort of canine long jump that involves the animals leaping into pools of water after their favorite chew toys.
Returning in 2009 after a brief hiatus is the demolition derby at the multipurpose arena on Aug. 22. Other daily attractions include County Fair and Horse Racing Day (Aug. 14), City of Chicago/Local Officials’ Day (Aug. 15), Veterans’ Day (Aug. 16), Senior Citizens’ Day (Aug. 17), Agriculture Day (Aug. 18), Governor’s Day (Aug. 19), Republican Day (Aug. 20), Futures for Kids Day (Aug. 21), Park District Conservation Day (Aug. 22) and Family/Violence Prevention Day (Aug. 23).

Tickets are $2 for children five to 12 and $5 for adults over the age of 13. Kids under 5 get in free. Check www.agr.state.il.us/isf for complete information and updates. —R.L. Nave

Old Capitol Farmers’ Market
8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday through Halloween.
Old Capitol Farmers’ Market has a misleading name. For one thing, it’s about a block away from the Old State Capitol, stretched out along Adams Street between Third and Fifth streets. For another, it’s not just for farmers anymore.

Sure, most stalls sell some sort of produce — squash, corn, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, pumpkins, peaches and strawberries, not to mention an amazing variety of apples (“blemished” Honey Crisps are our favorites). But this market also includes vendors who sell homegrown pork, beef, chicken and eggs; a vendor who sells honey, another one who sells fresh cheese, and a vendor who sells pecans.

It gets even more exotic: There’s Chuck Kilhoffer, who sells oyster mushrooms and dispenses recipes and cooking tips; Pat Gillen, who sells nothing but garlic; and Richard Zillion, who sells chili seasonings.

Don’t consider yourself a cook? You will still love the farmers’ market. Several bakeries sell fresh homemade breads, pies and granola; a couple of vendors even offer homemade biscuits for your dog (yes, dogs are allowed to shop at the market, too). There’s fresh flavorful coffee, hot cocoa and slushies at Terry Woodliff’s space, and usually at least one vendor selling popcorn.

Other farmers markets might be bigger, but what makes ours better is the crop verification program the vendors use. “You’re not supposed to sell produce you’ve purchased elsewhere, even from a neighboring farm,” says Ann Frescura, of Downtown Springfield, Inc. The market has an official crop inspector available to verify that each vendor grows his or her own product. “The farmers welcome it,” Frescura says. “It’s there to protect the integrity of the market.”

Once a month, on third Saturdays, Maldaner’s Chef Michael Higgins will be on hand to demonstrate how to make the most of your produce purchases. Third Saturdays also bring live music to the market, and artists sell their work on first and third Saturdays.

The market is open 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday through Halloween. — Dusty Rhodes
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