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Wednesday, June 3, 2009 04:20 pm

SOHO far, SOHO good

Downtown block party showcases area rock bands

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Not so long ago the fledgling SOHO Music Fest was an awkward but earnest attempt to raise funds for a local charity while presenting local rock bands to a somewhat uncaring and apathetic community. Now in its fifth year, the downtown block party held on June 5 and 6 keeps getting bigger and better, staking a claim as a good deal, early summer, Springfield happening.

Event organizers Eric Welch and Tara Stapleton-Mckinzie continue hosting SOHO with little more than a healthy DYI attitude and plenty of help from “65 volunteers and 100 musicians,” as Welch likes to put it. Expressly designed to showcase mostly area rock bands intent on performing original material, the two-stage show keeps the music in the forefront while allowing many groups exposure on a level not offered by other downtown festivals.

For 2009, SOHO moves a block from its usual spot on Washington just north of the Old State Capitol to a stage set on Seventh facing Ninth. This avoids a skirmish with the Civil War Encampment [see page 14] held Friday-Sunday on the Old State Capitol grounds, with period music and a square dance on Saturday evening. The last time SOHO shared the downtown area with another affair I believe it was the Air Rendezvous Party that managed to confuse event-goers as to what show they were attending. I’m assuming this year attendees will surely be able to distinguish more handily which event is which.

Along with the live performances on concert days, the 2009 festival incorporates interesting interaction from local radio station Alice 97.7 FM. All this week the on-air programming includes songs from recordings by the mainstage headliners interwoven into a regular playlist of various quirky and popular rock cuts covering the last 20-some years. In a nice twist for radio, Alice also offers live in-studio performances by festival performers aired at various times during the day.

In a major festival coup and a stunning show of city-sponsored support, the Honorable Timothy J. Davlin, mayor of Springfield, offered to be the official SOHO Music Fest Master of Ceremonies. I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it’s very nice to see the municipal-based enthusiasm for this homegrown happening.

The entrance fee for SOHO is still only five bucks, which is, as Welch assures me, a great deal for the amount of music available (I tend to agree), plus beer is only two bucks a serving, with decent food (not always the case at these events) available at reasonable prices as well. All the proceeds, after deducting the basic overhead of city fees, concert staging and other costs of putting on a concert with very little corporate sponsorship, go directly to the Mini O’Beirne Crisis Nursery, a worthy cause indeed. At this point we should graciously thank sponsors, Alice 97.7 FM, Samuel’s Music, Mr. Greg Gardner, Celtic Mist Pub, (with a little help from your favorite newsweekly, Illinois Times), and of course, the volunteers and bands, for all donating the time and money to help make this happen.

The festival is a great way to check out several of those peculiar-named bands you may have noticed in the pub crawl listing over the past few years, without the constraints of barhopping, just a-hanging out on the streets of Springfield. Though per normal for the SOHO Fest, if you do prefer your live music in the bars, several of the headlining acts also perform into the wee hours at downtown venues after the concert shuts down around midnight.

Finally, I would be negligent in nepotism without mentioning a rock and roll showing by the Irwinites as a rock power trio (I’ve been removed from the band for not brandishing an electric guitar) at four on Saturday and leaving you to discover all the other acts by looking for a poster, visiting www.myspace.com/sohomusicfest or perhaps just showing up and counting on the ever-obliging gods of live music to enhance your evening with a fine lineup of the best local bands around.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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