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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 09:12 am

State fair beer tent bands

Where to find live music and libations

Roxschool plays in the Budweiser True Music Tent on Saturday, Aug. 22, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

I’ve never been sure why, since it is the Illinois State Fair, that most all the bands playing at the beer tents come from the ranks of Springfield cover bands, but that’s the norm at the ISF and has been for years. This is no complaint mind you just an observation on the situation. In fact using area bands gives our local musicians quite a boost in several ways. Playing a stage at the fair gets a group exposure in front of hundreds of people who otherwise wouldn’t wander into a local live music venue, plus it’s just plain fun getting up on the bigger-than-usual stage area under the bright lights with a nice sound system pumping out the jams. Yes, it can be hot and sticky up there, but the financial rewards and the active crowds help to offset the less than desirable working conditions of performing outside in Illinois August weather.

You as a customer at a tent or beer building need not worry much about any of that. The only concern for patrons is remembering that your choice of beverage is quite limited depending on the variety of libation your tent of choice distributes and hoping your taste in beer coincides with your taste in music. With that in mind let’s take a gander at the live music offerings in the assorted venues where one might purchase a semi-cold one at the Illinois State Fair.

Don Smith Big Band plays in the Twilight Ballroom Saturday, Aug. 15, from 7 to 10 p.m.

I suppose we should start with the King of Beers and head to the Budweiser True Music Tent. No word on the effect of Belgian ownership upon the fiefdom of Anheiser-Busch in central Illinois, but generally the Bud tent, as it is affectionately referred to by fairgoers, hosts bands that rock hard and play harder rock. The list of groups performing bears out this hypothesis with shows by the Joe Cooke Band, Postwar Fords, Ragged Jack, The Oohs, The Dirty Ernies, Autumn Zero and Roxschool, among others. The Postwar Fords’ show can be officially listed as a reunion since the once quite popular local band last performed in 2005. I spoke with Rob of Roxschool who promises an exciting time with a presentation of the 2009 Rox U cheerleading squad and a Rox U frat rush party with a paddle appearance, as the band “opens up for Heart and the Bangles, just on a different stage” on Saturday, Aug. 22, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The Coors Light Tent (werewolves avoid that beer, you know) rotates only a few bands, including the ever popular and always exciting Captain Geech, and a group called Silver Bullet that I’m guessing gets extra credit for name choice, plus a few more groups that should be all tuckered out by the end of the fair from near constant playing.

Autumn Zero plays in the Budweiser True Music Tent on Sunday, Aug. 23, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

One of my favorite fairground venues, as I’ve stated in years past, is the Twilight Ballroom. It’s not just because of the indoor location and the associated air conditioning, but I like the varied sounds of instruments other than guitars, and hearing songs from an era preceding the rock-n-roll insurgence. Among the fine groups scheduled is the Don Smith Big Band on Saturday, Aug. 15, from 7 to 10 p.m. This is Smith’s 35th straight Illinois State Fair appearance, which is certainly a record in fair attraction longevity. It’s quite the accomplishment and Don and the guys deserve congratulations for keeping the swing going so long.

Out in The Shed, formerly that Jimmy Buffet-beach thing place, and always simply a metal machine shed with beer and music, the lineup is quite diverse with everything from pop, to jazz, to blues, a battle of the bands, and a new band I’ve never heard of called Diaper Derby Contest. What will they think of next?

We could spend this whole column on the Ethnic Village, the delightful gazebo not far from the Main Gate where an assortment of performers display dance and song representing national and cultural heritages from around the world. Oh yes, they also serve good food and sell an admirable collection of imported and interesting beers.
Micah Walk Band plays in the Miller Lite Tent Sunday, Aug. 23, from 7 to 10 p.m.

And last but certainly not least comes the Miller Lite tent. Ric “Skippy” Major runs the sound and books a diverse lineup, including the always entertaining Elvis Himselvis, the ever exciting Debbie Ross, the annual state fair reunion of Cats on Holiday, and the final shows of F5 ever on the first weekend of the fair, plus some original music with Micah Walk Band.

Please use this as a simple guide to getting started in searching for entertainment and in no way accept it as a complete listing of music groups performing at the fair. Happy beer tenting!

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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