Smile Politely

Get your Culture here: Pick a festival, any festival

There are some months of the year where I need to get really creative in what to recommend for digging into C-U culture. September is not one of those months. September is festival month in East Central Illinois. Pick any weekend this month and you can find one or more to attend, and there really is something for everyone.

Men are gathered on a stage around a giant cylinder of cheese on a pedestal, using wires to cut it. Photo from Visit Champaign County website.

Photo from Visit Champaign County website.

Arthur Cheese Festival

The month ‘o festivals kicks off September 3-5 with an entire weekend dedicated to cheese. Saturday is a big day, with the National Cheese Eating Championship and International Cheese Curling Championship. I don’t know if these are truly the definitive contests for cheese eating and cheese curling in the nation and world, or if these are just fancy names. Regardless, these are epic competitions. In the former, each participant is given a one pound block of colby cheese that they must finish. In the latter, competitors push a four pound cheese “stone” towards a target. Find the full slate of activities at the festival website. My other favorite part of the lineup for the weekend is the designated times for “Free Cheese”. 

A row of colorful broom heads. Photo from Arcola Chamber of Commerce website.

Photo from Arcola Chamber of Commerce website.

Broomcorn Festival

If one weekend in Amish country just won’t cut it, you can head back down September 9-11 for the Arcola Broomcorn Festival. If you didn’t already know, Arcola is the Broom Corn Capital of the World, and has been a major factor in the manufacturing of brooms since the 1880s. You can see broom making demonstrations, browse arts and crafts vendors, see some live music, run a 5K or 10K, and take in the parade with the famous Lawn Rangers.  

The front of a white t-shirt that says Black and Beautiful. The

Photo from C-U Black and African Arts Festival Facebook page.

Black and African Arts Festival

That same weekend you can check out the 4th annual Black and African Arts Festival, founded by sisters-in-law Cindy Ogwal and Susan Ogwal in 2019. Cindy’s parents are from Nigeria and Ghana, and Susan came to the U.S. from Uganda. Their festival weaves together elements of African and Black cultures through music, food, art, dance, and more. The celebration begins at Krannert Center at 8 p.m. with The Soul Rebels, and continues at Lincoln Square Mall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday with Dance Music Therapy, DJ Silkee, and a host of vendors. It’s free admission for both days. 

A row of musicians wearing lederhosen on a stage. They are behind band stands. Photo from C-U Oktoberfest Facebook page.

Photo from C-U Oktoberfest Facebook page.


You can experience not one, but two Oktoberfest celebrations this month if you so choose. First up is Riggs Oktoberfest September 15-18. There will be four days worth of live music, area food trucks serving up German-style delights, and of course all the beer. There is more German fun to be had September 24th at C-U Oktoberfest in Downtown Champaign, an annual fundraiser for Developmental Services Center. This is the first time the event will be back in person since 2019, and it is always a good time. Dance along to traditional German music while you enjoy local brews and German beer. Watson’s and Smith Burger will be cooking up German fare, and Martinelli’s Market will be providing bavarian pretzels. You can purchase tickets now

A person is shopping at a vendor table covered in colorful crab figures. The vendor stands behind the table holding a small chalkboard and piece of chalk. Photo from Made Fest Facebook page.

Photo from Made Fest Facebook page.


It’s year 18 for this festival that draws musicians, authors, comedians, poets, and more to Champaign-Urbana. Pygmalion started with a focus on music, and continued to expand to a full-on cultural experience. This is great for someone like me, who isn’t way into the music scene (though I can appreciate the talent). I’m partial to Made Fest, which gives you the opportunity to shop for wares from local and regional makers and artists. If you’re a science-y sort of person, check out Astronomy on Tap or Genome Day. Get your comedy fix from Shane Torres and Rachel Lindemann. Hit up the Literary Marathon or catch a screening of Afro-Punk and hear from filmmaker James Spooner. There are too many things to list, so just go ahead and check out the full schedule for September 22-24 here, and stay tuned for more in depth coverage later in the month.

Several large hot air balloons are in various stages of inflation. Several people are around their bases. Photo from Enjoy Illinois website.

Photo from Enjoy Illinois website.

Champaign County Balloon Festival

This is a new one on the scene this year. Balloons over Vermillion has been around for a while, but now we will have our very own hot air balloon festival at Dodds Park in Champaign. September 23rd and 24th you can watch a balloon launch, take a ride on a tethered balloon, ride some rides, and grab some food. It’s $10 for admission, and kids 12 and under are free. Find the schedule of events at the festival website.

A drag queen in a long sparkling dress and long black hair is standing next to a person with a blue t-shirt and rainbow shorts with rainbow suspenders. They are both wearing rainbow masks. There is a balloon tower with the colors of the rainbow next to them. Photo from Uniting Pride Facebook page.

Photo from Uniting Pride Facebook page.

Pride Fest

We are fortunate to have two Pride celebrations in C-U. We can recognize Pride Month in June along with the rest of the nation, then we get to have our very own Pride Fest in September once students are back on campus. Uniting Pride has really been upping their programming game this past year, and there are so many things to do the last week of September (and the first couple of days of October). The big parade and vendor fair are October 1st, but don’t sleep on their jam packed weeklong schedule: a youth art show, Queeraoke, Pride Fest party, Queer Homecoming, and drag brunch are just a few of experiences to check out. Get more details at the Pride Fest website, and be sure to note which events will require tickets.

Top photo from Uniting Pride Facebook page.

Staff writer

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