Smile Politely

Get your Culture here: Three experiences to have in September 2019

We can quibble over the actual last day of summer, but let’s face it, it’s over. Scientifically, sure, it’s September 23rd when the autumnal equinox ushers in the fall season, and the days begin to get shorter and shorter. HOWEVER. I stand behind the notion that Labor Day is the cultural end of summer here in the U.S. After Labor Day, most kids Pre-K through college are back in school, the pools are closed, you can find Oktoberfest beers everywhere, and life becomes a flurry of fall busyness. My calendar has gone from blissfully blank to a rainbow of activity. I often complain about the crazy of May and December, when everyone is trying to do ALL THE THINGS. But each year it seems that September is jockeying for position as the month that might make my head explode.

But, not all of this busyness is bad. In fact, the events happening this month have this culture seeker’s heart all aflutter. If you want a taste of C-U culture at its best, take a gander at what September has to offer.

Photo from Japan House Facebook page


I frequently gush about the Matsuri Festival at Japan House, both here on SP (see here and hereor to people I encounter in real life. It is wonderfully immersive experience that everyone in this community must experience at least once. And if you attend one Matsuri, you will surely return. Happening September 8th, the celebration brings together an ever-growing list of talented individuals and community partners to offer demonstrations, delicious food, art, music, and more.

Japanese all-female band the 5. 6. 7. 8’s will return this year, as well as annual favorites such as the “Candyman” and Ho Etsu Taiko drum group. The team at Japan House is always upping their game when it comes to Matsuri, and this year is no exception. They’ve expanded the hours, with the festival open from 12 to 9 p.m.; they’ve widened the circle of Asian influence to include Indian culture with food, henna artists, and a performance from Illini Ishaara, a Indian dance group; they’ve created a designated kids area; and should you choose to try some sake or Triptych’s made-just-for-Matsuri beer, you can grab your drink and roam about the festival. Please take a look at the Japan House Facebook page, where they have been laying out all of the marvelous details. If you want to get to the food and fun more quickly that day, grab your tickets ahead of time and reserve a spot for one of the tea ceremonies happening throughout the day.

Photo by Megan Flowers

C-U Pride

PrideFest comes back to C-U at the end of September, and it’s an important one. Not only is it the 10th annual Pride here in our community, as you’ll recall from national Pride in June it’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Recently, a bunch of whiny white men in Boston decided they needed a “straight pride” parade, and when a video of the event — which was nothing but a Trump rally but with walking involved — made the rounds on Twitter, it was obviously laughable but also incredibly sad and bland and morose. If they wanted the opposite of a Pride parade, they sure accomplished that goal. If you head downtown Champaign the last weekend of September, you’ll find joy and love and inclusion and it’ll make your heart happy.

Of course visit the vendor fair from 1 to 7 p.m. and watch the parade at 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 28th. There will also be activities specifically for kids and teens at the Orpheum Theater that day including Drag Queen Story Hour and Drag Caberet teen night. Details about the weekend’s events are still unfolding, so be sure to follow The Up Center on Facebook for updated info and volunteer opportunities. And for the straight and cisgender attendees, such as myself, here are some reminders about how to be a good ally at such an event.

If you want to dig into a little LGBTQ+ history, there are a couple of opportunities earlier in the month at Spurlock Museum:

In Her Closet – This exhibit detailing the roots of drag opens at the museum on September 15th. If you missed your opportunity to snag a ticket to Sasha Velour at Krannert, maybe this can soothe your soul. Celebrate the opening from 1:30 to 4 p.m. that day, or visit at your leisure; the exhibit will remain until May 2020.

Looking Forward, Looking Back – 

On September 19th, at 4 p.m., Spurlock is hosting a panel discussion that will examine the impact of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Illinois. The center is celebrating its 26th anniversary, and the panel will include the current director, alumnae, and representatives from The Up Center. 

Photo by Sam Logan


This is the 15th year for PYGMALION, which began as a music festival but has expanded well beyond that, which is why I get to talk about it in a Culture article. Also — real talk — I am painfully uninformed and unaware of any sort of music scene so I choose to invest my PYGMALION time in the cultural events which are, as in my section here at Smile Politely,  basically whatever doesn’t fall under Arts or Music or Food. Yes, this is the same weekend as Pride, so you are going to a busy little bee. But it’s fine, you can handle it.

I’m most excited about comedian Michelle Wolf, who will be at Krannert Center on Thursday evening, September 26th. It’s kind of unreal that the whole White House Correspondents Dinner debacle (and that brilliant “smoky eye” joke) was just a little over a year ago. Probably because there are 347 crazy things that happen every day in this reality show we’re living in, and that happened a lot of days ago. If you have HBO, check out her Nice Lady special for a taste of her comedy beyond the political arena.

Be sure to get to Krannert early so that you indulge your inner techie/science self (or maybe discover that you have one of those) can check out the tech demo happening in the lobby and/or Astronomy on Tap in the outdoor amphitheatre. Both are free!

Of course there are lots more interesting and important things happening throughout that weekend, so check out the full schedule here, and snag your tickets for things before they’re gone. 


September is jam-packed with possible experiences, and I just can’t write about them all here. As always, make sure you watch our Splogs and Weekender for all the things we want you to know about.

Top photo by Addison McClure

Staff writer

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