Smile Politely

Get your Culture here: Two weekends, four festivals

September is festival season in C-U. Last year most virtual — if they happened at all, due to the pandemic — but this year your vaxxed and sometimes masked self can enjoy what these larger scale events have to offer in person, even if it’s not quite the same as your before-times experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list — this column never is — and you will find likely coverage of other fests not mentioned here in other Smile Politely articles. Ellnora returns to Krannert (Ben Harper and Joan Jett will be there!) but I will leave that the music section. I wish C-U Oktoberfest, Matsuri, and Ebertfest could be on this list, but COVID is still making things difficult and those will not be happening this fall. This month, I’m focusing on two specific weekends that are jam-packed with activity. 

The world feels like a hard place to be right now, but there are ways to safely get out and enjoy what our area has to offer. If you aren’t already, please get vaccinated. Wear your masks indoors. I want to see C-U continue to thrive, and for the people and places and events I love to make it to the other side of this.

Two women in brightly colored African regalia are dancing in front of a row of drummers. Photo from C-U Black and African Arts Festival.

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

C-U Black and African Arts Festival

September 18th, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Lincoln Square Mall

For one day only, head over to Lincoln Square Mall to shop for products from Black and African owned businesses, connect with local organizations, and eat delicious food to the soundtrack of live bands and music from DJ Silkee.

This is the 3rd annual event. Last year it went virtual, so it’s wonderful to see it back in person and thriving in 2021. The festival, founded by sisters-in-law Cindy Ogwal and Susan Ogwal, is made possible through an Urbana Arts and Culture Grant. It’s free to attend, but bring money to support the wonderful vendors. Take a peek at the Instagram page to get a preview of what you’ll find.

A row of brightly colored sodas in glass bottles. They are lined up on a red and white checked table cloth. Photo by Ashley Huddson.

Photo by Ashley Huddson. 

Mahomet Soda Fest

September 18th, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Downtown Mahomet

Homer Soda Fest folded into Krazee Daze back in 2018, and then didn’t return in 2019. It was set to be rebranded as Mahomet Soda Fest in 2020, but…2020. This year, it’s on. If you want to get your liquid sugar fix, you can head to Downtown Mahomet for tastings of all those unique sodas brought to you by the Homer Soda Company. For $25 you get unlimited tastings and a pint glass to bring home. 

There will be plenty of craft and food vendors to discover, including Brien’s Bistro (please try the pot roast mac and cheese) and a new-to-me ice cream truck and donut truck, and there will be live music and activities for the kids. 

A white t shirt with the cartoon face of Karma Carrington. The shirt says Pride 2021 in rainbow colors as well as

Photo from Uniting Pride Facebook page.

Pride Fest

September 20-26th, various times and locations

After a year online, Pride Fest is back in person in a new part of town. The central event of the week long celebration  the parade and vendor fair on Saturday the 25th — will be in Downtown Urbana this year. According to the organizers: “We want our Pride Fest to be in a welcoming part of our community, and Urbana has made so many great strides towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.” This year’s Pride Fest is happening at a time when the nation (and our community) is recognizing the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, while also continuing to live through a global pandemic. The theme, “What the Health? Fighting, Surviving, Thriving,” embodies this. Julie Pryde was named Grand Marshal of the parade…as if it could be anyone else. 

No matter what your comfort level with being out in the world right now, you can participate in Pride Fest. There are online workshops, as well as smaller scale in person and events such as a clothing swap at Art Coop, Pride Trivia at Common Ground, and educational workshops at Phillips Recreation Center. Families will find entertainment at the parade of course, but can also attend the drag picnic at West Side Park. And of course, there are various opportunities for evening entertainment. Find the full schedule here, and find tickets for some of those events here.

All indoor events are vaccinated-only and mask mandatory, and outdoor events will require masks if social distancing is not possible. 

A Black drag queen is dressed in a sparkling yellow gown and headress against a yellow background. Photo provided by PYGMALION.

Photo provided by PYGMALION.


September 23-25, various times and locations

As has been the case for a few years now, Pride Fest and PYGMALION are happening the same weekend, and some events will overlap. Be sure to check out Bob the Drag Queen at The Canopy Club, as well as multi-platinum artist Tinashe. PYGMALION is a music festival, yes, but has also continued to expand into a broad cultural event over the past several years. This is good news for someone like me, who is not cool enough to know any of the undoubtedly talented artists that swoop into town every year. 

My favorite addition to the PYGMALION line up each year has been the live podcast. Though it will be hard to beat seeing Criminal live in 2018, this year’s new-to-me podcast, Desert Oracle, is very intriguing. Ken Layne hosts a radio show in Joshua Tree, CA that is described as “equal parts subversive humor, anthropological storytelling, madcap poetry, and ecological revelation.” It’s happening at 25 O’Clock Brewing. If poetry and literature is your thing, bounce around from that venue to Urbana Free Library to Analog Wine Bar. And of course, Made Fest is back and will be outside the Rose Bowl with lots of local and regional vendors to satisfy your shopping itch.

Like Pride Fest, indoor PYG events are vaccinated-only. Find the full schedule here.

Full Disclosure: Smile Politely is owned by the same parent company as PYGMALION.

Top photo by Eric Frahm. 

Staff writer

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