Smile Politely

Hooray for everything

After finally getting home after a two-week vacation, the first thing on my agenda was to head out to Champaign’s 150th Anniversary party. My Saturday morning arrival precluded me from me seeing the debate that broke out over Ben’s rather benign preview, so my view of the show was mostly untarnished.

Overall, this event did a whole lot right, starting with a focus on what is emerging as the crown jewel of Champaign — downtown. It was an unbelievably cool opportunity to feature all the local businesses. Going in, I would never would have guessed that I’d be able to walk the streets with a nice beer from the Blind Pig. And how great was it to see Exile doing brisk business on a non-Record Store Day?

The three stages were well placed. I didn’t notice any sound bleed at all, which I figured was going to be a big problem. Each stage had its own unique vibe, one with the train tracks in the background, one on the corner of Neil just to the left of Jim Gould’s and one combining the best of Esquire and Kopi. And whether it was on purpose or just an accident, the distance between stage and bar was never very far.


Since this seemed to be one of the main points of contention, I will admit I thought the various “side” attractions were just okay. I’m sure the Hip Hop Express was very well-intentioned. But it was kind of in a no man’s land, and no one really seemed to know what to make of the mobile Airstream DJ. Despite Chaz’s comment that it seemed well-attended, when I was around it was empty and those inside didn’t seem all that welcoming. Others I spoke with said similar things. All in all, I really would have preferred to see some actual hip hop performed on stage. (I guess we’ll have to wait for Pygmalion for that — oh, wait — double zing). The instrument petting zoo was fine, I guess. As always, people loved the karaoke, but it would have been kind of cool to give them a small stage to perform on or make it more of a performance for the singer. And there was a bunch of inflatable stuff to jump around in — not surprisingly, the kids seemed to love it. And let’s not forget about the cake:


On to the actual music: outside of the Finchley Boys, none of the acts on the bill were incredibly surprising, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good lineup focused on a wide variety of local musicians.

Unfortunately, due to my late arrival in town, I missed all of the early afternoon stuff, but from what I heard, Desafinado was a highlight.

Could there be a more perfect late afternoon activity than sitting in the sun, drinking a beer and watching Kilborn Alley attack their guitar strings? It was my first time catching a glimpse of the band, and they seem quite deserving of their reputation as C-U’s best blues band.

Rumba Na Biso managed to get a decent amount of their crowd dancing to their African rhythms. I admit that, at first, they seemed slightly uncomfortable, but as the set went on the band got tighter, more confident and more exciting.

I was slightly disappointed in what I saw from Candy Foster, especially playing right after Kilborn Alley. But I only caught a few songs, and it’s probably not fair to judge too much. What I saw didn’t scream high energy or worth sticking around for.

On the other hand Beat Kitchen’s energy was completely invigorating, and after catching their first two or three songs, I was quite disappointed that I had to leave for previously arranged dinner plans. Their brand of funk seems perfectly suited to a street festival atmosphere, and Walnut was a sea of bopping heads by the time I left.

Lonely Trailer kept a decent crowd entertained, despite the stark transition from Candy Foster to their surf rock/post hardcore sound. A problem with covering a show like this was that I didn’t get to see enough of many bands, and Lonely Trailer was definitely the band I most wish I could have seen more of.

The Duke of Uke continues to play almost all of these kinds of shows in Champaign-Urbana, but they never phone it in. The songs I saw from their repertoire sounded as good as ever.

Prior to the start of their set, there was a definite buzz in the crowd about The Finchley Boys, playing their first show in well over three decades. They didn’t disappoint, and frontman George Faber had the crowd eating out of his hand from the start. Faber has phenomenal stage presence and clearly reveled in the spotlight. They portion of the set I heard was heavy on covers, but they actually made a lot of them into their own version of psychedelia. By the time I left early to catch a few songs by the Delta Kings and see all of the Hum set, I sort of felt like their energy was waning. But this was probably just a midset lull. I’m confident they probably kicked it up a notch or two by the end. Definitely a wonderful and unique addition to the day’s line up.

Based on the other two acts playing concurrently (Hum and the Finchley Boys), I was quite impressed with the crowd the Delta Kings had drawn. I didn’t stick around for too many of their songs, but everyone seemed to be having a really good time as they played tracks from their new album.

Just before Hum started, I heard a couple of kids in Exile talking about the band. They obviously had no idea who they were or what they sounded like. I wonder how the set came across to them. Despite “Stars”‘ mass appeal, Hum has always been a rocking band that requires a certain amount of patience, especially to those unfamiliar with their songs. To me, Hum felt like they never left — the band sounded tight and the music seemed to swell outward as they moved ahead. The set relied heavily on Electra 2000 and You’d Prefer an Astronaut, with a couple of songs from Downward is Heavenward. Matt Talbott was clearly enjoying himself and seemed to soak it all in as the band’s riffs churned and slowly expanded onto the Champaign streetscape. It felt like I was sixteen again, and their music seemed timeless.

Afterward, I was surprised to hear some lukewarm reviews about the set from some acquaintances, mostly complaining that they sounded boring and dated. It just goes to show that everybody has different tastes. And that’s the beauty of an event like this, there’s something for everybody, but nobody was going to enjoy every band. We can all sweat the small stuff — parking, logos, etc. But overall it was a great day for music in Champaign. It wasn’t perfect, but the organizers did a nice job and should ultimately be commended for getting a true street festival organized that highlighted local bands and local businesses.

Let’s do this again for next year for 151. Who wouldn’t love to see the Speedwagon playing the corner of REO and Neil?

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