There are so many live shows that happen in Champaign-Urbana (and the surrounding cities) throughout the year. It’s pretty ridiculous, especially for a community of this size. Of course, with that, there are definite highlights of the year, some we’ve covered in an “official” capacity, and some we’ve just been at for our own pure enjoyment. Here are what we consider the highlights throughout 2015.
Who said that line, “what a time to be alive”, again? Doesn’t matter — but if you disagree, let us know what you enjoyed, we can’t catch everything.
Strand of Oaks, photo by Patrick Singer
STRAND OF OAKS, BULLY @ THE HIGHDIVE — January 20th
A mid-January show can be completely brutal, especially if your event isn’t called The Great Cover Up, and Strand of Oaks and Bully completely threw that notion out the window on this cold winter evening. It wasn’t that the show was poorly attended, but for the size of the crowd, you would’ve thought Timothy Showalter, lead man of Strand of Oaks, was performing to a stadium of people. He was insanely energized and absolutely loved the reception the room full of people was pushing back at him. Little did we know that Bully would be back to destroy at the Iron Post later in the year, and Showalter & Company would perform on the same stage at the Pygmalion Festival nine months later.
Elsinore as Whitney Houston, photo by Nick Rainey
THE GREAT COVER UP @ THE HIGHDIVE — January (various dates)
The Great Cover Up is, without question, one of the best and brightest in yearly events in Champaign-Urbana music. It creates a buzz unlike pretty much any event because of the nature of the thing — dozens of bands performing as bands they’ve absolutely idolized over the years. This year was no exception, Elsinore as Whitney Houston (holy shit, Ryan Groff in a dress, amazing), We the Animals as
No Doubt Presidents of the United States of America (correction: they were No Doubt in 2014 [PS]), Motes as Magnetic Fields, and so many others. It ruled… again.
FERAL STATES, ILLINOIS MODERN ENSEMBLE @ KRANNERT CENTER — February 11th
Feral States occupies one of the most interesting places in the C-U music scene. The brainchild of BMI Award-winning composer Joe Meland, Feral States makes extremely varied and intricate music that requires a thoughtful ear for listening, which is precisely why they paired perfectly with the Illinois Modern Ensemble, and why Krannert Center was the perfect venue for such an ambitious escapade. Perhaps not a typical rock show, Feral States proved that they don’t have to be confined to a certain box when it comes to performance, but rather can be malleable to fit a variety of forms, venues, and bills.
PHOX, photo by Chris D. Davies
PHOX, FIELD REPORT @ THE HIGHDIVE — February 20th
PHOX has always been, and probably always will be, one of the most well-received yay-big type of bands that will come through Champaign-Urbana on a consistent basis. It’s not for any particular reason outside of the fact that they are, uh, damn good. They performed once last year for the Mariposa Festival in Downtown Champaign, and warmed up the Highdive with Field Report early this year in a terrific way.
Enabler, photo by of Tom Chandler
ENABLER, 50 YEAR STORM, ORATOR, HEEL TURN @ ERROR RECORDS — March 3rd
Although Error Records is no more, Nathan Landolt did a really great thing for quite some time in Champaign-Urbana. He performs in bands, including a local Earth Witch, but Enabler is the touring band he performs in as well. They headlined this racous show in the newer Error space, alongside a handful of others — and it was something else.
Alabama Shakes, photo from the Virginia Theatre Facebook page
ALABAMA SHAKES @ THE VIRGINIA THEATRE — March 18th
On the tailcoats of their new and very well received new record Sound & Color, they rocked a sold-out house at the Virginia — which is particularly impressive considering this was during Spring Break. Champaign wasn’t sleeping or on vacation for this one.
Hop Along, photo by Tom Chandler
HOP ALONG, EURIAH, WINDMILLS @ MIKE N MOLLY’S — April 12th
Hop Along hails from Philadelphia, and toured all damn year on their terrific record Painted Shut. The upstairs at the always-cozy (well, you know what I mean) Mike N Molly’s filled for this Sunday show back in April.
Atmosphere, photo by Sam Logan
ATMOSPHERE @ CANOPY CLUB — April 25th
Sam’s video and recap from this entire show covers it all, basically. Not to say this was the beginning of an insane year at Canopy Club — but Atmosphere’s run through their catalog was worth the stop.
Big Sean, photo by Chicago Music Festivals
ILLROCK BLOCK PARTY @ CANOPY CLUB (OUTDOOR) — MAY 2nd
Did I mention that Canopy was throwing down this year? Not that they don’t typically, but this was kind of some next level shit: Big Sean, who is a mega-huge pop/hip-hop artist in pretty much every sense, as well as Gramatik and a slew of others performed for this street fest-style show back in May. Pretty awesome to see an event like this take place on the street, especially in the Spring, like this. Dope.
Motes, photo by Tom Chandler
MOTES, WITHERSHINS, BLUE UNIT @ MIKE N MOLLY’S — May 23rd
Motes released the best album in C-U this year, according to our Music Editors, and their album release show at Mike N Molly’s was a good old fashioned barn-burner in the Beergarden. Coupled with local shoegaze powerhouse Withershins, this show was a quinnessential example of what a perfect night outside on Market St. can be like. Good tunes, lively atmosphere, and one of teh best music scene’s in the country.
HOGCHUTE OPRY @ KALYX CENTER — June 5-6
The Hogchute Opry has been functioning for a few years now out at the beautiful Kaylx Center in Monticello, and this year, the organizers decided to blow it out — having two days of shows out there, complete with camping, massive bonfires, and two lineups of terrific bands. Day one: Teaspoon Hunter, Cody + The Gateway Drugs, Kenna Mae, Hi Ho Buffalo, Waterfowl, The Fights. Day two: Single Player, Maness Brothers, Walt Falbo + The Falbonauts, Finer Feelings, Penny Horses, Neoga Blacksmith, Rebecca Rego + The Trainmen. Well done. Watch the video above for the good feels.
Robbie Fulks, photo by Patrick Singer
ROBBIE FULKS, BOBBY BARE JR., THE FIGHTS, REBECCA REGO + THE TRAINMEN, CHACHI + THE BANDITOS @ THE LOOSE COBRA — June 20th
It’s well known that the Loose Cobra in Tolono rules. It’s Matt Talbott of HUM’s establishment, sure — but pretty much everything about it is great. The stage that exists practically in the middle of the venue next to the bar, close quarters, and all that. This time, Talbott and Ward Gollings brought in Robbie Fulks and Bobby Bare Jr. from Bloodshoot, created an entire stage outside in the parking lot, closed this damn thing off, and added three more locals to create an outdoor festival of sorts for the day. Not to say it was bare bones, but it was gritty, and the weather beheaved and it was one of the best days of the summer.
Audiofeed Festival, photo by Tom Chandler
AUDIOFEED FESTIVAL @ CHAMPAIGN COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS — July 2-5
A festival that continues to blossom after being reborn from Cornerstone Festival, Audiofeed Festival attracts some of the best and brightest in Christian Rock, but also all other types of genres that might not pop out at you when you think of that particular group.
Spindependence Day, photo by Power N Soul Pro
SPINDEPENDENCE DAY @ THE HIGHDIVE/COWBOY MONKEY — July 2-4
Tons of DJs aligned to produce yet another Spindependence Day celebration in Downtown Champaign, regional and local DJs alike. Set up at Cowboy Monkey and inside and outside of the Highdive, the party was on the decks that weekend if you were around Champaign. My feeling is that this thing is only going to continue to grow in the years to come, as it should, especially when the weather cooperates.
CLAW, photo by Justine Bursoni Photography
CLAW + BOOKMOBILE @ MIKE N MOLLY’S/THE HIGHDIVE — July 11th + November 20th
CLAW is the best thing in Champaign-Urbana. Yeah, I said it. Combine a raucous packed house (at both Mike N Molly’s and The Highdive), with arbitrarily rooting for wrestlers with awesome names (like The Dewey Decimater, for example), and you have one of the best live events I’ve ever seen in C-U. Hell, I’d take CLAW over Illini Basketball any day – at least they’re good.
Taste of Champaign, photo by Scott Wells
TASTE OF CHAMPAIGN @ WEST SIDE PARK — August 22-23
Say what you will about the Taste of Champaign, but as far as a family-friendly (and a family-oriented) event goes in the middle of the summer, it has its place within the discussion. Gin Blossoms headlined, and yeah, yeah — we know — alongside a handful of local talent to entertain. It’s most definitely deserving a spot because of the effort it takes to create it, and the fun that was had throughout the event on the whole.
The Psychedelic Furs, photo by Tom Chandler
THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, BERLIN, THE CHURCH @ URBANA SWEETCORN FESTIVAL — August 28-29
The Urbana Sweetcorn Festival celebrated 40 years of livelihood this past August, and with that, they doubled up — doing two nights of headlining acts in Downtown Urbana to celebrate. And although it was great to see Eddie Money in 2014, this year was something else: The Psychedelic Furs, Berlin, The Church as headliners, plus a ton of other music that graced that main stage, as well as the surrounding stages throughout the weekend.
Drive-By Truckers, photo by Chris D. Davies
ELLNORA: THE GUITAR FESTIVAL @ KRANNERT CENTER — Early September
ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival, is a crown jewel of this community, no question. This year was no exception, as a festival that takes place every other year. It’s one of our favorites, selfishly, but one of the best events to take place in all of Downstate Illinois. The lineup, you ask? Punch Brothers, Los Lobos, EARTH, Drive-By Truckers, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Bela Fleck, and dozens of others.
Punch Brothers, photo by Chris D. Davies
of Montreal, photo by Tom Chandler
OF MONTREAL, SURFACE TO AIR MISSIVE @ THE HIGHDIVE — September 9th
Oh Kevin Barnes – you are probably the most interesting front-man in the country. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Mr. Barnes and of Montreal so weird, but the elaborate costumes and massively psychadelic stage props and projections may be a good place to start. Perhaps their show at The Highdive in September wasn’t musically the best in C-U this year, but as a spectacle, it has pretty much everything else beat.
Speedy Ortiz, photo by Lily Katz
SPEEDY ORTIZ @ INSTITUTE 4 CREATIVITY — September 10th
Part of the reason this show was so radical was because it was entirely a benefit. Isaac Arms, the man, the myth, the legend, brough Speedy Ortiz, a nationally recognized band, to I4C to raise money for LGBT youth, and that’s one of the coolest things I can imagine. Plus, the rest of the lineup was as diverse as they come, featuring everything from rap (T.R.U.T.H), shoegaze (Withershins), and instrumental drone (Marathon). This show is part of the reason Champaign-Urbana makes me smile so much.
Run The Jewels, photo by Justine Bursoni
THE PYGMALION FESTIVAL @ VARIOUS LOCATIONS, CHAMPAIGN-URBANA
Poundin’ the stage, burnin’ and cursin’ — Run The Jewels, amongst many many others that were a part of this past year’s Pygmalion Festival, tore up the stages across Champaign-Urbana for the 11th year of the festival. RTJ, alongside Purity Ring, Mother Nature, made the party go down at the Highdive Outdoor show on Saturday evening, tUnE-yArDs and Patrick Watson put everyone at Krannert Center either momentarily in a trance, or dancing their asses off.
tUnE-yArDs, photo by Justine Bursoni
Moon Duo dazed and destroyed eardrums at Memphis on Main, Beach Slang and White Reaper, a couple of Polyvinyl’s best and brightest at the moment, threw down at Channing-Murray, Bully and Ryley Walker at Iron Post. The list goes on and on, as you most likely know from reading this magazine.
Oh, and did we mention RIDE performed inside Exile on Main? Yeah, that happened.
Main (top) article photo of Run The Jewels by Justine Bursoni
ELSINORE, SANTAH, THE KICKBACK @ THE HIGHDIVE — October 24th
Yes, Elsinore are probably the biggest band in town, and yes, this show was what some would refer to as a “banger.” Combine them with former locals Santah and Chicago-based The Kickback and you’ve got one hell of a show – and one hell of a show it was, indeed. The Highdive was packed for a rock show with a local headliner, and that in itself is a feat to behold.
Rae Sremmurd, photo by Patrick Li
RAE SREMMURD @ FOELLINGER — October 26th
GWAR, photo by Tom Chandler
GWAR @ CANOPY CLUB — November 3rd
Blood. Semen. Disgust. Fucking rock ‘n roll. Just ridiculousness and a spectacle — GWAR is not human. They rock harder than most, though.
Young the Giant, photo by Nishat Ahmed
YOUNG THE GIANT @ CANOPY CLUB — November 5-6
After a long awaited performance following a postponed tour, Young The Giant finally made their way to Canopy, delivering one of their sets that ultimately makes them a type of band that can headline significant festivals across the globe. They’ve propelled to a stance that exists at the top of the alt-rock world, and not to say that a couple of sold out shows, back-to-back nights, in Champaign-Urbana is a big deal — but it kind of is. Yeah, totally.
Bone Thugs N Harmony, photo by Sam Logan
BONE THUGS N HARMONY @ CANOPY CLUB — November 9th
The entirety of Eternal 1999 in true reunion fashion, Bone Thugs N Harmony capped off one of the more impressive streaks of Canopy shows in quite some time, with all due respect of course. I think we’ve shown quite a bit of love in this list, and for good reason. After pushing through 1999, they did short versions of other hits, and were generally impressive.
C-U Folk & Roots Festival, photo by Daniel Shoemaker
C-U FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL @ DOWNTOWN URBANA + KRANNERT CENTER — November 5-7
The C-U Folk & Roots Festival is one of the best events in all of Urbana, no question. With the breath of programming that they cover, and the appeal to a wide variety of audiences — they have their game down. Packed venues, terrific performers, and activities amongst it all, it’s become one of the better things to showcase the community and the spaces that exist within it. Oh, and the music is quite good.
POKEY LAFARGE, MARGO + THE PRICETAGS, BONES JUGS N HARMONY @ THE HIGHDIVE — November 11th
Pokey LaFarge is unline any live act I’ve ever seen in my life. He sounds like he came straight out of the 1940’s, but with modern lyricism and a hell of a live show. Attracting a unique yet vibrant audience, Pokey had teh audience hanging on every word, and the line to get a picture with him afterwards was unlike anything I’ve ever seen at The Highdive, for what that’s worth.
Mother Nature, photo by Tom Chandler
MOTHER NATURE, BOOKMOBILE!, THE FIGHTS @ COWBOY MONKEY — December 10th
The hype surrounding Mother Nature came to fruition following their electrifying Pygmalion set, just last week. Paired with The Fights (country) and Bookmobile! (punk), the bill was another one of those diverse bills that makes C-U so awesome. Seeing a local hip-hop headliner draw a significant crowd in Downtown Champaign is somewhat of a dream come true for me, and if these ladies keep doing what they’re doing, there’s no telling where their ceiling could be.
CHURCH BOOTY, TARA TERRA, AN EVENING ATTRACTION @ COWBOY MONKEY — December 12th
Church Booty and Tara Terra are up next, Champaign-Urbana. They proved, with their show last Saturday, that they can both pull out a massive crowd and have the entirety of Cowboy Monkey singing along and dancing to their, regardless of the difference in genres between the two. Keep your eyes on both of these bands, because I have a feeling they may be a C-U staple for some time to come.