Without a doubt Springfield’s finest and most tradition-oriented Labor Day weekend event is the Ethnic Festival at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Held at the Ethnic Village area (how fitting) the fun-and-food-filled event has been around as long as I can remember. Some of the live music matches the food in ethnicity, but it’s not a requirement or expectation. Does it really matter? Apparently not, based on festival attendance in recent years, for there seems to be no significant effect upon the digestive system or cultural countenance when a person eats Italian food and listens to a band playing American country music. Isn’t that a comfort to know?
While researching the Ethnic Festival on the Web, I discovered a veritable gold mine of other festivals within a day’s drive of Springfield. This is not meant to discourage anyone from attending the EF, but only to widen the horizons of central Illinoisans and to give folks something to talk about while waiting in line to purchase a piece of pizza while listening to another stirring rendition of Mountain Music.
In Peoria at Riverfront Park the Illinois Blues Festival offers one of the largest blues gatherings in downstate Illinois. Besides the dynamic location on the Illinois River in downtown Peoria, the festival lineup contains a fine list of known artists. Polka lovers take note: the Grammy-award winning band Brave Combo plays the Peoria Oktoberfest on Sept. 18 and 19.
Take a drive north and east to our great big city on the lake and check out the Chicago Jazz Festival in Grant Park, with four stages of world class jazz, for free. Up in Rockford, due north from here, the On the Waterfront festival presents the likes of Charlie Daniels Band, Barenaked Ladies, Randy Bachman, CJ Chenier, Beausoleil, John Pizzarelli and others in an incredible lineup of diverse and talented entertainers.
Now let’s travel west to Kansas City for one of the fastest growing, Celtic-based festivals in the Midwest, host to nearly 100,000 people in 2008. Entertainment at the 2009 Kansas City Irish Fest includes Hot House Flowers, Slide, Scythian and The Elders. On the way to KC, stop in quaint Dixon, Mo., for the 41st annual Bluegrass Pickin’ Time, an old-fashioned, play-as-you-go, bluegrass festival held at Carol’s Memorial Bluegrass Music Park where performers and attendees participate in the pickin’ and grinnin’ equally.
Then head east to Indianapolis for the Rib America festival held downtown with a retro-lineup that includes Loverboy, Night Ranger, Billy Squier, Morris Day and Time, and several others. St. Louis in the south holds the Big Muddy Blues Festival at Laclede’s Landing, plus a couple of ethnic delights, the Greek Festival in Forest Park and the Japanese Festival in the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Please safely enjoy the holiday no matter where your labors may take you.
Heads up for next week: Sat., Sept. 12, 7 p.m., at Touch of Class, 11th and Kansas, fellow musicians and music supporters gather at a benefit for Springfield saxophonist Henry Miles. For more information look online for the Henry Miles Fund.