BEST DOWNTOWN FESTIVAL
Old Capitol Blues and BBQs
5th and Washington streets
Ann Frescura, Downtown Springfield, Inc.’s promotion and event director believes changes introduced to the sixth annual event, held Aug. 28, contributed to its popularity. “It has grown leaps and bounds over the years, thanks in part to its location,” she said. “We were off to a record start this year with about 44 BBQ participants. New to the event were children’s activities starting at noon, which helped with early attendance and helped create a family atmosphere.” The new People’s Choice award encouraged attendees to vote for best BBQ in addition to judging by experts in the BBQ business. A separate dessert category allowed specialists in sweets to be judged against their peers instead of briskets and ribs. Frescura added, “The Illinois Central Blues Club held their annual Blues Challenge in the afternoon on their stage. About 4:30 the main stage kicked on and five or so thousand people had paid at the gate before an electrical problem with the sound system forced a delay. We opened the area up for no charge after that so people could eat and drink and socialize. After repairs, performers played shortened sets of music until things concluded around midnight.” Next year’s event is slated for earlier in the year. The fun begins Aug. 27.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL PRODUCTION
Sacred Heart-Griffin High School
1200 W. Washington
Divinely inspired and divinely produced. That was the reaction of readers to Sacred Heart-Griffin music department’s production of the musical Godspell which played March 18-21 this year. The musical is a series of vignettes and songs based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. According to Bill Bauser, director of choral activities, the Springfield production was like no other in this history of the show, which opened in 1976 in New York City and ran for almost 2,000 performances, on and off-Broadway. In 2000, Bauser toured with a production that played Malta in the Mediterranean and in recent years during a summer workshop in The Big Apple he worked with the person bringing the show back as a revival. “I was able to obtain rights to the original, the tour version and a new version that’s coming out next spring,” he said. “Our version combined elements from all three versions.” The success of the show and IT reader approval marks the third year in a row the top honor goes to Sacred Heart-Griffin for Best High School Production.
BEST LOCAL THEATER GROUP
Springfield Municipal Opera Association
815 East Lake Drive
Based on the size of the “floor plan,” the 55-acre outdoor amphitheater best known as The Muni is the largest “play ground” in central Illinois and in recent years has added improvements to the site to maintain its popularity with tourists and townies alike. Gil Opferman, association president for the 2009-2010 season was an elementary school principal before retiring and serving The Muni as chief exec. “We had 450 volunteers for the front end this season,” he said. That includes parking, taking tickets and running concessions. Backstage, they had 25 for the production of Annie, more than the entire cast of another production. The Muni employs union sound and light people and someone to cut the grass. On a typical night, almost 100 volunteers are present each time the curtain rises. In 2010, The Muni added 10 new women’s restroom stalls to the site, much to the “relief” of many frequent theater-goers. “That may be why we were voted Best Theater Group this year,” he quipped. Next year’s focus is on blockbusters: Big River, Guys and Dolls, Hair Spray and Wizard of Oz.
BEST LOCAL THEATER PRODUCTION
Annie at The Muni
815 East Lake Drive
Steve Williams made his Muni directorial debut during the summer’s smash hit that ran Aug. 13-22. Since he returned to the area after graduating as a theater major from Culver-Stockton College, Williams earned his “chops” as an actor in most local productions and directing Springfield Theatre Centre productions. He also directed a production of Annie at school. “The biggest challenge for the show was 16 scene changes involving eight different sets,” he said. The cast of 53, large for a local production, was another challenge. “We ran almost concurrently with the State Fair, and even though it drew the largest audiences (6,500), the weather was against us. It rained opening Friday and the next Friday. Coincidentally, perhaps, on both Fridays, the weathercasters said ‘The sun will come out tomorrow,’ and it did.” Williams credits the quality of the cast for the show’s popularity with IT readers. “We didn’t have a weak link. Every single person fit perfectly into their character.”
BEST NEW EVENT
Beautiful downtown Springfield
Despite the profusion of art galleries in midtown, commerce is the name of the game. Perhaps surprisingly, a major gallery, Prairie Art Alliance, served as the catalyst that brought diverse galleries and businesses together for the first time in May to celebrate the central city. Victoria Ringer, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., explained the swift gestation of the city’s newest tradition. “The Third Thursday thing we had tried a few years ago, but it was on an odd night and didn’t work so well. The First Friday concept is popular all over the country as a ‘gallery walk’ event, but we have expanded it to include our restaurants and shops. We want to share the downtown experience. There is free family fun here plus fascinating shops in historic buildings and fine dining. Many of the 32 participating venues feature free entertainment,” she said. The last First Friday is Nov. 5. It will resume next year as weather permits.
BEST RADIO STATION
3055 S. Fourth St., 528-3033
Kevin O’Dea became general manager at WFMB in December 1990 after arriving at the station in 1982 and working his way up in sales. FMB was Springfield’s first all-country music station. “We’ve always had great people, and I never tinker with that station very much,” he said. The approach moved IT readers to vote it Best Radio Station for the first time. O’Dea noted, “I have a great staff. John Spalding has been in the building since before I came. Everyone’s been (on air) a long time, and the stability of the on-air staff contributes greatly to the station’s success.” Things have changed a lot. There’s no more tape or vinyl. There’s nothing in the studio but a computer that plays all music and commercials. “You still need people who can open up the microphone and relate to the listeners one on one,” O’Dea said. “What they say is all ad-lib, nothing is scripted. We may be the only station in the market that has a live body in the studio 24/7.” Another factor in the station’s popularity may be the annual St. Jude Hospital Radiothon, approaching its 21st year, which is expected to raise more than $200,000 next February.
BEST SUMMER EVENT AT THE LAKE
Rock the Dock at Lake Springfield Marina
17 Waters Edge Blvd.
The event that began in 1991 to publicize Lake Springfield Marina has become a central Illinois tradition, thanks to a unique partnership with friends in the radio business starting about 2002. Kevan Kavanaugh, general manager, Midwest Family Broadcasting considers the arrangement a perfect match. The broadcasting group of WLCE, WMAY, WNNS and WQLZ, sells sponsorships for the big event, tells the world about it, makes a few dollars and allows originator Bob Gordon to continue the event. “It’s the Marina’s busy season, and our partnership keeps them focused on their primary business,” Kavanaugh said. Barges, where the fireworks are staged, are provided by City Water, Light and Power. Carl Steinmacher has produced the displays since the first Rock the Dock. Over the last two years, organizers have added family and child-friendly inflatable amusements and taken “some of the edge” off the music. “We had the best attendance I have ever seen in 2010,” Kavanaugh said. “We estimate that, counting everyone all over the lake, 8,000 to 10,000 people enjoyed it.” “It has been a great partnership,” Bob Gordon said. “You can’t sell enough beer over those few hours to make it work. The radio stations have come through wonderfully for us.”