Smile Politely

Get your Culture Here: Three experiences to have in August

By the end of this month C-U will be bursting at the seams with college students once again. August is your last opportunity to enjoy the summer pace of things before that shift happens — that flips the vibe from slow and steady to bustling. It’s that month where we try to pack in those last bits of summer fun into the waning days before it’s back to business as usual. Here are a few things I’m thinking about as these last weeks loom.

Photo from Friday Night Live Facebook page

Sitting outside and listening to some music

Yes, this is the culture section, not the music section. BUT! I maintain that the experience of going somewhere in the community to hear some live music in the open air is a cultural experience. There’s just something about an outdoor concert. Whether you’re at one of our lovely parks or forest preserves or in a beer garden or even a street corner in one of our downtown areas, it’s just a relaxing and wonderful way to experience music. Luckily, we have a lot of opportunities for such things here in C-U. Of course you can check The Overture to get the full rundown of all of the live music worth finding each week, but here are a couple options you should consider this month:

Friday Night Live

Have you gotten out there for Friday Night Live yet? If not, DO IT. You’ve got four more opportunities then you’re out of luck until next summer. This year has definitely been enhanced by Mayor Feinen designating most of the downtown area as a Festival District on Friday evenings. It’s great to have the freedom to grab your drink (from one of the participating establishments…they have signs now so it’s easier to figure out) and wander around. I feel like I’ve experienced more of the live acts this way, not being tethered to one spot. 

Candy Foster and Shades of Blue at Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden

I was recently out at Lake of the Woods, checking out some trails, and was reminded of what a gem the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is. Part of their Summer Garden Series, the concert on August 11th at 5 p.m. is free, and there will be food and drink available for purchase from JT Walker’s, Alto Vineyards, Project 47 Smokehouse, and Chester’s BBQ.

Photo from Grady’s Family Fun Park Facebook page

Get out of town

Maybe you had the opportunity to take an amazing vacation this summer, and maybe you’ve just been lurking around C-U for these past couple of months. Either way, consider taking a mini-trip, even just for the day, outside our city limits to discover what’s just beyond. You don’t have to go very far to find a new to you experience, restaurant, or weird little store. We’ve written about a few small town getaways: Homer, Arthur, Paxton…so go ahead and mine those for some ideas, but here are a couple of plans to mull: 

To the east: Kickapoo State Park, Big Thorn Brewery, The Wheelhouse

Sometimes I’m ashamed of myself when I think of how many outdoor experiences we have within an hour’s drive that I just don’t take advantage of. Kickapoo State Park is one of them. You can camp there, but that’s not really my bag. For a day trip, there are options for hiking and fishing, and also renting canoes, kayaks, and tubes for lazy floating (which is definitely my bag). Once you’ve had your fill of adventure, head about 20 miles south to Big Thorn Brewery for a beverage in their outdoor beer drinking settings, then wind your way back towards C-U for nice dinner at The Wheelhouse in St. Joseph.

To the west: Bloomington-Normal: Grady’s, Uptown Normal, Schooner’s

I spent 18 years of my life in the college town just to our west, and return often, so I’m quite familiar with the area. Yet, I still need to remember to appreciate what it has to offer. I suggest starting your day with a trip to Grady’s. I frequented this spot as a child and teenager, and it’s a great place to get a dose of family fun nostalgia. They’ve added attractions over the years, but I like to stick to the basics: Batting cages, bumper boats, and the main draw, mini golf. Grab a pizza while you’re there, it’s pretty solid thin crust fare. Next, head over to Uptown Normal. When I was a kid, it was downtown Normal, then they did a whole rebranding thing and now it’s Uptown. Spend some time wandering through shops, it’s a mixture of newer boutiques and standards that have been there for decades. Be sure to pop in Mother Murphy’s. It’s a counter-culture store that opened in 1968 that my junior high friends and I used to wander into wide-eyed as we absorbed the smell of incense and sight of oddly shaped glass receptacles in the back room. Before you come back to C-U, grab some dinner. There are several great restaurants that have cropped up in B-N, but since I’ve taken you down my own personal memory lane, I’m recommending Schooner’s. It’s your basic wood paneled/plastic table cloth bar with a menu full of fried goodness. Get the tenderloin. 

Photo by Rebecca Wells

Pick a fest, any fest

It seems that August is the time for festivals in C-U and beyond. You could pretty much do a different one each weekend this month, if that’s your cup of tea. It’s not everyone’s, and that’s ok. I generally think it’s a good thing when an event can bring out folks from all walks of life out for an event. Here are some options: 

August 2nd: Irish Fest at Allerton

August 9th and 10th: CU Days at Douglass Park

August 16th and 17th: Taste of Champaign at West Side Park

August 23rd and 24th: Urbana Sweetcorn Festival in Downtown Urbana

August 31st, September 1st and 2nd: Arthur Cheese Festival in Arthur


Of course, in this marvelous community of ours, this is by no means an exhaustive list. So please, keep an eye on the Splog and The Weekender to catch some great cultural opportunities as they arise!

Top photo from Kickapoo Adventures Facebook page

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