Smile Politely

Pouring creativity into a unique niche

I can’t help it, but swing music brings me back to 1998. Remember Jim Carrey in The Mask? The crazy green-faced man in the zoot suit with the killer moves? It helped bring on a retro swing craze that swept the country with bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brain Setzer Orchestra. It was mainstream enough that even Gap featured lindy-hopping trendsetters on their commercials.

If you were in Champaign in 1998-99, you would have known that most campus bars (such as Legends) had swing night with lessons and live bands. The U of I swing society had special dances that packed the house. Girls dressed up like pin up dolls and guys were classy. Yes, it brings back some fun memories.

It seems the creative events just keep coming out of Monticello. This time, it’s one that I’m especially excited about. Monticello Main Street Organization, The City of Monticello, and some local businessmen from CF & H Insurance have collaborated on a unique event this Saturday night on the Historic Monticello Square.

The 12-piece Jim Markum Swing Band will be performing live, restaurants will be serving food outdoors, there will be glasses of wine flowing and an open dance area.

If you’ve never been to Monticello, you have been missing a hidden gem in the C-U area. In addition to their world-renowned Allerton Park, they have cultivated a charming Downtown business district that is truly an experience. The small businesses are almost all owner-operated. These individuals have poured their creativity into their unique niche. Pearls and More Jewelry is a great example. The owner is a flight attendant and spends time overseas scouting out new jewelry designs. His items are incredibly unique and the prices are shocking because he goes directly to the manufacture. I purchased a beautiful freshwater pearl necklace for only $30.

On the other side of the square there is a glass blower. On any given day, you will find him in his shop with glass in the furnace, creating his masterpieces. There are also three boutique consignment stores, furniture store, gift shops, used game store and more. And if all that shopping makes you hungry, there are several quality restaurants, a few bars, and a  gourmet coffee shop that uses fair trade coffee.

But back to Saturday night…

The Jim Markum Swing Band has been playing events all across Central Illinois since 2000. Their website says:

Though small by ‘big band’ standards, this band packs a HUGE punch! From screamin’ brass to wailin’ saxes, jammin’ rhythms to drippin’ ballads, this band has it all. Featuring Jim Markum on lead trumpet, their signature sound includes screamin’ high notes and technical prowess other bands can only dream about.

The event has been spearheaded by Jim & Linda Ayers and Rick Rhodes from CF & H Insurance on the square in Monticello. Rhodes first became interested in swing music when he made a promise to his wife to take dance classes with her. They have enjoyed dancing to the beat of the Jim Markum Swing Band at Allerton House Valentine’s Day dance. Rick and a fellow Rotary Club member won a silent auction for the Jim Markum Band to play a private event for them. They decided to give the opportunity to the City of Monticello and create an event around the live swing music.

I spoke with Callie McFarland, Director of Development for the City of Monticello and event organizer, about how the event fell into her lap. Being a former “band nut” herself, she thought this event would be a perfect wrap-up of summer and jump-start to fall. She thinks swing music hits a demographic that is typically underserved, and hopes that people will come out with lawn chairs just to sip some wine and listen to the music. She didn’t intend to do any dancing herself.

I have to say, it’s nice to see that retro swing bands are still kicking the tunes more than a decade later. I’m going to the take the night off, spend some much deserved time with my husband, sip some wine, listen to some great music, and maybe even spin a few dance moves. Don’t miss this one, it’ll be a great end to summer.


The event runs from 6:00-9:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 17th on the square in Downtown Monticello.

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