With the cost of gas, airfare, food and everything else going north, many Americans are staying put and spending less on entertainment.
That doesn't mean, though, that you have to park yourself in front of a television set. There are plenty of things to do for free in East Central Illinois, among them concerts that would carry a pretty hefty ticket fee in most cities.
Here we'll present an exhaustive, if not complete, list of no-cost things to do and see this summer. For many of them, you'll want to take a lawn chair, blanket and maybe picnic lunch or dinner:
— The good-vibe Outside at Research Park concert series, which kicked off last Friday with Rosie Ledet and The Zydeco Playboys. Often compared to Ravinia, the series has two more concerts this summer: the world-music fusion band Bandoleros at 7:30 p.m. next Friday, July 25, with opening act Brandon T. Washington at 6:30 p.m., and the South Austin Jug Band, a bluegrass fusion band, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8, with opening act Kayla Brown, 6:30 p.m.
The venue is just southwest of the Assembly Hall on First Street in the Research Park, at First Street and St. Mary's Road, Champaign.
— Continuing a nearly century-old tradition, the UI School of Music offers Summer Band Concerts each summer, with the last one for 2008 at 7 tonight on the UI Quad. Only a few graduate-student recitals, which are free, remain this summer. For the schedule, check www.music.uiuc.edu/calendar.php.
— In Danville, the Danville Municipal Band's free concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday and on July 27 and Aug. 3, at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, North Logan Avenue. The band, along with the Lincoln Park Theatre Company, also will offer free performances of the musical "Annie" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday on the Lincoln Park stage.
— The Champaign, Urbana and many other area park districts offer free concerts through the summers, as well as festivals and other events.
And admission to the Champaign Park District's Prairie Farm, a small zoo at 2202 W. Kirby Ave., C, is free, though donations are accepted. Prairie Farm is presenting two free Movie Nights at the Farm for people of all ages, with "The Wild" on July 25 and "Open Season" on Aug. 29, starting around 8 p.m. In case of bad weather, the event will be canceled.
The Champaign Park District, city of Champaign and other organizations will have a free "America's Night Out Against Crime," an event celebrated in communities nationwide on the same day, from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 5 at West Side Park. Food, entertainment, activities, and demonstrations. Call 398-2550.
Here's what else is coming up in the Champaign parks:
Champaign-Urbana Days, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Aug. 8, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 9, Douglass Park, and Downtown Festival of the Arts, with free live music all day, from 11 a.m. to after 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16.
Neighborhood Park Concerts, all from 6:30 to 8 p.m.: July 23, Prairie Dogs (bluegrass/country-western), Mattis Park; July 30, Kate and James Hathaway (folk-rock), Clark Park; Aug. 6, Double Shot Duo (country), Eisner Park.
Hessel Park Concerts, 6:30 to 8 p.m.: July 27, Airtight String Band (old-time country); Aug. 3, Desert Corn Ramblers (bluegrass/folk); and Aug. 10, Decatur Park Singers (show choir).
Douglass Park Concerts, 6:30 to 8 p.m.: July 27, Steely Pan (steel drums); Aug. 3, SuperStars (local teen talent); and Aug. 17, Curb Service (electronic/pop).
And, Eat to the Beat, noon to 1 p.m. Aug. 1, Angie Heaton (acoustic folk), West Side Park gazebo.
Downtown Street Fest, 7 p.m. to midnight Aug. 9, Neil and Main streets, Champaign, with the bands, performing in this order: Tall Tale (pop/indie rock), Krukid (hip-hop) and Elsinore and Headlights (both indie rock).
The Urbana Park District offers free Neighborhood Nights concerts from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays: July 23, State Street Strutters (Dixieland jazz), Crestview Park; July 30, Lugnutz (oldies), AMBUCS Park; Aug. 6, Blues Deacons, Carle Park; Aug. 13, Surreal Deal, '70s rock, Meadowbrook Park. And the beautiful Wandell Sculpture Garden at Meadowbrook Park is free for looking and hiking.
Also, young fiddler Matt Turino and his father, Tom, and several local musicians meet most Thursday evenings under the Pavilion at Victory Park in Urbana for an old-time country music jam session.
Music at the Landing at Kickapoo State Park. Free live music. The schedule: Big Creek Guitar Band, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday; Stonecrik Bluegrass Band, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 22; Mitchells Bluegrass and Gospel, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 25. Call 446-8399.
— Summer Cinema Series on the Quad: Free screenings of "Baby Mama," starting at 9 tonight; "Iron Man," 9 p.m. Aug. 7; and "21," Aug. 24. In Danville, free Movie in the Park, starting at dusk: this Friday, Elmwood Park, 411 Elmwood St., Danville, and July 25, Liberty Park, 200 E. Liberty Lane, Danville. The Savoy 16 Theatre offers free Saturday morning movies for kids in the fall and spring.
— The Summer Cooperative African Language Institute at the UI offers free programs open to the public: The African Language Showcase featuring skits by students, 6 p.m. July 25, Illini Union Ballroom; West African Dance Class with Djibril Camara, 4 to 5:30 p.m. today, July 22 and 24, Illini Union Ballroom; Cinema: Through an African Lens, 7 p.m. Friday, Room 101, Armory; Hair Braiding Lesson, 2 p.m. this Saturday and July 26, University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., C; Cooking Class: An Egyptian Meal with Ola Moshref, 3 p.m. Saturday, University Place Christian Church, 403 S. Wright St., C; and Cooking Class: A Senegalese Meal with Fanta Diamaka, 2 p.m. July 26, University Place Christian Church.
— Visit your county, state or national parks. Many of them have free exhibits in visitors' centers and plenty to do and see. For example, Fox Ridge State Park (8 miles south of Charleston off Illinois 130) and the Grand Prairie Butterfly Club will host a free Bug Night beginning at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. All ages are welcome; participants will collect bugs attracted to blacklight stations.
Near Monticello, the Allerton Park and Retreat Center, voted one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, offers formal gardens and trails through the woods and along the Sangamon River. Check out the outdoor sculptures such as the famous "Sun Singer" by Carl Milles.
At Lake Shelbyville near Sullivan this weekend, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is offering free programs for families: Native American Crafts and Games, 7 p.m. Friday, Opossum Creek Fee Booth parking lot; "Jumpardy,' a review of toads and frogs, 9 p.m. Friday, Lithia Springs Amphitheater; Tour of the Dam, 3 p.m. Saturday, Visitors' Center; Native American Crafts and Games, 7 p.m. Saturday, Lone Point Amphitheater; Music with Jim Morgan, 8 p.m. Saturday, Coon Creek Amphitheater; "Jumpardy," 9 p.m. Saturday, Bo Wood Amphitheater; Tour of the Dam, 1 p.m. Sunday, Visitors' Center; Lakeside Ministries, 9 a.m. Sunday, Bo Wood Amphitheater, and 10:15 a.m. Sunday, Wolf Creek Amphitheater. Call 774-3951.
— Visit local history, art and culture museums.
The serene Japan House on South Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, is offering free house and garden tours this summer. The garden tours, led by Jim Bier, will be at 5:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Aug. 7. For information, call 244-9934 or e-mail japanhouse<@>uiuc.edu.
Admission to the Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C, is free, though a $3 donation is suggested. Kids will love putting on 3-D glasses to view different programs in the 3-D environment in the lower level. Among other shows on view through July 27, when the museum will close for a month, is "Finding the Self in Abstract Expressionism: Selections From the Permanent Collection."
The Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., U, another haven from the summer heat, also has free admission, with a $3 donation suggested. The museum of world cultures offers permanent and temporary exhibits and free hands-on activities for visitors of all ages in the Learning Center from 1 to 4 p.m. the second Saturday of each month. For information, contact Brook Taylor at 265-0474 or taylorb<@>uiuc.edu.
And for kids only, Spurlock will host "Wrapped up in Ancient Egypt" from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3. Participants age 8 to 13 will visit several hands-on stations that highlight the mummy-making process, and kids will get wrapped too. Free, but pre-registration required. Call 244-3355.
And don't forget the Early American Museum at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. A nice museum with beautiful grounds that include gardens and hiking trails. Through Dec. 31, the museum's main exhibit is "Bricks and Balustrades: School Architecture in Champaign and Ford Counties."
— Attending a dress rehearsal of a community theater production. "The trick is that you usually have to know someone who is the cast," said Cara Day, marketing coordinator of The News-Gazette. She also suggested volunteering at the Virginia Theatre. "In exchange for arriving 75 minutes early to usher or take tickets and help clean up afterward, you get to see the performance for free." Contact Anthony Howell or Matthew Eckhardt, 356-9053.
— Farmers' markets. Look for the list of area markets in today's E3. It doesn't cost anything to look at the goodies, jewelry and crafts and to hear musicians, particularly at the Market at the Square from 7:30 a.m. to about noon Saturdays at Urbana's Lincoln Square Village.
— The popular family destination Curtis Orchard offers free admission to its petting zoo, snow fence maze and toddler area, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through mid-December. Call 359-5565.
Another family-friendly place is the giant indoor playground at First Christian Church on Staley Road in Savoy. It's open to the public at no charge, and it's a nice cool place for kids to play in the heat of summer or a warm place for them in the winter.
— Go skateboarding at the Spalding Park Skatepark, 910 N. Harris St., C. It's free and open seven days a week for skateboarders and inline skaters.
— Sleepy Creek Vineyards south of Oakwood has free art shows. Through this Sunday, the vineyard has on display the second Annual Sow's Ear Challenge, featuring art made from E-junk. Visitors vote on their favorite pieces. A new show, "Scarecrows in the Vineyard," opens Aug. 2.
— Visit an art gallery. The looking is free, and owners don't expect everyone who walks in to buy. And here's something different: Glass FX, a stained glass studio at 202 S. First St., C, will have an exhibit from July 26 through Aug. 16 showcasing new and creative uses of antique glass. Call 359-0048.
— Check out your library. It is bound to have free programs, especially for children, all summer long. The Champaign Public Library, for example, has a free Afternoon All Stars series for children in grades kindergarten through fifth, with a new topic every time, from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The topic is different each week.
— Model rocket launch, 1 to 6 p.m. July 26, Pick Dodds Park near Parkland College. The Central Illinois Aerospace model rocket club welcomes spectators. Call Greg Smith at 352-9655 around 11 a.m. for launch status. Launches generally take place the second and fourth Saturdays.
— Look at the stars. The C-U Astronomical Society allows people 5 and older inside its observatory to see through the largest public telescope around. The next sky watch will be at 9 p.m. Aug. 9, weather permitting. Call 398-2567.