MONTICELLO — After the economy bottomed out in 2008, the Allerton Park and Retreat Center's concerts and other public programming went on hiatus.
Last year, though, the park began to kick public programming into high gear, having turned to the community for help rather than look for funding internally.
"With budget restrictions from 2008 to '12, we had to put public programs on the back burner," said Derek Peterson, associate director of park operations.
"We took a reorganizational approach of if you want to see these programs occur and you want to help build them you have a chance to do that through suggested donations."
Ergo, the suggested donations for admission to nine of the 10 concerts are $10 per adult and $5 per child, even though they are billed as free.
The admission to the second concert on May 4, sponsored by chambanamoms.com, is $10 per adult and $5 per child.
And child is an operative word here.
"They're family events," Peterson said. "I have really young children, and I take special care to make the concerts family friendly."
Peterson has booked mostly local but also regional bands for the series. He plans to hire a third regional act, a classical ensemble, for one of two September concerts.
"You primarily come to hear the music but it becomes secondary to the atmosphere after a while," he said. "Last year midway through the season people started to gather in groups, in circles, as they do at Ravinia."
The series, sponsored mainly by the UI Employees Credit Union, kicks off April 18 with a Barn Dance featuring three local groups. The series ends with Oktoberfest on Oct. 4.
The Barn Dance and chambanamoms.com events will be in the Allerton Music Barn, a renovated 19th-century Dutch-style hay barn on the park's southeast side.
The last eight concerts will take place at the Gatehouse Lawn — rain or shine.
"Last year we tried to juggle them over to the barn in bad weather but the barn fits only 220," Peterson said. "It was too difficult to coordinate who gets in or out."
Here is the schedule:
— 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 18
Starting off the Barn Dance at 6: The Bow-Dacious String Band, an ensemble of 50 or so youths ages 6 through high school who play stringed instruments and have performed at venues like Millennium Park in Chicago.
Taking the stage at 7: Sam Payne and Friends. Payne's four-piece band plays a gritty old-school rock 'n' roll spiced by Americana, swing and honky-tonk.
Closing the evening: The Curses, who perform original material as well as covers by artists such as The Kinks, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, The Handsome Family, The Misfits and Tom Waits.
— 11 a.m. to noon and 2 to 3 p.m. May 4, Chambanamoms.com Children's Concert at Allerton Music Barn
The main act: Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The band has performed on "The Today Show," and its music has been featured on Nick Jr. TV and other programs.
Each show will open an hour early with raffles, snacks, a community expo and children's activities including inflatables. The Allerton Ambassadors, a registered UI student organization, will sell food and drinks.
There will be 220 tickets for each concert. For tickets call 333-3287 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. No refunds.
— 5:30 to 9 p.m. May 9, Allerton Jazz Concert.
The Mahomet-Seymour High School Jazz Band from 6 to 7, followed by the Chip McNeill Quartet from 7 to 9.
Directed by Michael Stevens, the high school jazz band has performed in San Antonio, San Francisco, Montreal and on a Carnival Cruise ship and has won several jazz-band competitions including the 2014 Eastern Illinois University Jazz Festival.
A saxophonist and pianist who has played with many jazz greats, McNeill is the head of the Jazz Studies Program in the UI School of Music.
— 5:30 to 9 p.m. June 6, Allerton's Irish Fest
The headline act, The Shanties, from 7 to 9, performs rock-inflected old, new and original Irish tunes. The opening act will be announced soon.
_ 6 p.m. June 27, Let's Start the Summer Bluegrass Concert
The Chatham County Line, with special guests Frank F. Sidney's Western Bandit Volunteers.
The Western Bandit Volunteers perform a mix of bluegrass, Americana, folk and rock that it calls "bargrass." The Chatham County Line, on from 7 to 9, honors American roots music with its original songs that are contemporary yet poetic and rich with Southern heritage.
— 6 to 9 p.m. July 18, Allerton Roots and Blues
The opening act, Cody & The Gateway Drugs, is a local rock 'n' roll band that strives for thoughtful lyrics, acoustic instrumentation, close harmonies and being in the moment.
From 7:30 to 9, the local Painkillers Blues Band will offer up their straight-ahead blues.
— 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 8, Allerton Bluegrass
The Chicago-based Henhouse Prowlers will open with their brand of bluegrass featuring lightning-fast picking, ballads, original and traditional songs, and contemporary covers.
From 7:30 to 9: headline act The Special Consensus Band. Their 2012 "Scratch Gravel Road" received a Grammy Award nomination for best bluegrass album. This tight ensemble formed in 1975.
Peterson is still working on the acts for the two September concerts and the Oktoberfest on Oct. 4.
"One September concert is too early in the planning to talk about; the other is going to be a classical concert; think Ravinia, with wine, food and love in the air," he said.
If you go
What: University of Illinois Employees Credit Union Concert Series at Allerton Park & Retreat Center
When: April 18 through Oct. 4
Where: Allerton Music Barn or Gatehouse Lawn, Allerton Park & Retreat Center, 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello
Admission: Free to every event except the Chambanamoms.com concert on May 4, which will be $5 per person and $10, family.
The suggested donation to the nine other concerts is $5 per person and $10 per family to help keep the series going.
Information: 333-3287 or allerton.illinois.edu/