'A vibrant atmosphere': Talking Friday Night Live ahead of 2018 season

'A vibrant atmosphere': Talking Friday Night Live ahead of 2018 season

40 North Executive Director KELLY WHITE, who has been with Friday Night Live since it was just a light bulb over someone's head, talks with staff writer Paul Wood about how downtown Champaign will be hopping in the summer heat:

I'm interested in how long you've personally been doing this, and how you find the artists.

I have been involved with Friday Night Live since it began. In 2009, 40 North kicked off a pilot program called Art & Sol with support from the city of Champaign. The idea was inspired by some of the outdoor performances we had coordinated during the Boneyard Arts Festival as well as similar outdoor music series in other cities. This new program involved monthly pop-up street-side performances throughout downtown Champaign during the summer. It was a very successful program but it became difficult to build impact and recognition with only a once-a-month timeline. Then in 2012, we started to work with additional sponsors who were interested in getting involved with a similar type of performance series that would give people who live, work or are visiting our community an even bigger incentive to head to downtown Champaign on Friday nights. Re-named Friday Night Live, it help create a vibrant atmosphere that encouraged people to stroll around, soak up live local music, enjoy a cool drink, stop in the retail shops as well as give performers a venue for showcasing their talents. The reception has been truly fantastic.

What are the challenges?

Scheduling can be challenging at times mostly due to juggling everyone's availability, choosing locations based on the size of the group, providing diversity of genre each week, sound equipment needs, and of course, the weather! We feature all local/regional bands and with 100-plus performances per summer, that demonstrates the remarkable established and emerging talent we have in this community. We added weekly special kids' activities a few years ago and that has been a huge hit along with our annual Kids Sidewalk Chalk Contest on Aug 3.

Who will play this first Friday?

We will have West of Staley (jazz), Chickadee Sermon (folk), Cobalt Blues Resurrection (blues), New Souls (soul, R&B, funk), Mid-October (alternative, indie), and Sapphire (blues, rock) as well as a featured balloon artist from the Unique Twist.

What's a favorite from the seven years?

There have been so many amazing moments since Friday Night Live started, it would be impossible to pick a favorite. The camaraderie among the musicians has been quite inspiring. They will share equipment or suggest other bands or help break down, but most of all, when they aren't performing, they are there watching and enjoying another group. I also never get enough of seeing people running into friends and neighbors when they are downtown enjoying the music. Whether they planned to meet there or not, it is wonderful to see people catching up and soaking up the excitement and joy that music can bring. This program not only reflects the diversity of the community and the astounding amount of talent we have in C-U, but also demonstrates how critical the arts are to the quality of life and cultural vibrancy of this area.

If you go

What: Friday Night Live music and street performances

When: 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Where: The intersections of Neil and Church, Neil and Park and Walnut and Chester in downtown Champaign

Admission: Free