Frank's Weekend Faves, Sept. 2, 2018

Frank's Weekend Faves, Sept. 2, 2018

Happy 50th anniversary, Krannert! Now, let's party! Of course, I don't need to tell that to the University of Illinois-based performing arts center, as no one throws an Opening Night Party like the Krannert folks, and as they say, this one — starting at 6 p.m. Friday — has been a half-century in the making.

As usual, the musical lineup for the evening's entertainment is rich with cultural and international diversity, featuring South Carolina-based quintet Ranky Tanky; South American ensemble Baracutanga; "neo blues" steel guitarist AJ Ghent from Atlanta, Ga.; and local favorites New Orleans Jazz Machine serving up Dixieland and swing classics; all interspersed with pop-up performances by Chicago's own blend of marching band traditions, street theater and rock band sensibilities, Mucca Pazza.

Of course, in these parts, the most familiar name in that lineup — despite bearing the name of another city altogether — is the New Orleans Jazz Machine, a traditional jazz band and local institution led by longtime Champaign music teacher Carlyle 'Carl' Johnson on clarinet and soprano sax. For more than 20 years, NOJM has been a mainstay of area happenings such as the annual C-U Folk and Roots Festival and the weekly Urbana Hootenanny, not to mention local venues including Blind Pig, High Dive, Cowboy Monkey, Blackbird Urbana, the Embassy, UI events, church services, wedding receptions, picnics, parties and countless other local jams. These guys just love to play.

Being a fan of guitar instrumentals, I'm also looking forward to catching Ghent's unique stand-up style of steel guitar as well as his patented fusion of blues, funk, rock and pop into what he calls "neo blues." And hearing that Ranky Tanky's music is rooted in the Gullah culture, born in the American Southeast's Sea Island region, as depicted in director Julie Dash's film "Daughters of the Dust" (screened at last spring's Ebertfest at the Virginia), only whets my appetite to hear more from this fun, yet soulful group that Elmore Magazine describes as "a joyful listen." You, too? Be sure to check out Paul Wood's interview with Ranky Tanky in this Thursday's On The Go.

Of course, with a half-century of performing arts to celebrate, there's a lot more than music on the bill for Krannert's Opening Night Party. While drinking in the sounds, guests can also treat themselves to food and beverages, interactive outdoor chalk art on the Goodwin Avenue stairs led by Scott Barber, and a by-the-decades car display surrounding the center. Everyone's invited to come dressed from a decade of their choice, 1960s to the future. Admission is free; donations are encouraged.

New this year is a ticketless system for food and beverage purchases — all of which can be made via cash or credit/debit card at each individual vendor, which include Siam Terrace, Caribbean Grill, Piato Café, Rosati's Pizza and Rick's Bakery, plus food trucks from Betsy's Bistro, Oh, Honey Pie and Chester's BBQ on Oregon Street. Free parking is available. And, of course, the ticket office will be open all evening for guests to buy tickets to events throughout the 2018-19 season.

The party continues at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, with Family Day at Krannert. Youngsters are invited to try crafting activities, enjoy a didgeridoo demonstration by Sam Gingher and a tap dancing lesson by Charlie Maybee, and take in performances by BowDacious String Band, Chinese Heritage Association Dancers, Urbana High School Vocal Chords Required and Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy Drumline.

With The Doobie Brothers having just announced an Oct. 10 concert at State Farm Center (for which tickets go on sale Friday), it's not hard to figure what my favorite local rock concert will be this fall. Making the wait a bit easier is the star-studded slate of marquee shows at SFC between now and then — including Counting Crows on Wednesday and Jake Owen on Friday.

First up is Counting Crows' "25 Years and Counting" show with guest Boom Forest at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets, ranging from $32.50 to $127, are still available online at; by phone at 866-ILLINI-1; or in person at the State Farm Center ticket office.

If rock's not your thing, just wait a couple days for country music star Jake Owen's "Life's Whatcha Make It" tour with guests Chris Janson and Jordan Davis at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets, ranging from $39 to $69, are also still available via all three aforementioned venues.

Hard to think of a better outdoor venue for music under the stars than this weekend's second annual Prairie Sky Music Festival at Allerton Park in Monticello on Sept. 7-8.

The undisputed highlight of this year's family-friendly festival is Saturday's concert by country music headliner Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, who will take the stage at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. Other acts include Friday's headliner, Nashville, Tenn.-based bluegrass-pop collective The Barefoot Movement, with modern-folk Americana group The Way Down Wanderers on Saturday.

Also on hand will be arts and crafts vendors, food trucks, an instrument petting zoo, wooden sign making, "Fort Hill" and yoga in the Sunken Garden, as well as on-site camping both days. Attendees are invited to bring blankets or chairs, as well as kites to fly in the 14-acre Meadow, where the festival will be held.

Fest passes are on sale at for $37 in advance ($45 at the gate); $15 Friday only, in advance ($20 at the gate); kids 12 and under free. A group discount (buy six, get two free) is also available.

And while we're starting September off on such a musical note, here's one last freebie.

The Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, led by music director and conductor Stephen Alltop, will be performing a free chamber concert of composer-in-residence Stacy Garrop's new music at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Illinois Ballroom at I Hotel, 1900 S. First St., C. The program, titled "Messages from Gaia," is a prelude to CUSO's 2018-19 season. Details on that are yet to come.

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