'Tis the season for outdoor festivals

'Tis the season for outdoor festivals

Outdoor festivals have everything summer can offer — music, food, crowds, sun, sunscreen giving off the smell of the beach ... and the occasional mosquito.

One thing that's new this year is that Taste of Champaign-Urbana ought to offer more sun and less soggy food, with the festival pushed back to Aug. 15-16 at West Side Park.

"We're really hoping for some good weather," says Chelsea Norton, marketing director of the Champaign Park District.

There will also be local breweries on site.

We'll do separate stories on some of these events as summer progresses.

Strawberry Jam

Bring a blanket, a chair and a yen for berries with ice cream to Strawberry Jam 2014, an all-ages event that features bluegrass music starting at 4 p.m. June 14 at Urbana's Meadowbrook Park.

The free event features a hayrack ride through the park and guided prairie tours, with parking at the Stone Creek Church at the corner of Windsor Road and Race Street.

Music includes: 4 p.m., The Young and the Fretless; 5:30 p.m., Big Bluestem; and 7 p.m., The Prairie Dogs.

(Earlier in the day you can't go wrong with an important date in black history, Juneteenth, celebrated at Champaign's Douglass Park, 512 E. Grove St.)

Judy Miller, environmental program manager at the Urbana Park District, was hard at work at festivals long before Strawberry Jam.

"It grew out of a different event that we had done in August with Grand Prairie Friends and the Audubon Society," she said.

"We weren't getting many participants. It was kind of a garden tour, and then 10 of us watching 'Old Yeller' on the side of a barn." The festival grew a little more popular when it was renamed the Strawberry Moon Shine Special.

But moonshine there was not.

"People didn't understand the name," Miller said.

"The June moon is the strawberry moon. We decided to focus more on bluegrass and folk. We wanted a more relaxed, laid-back summer evening."

It's now a tradition where families bring a dinner to enjoy before the strawberry treat.

"Free strawberries and ice cream is a draw, but it's the local bluegrass that keeps people coming," Miller says.

Like all outdoor festivals, weather can be tricky, but organizers promise rain or shine to come up with the berries. Unless. ...

"It's easy to call it when there's thunder and lightning," she said, remembering one summer when the skies let loose with tornadic wind and everyone went home.

Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival

The Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival fills Downtown Champaign (the corner of Walnut and Washington streets) with fresh sounds and smells from 4 p.m. to midnight June 27 and noon to midnight June 28.

There's free admission and food for sale in two days of music, future stars, inflatables, barbeque and beer.

More at bluesbrewsandbbqfest.com.

Champaign County Fair

The 62nd Champaign County Fair — July 18-26 — includes Blackjack Billy featuring the Feudin' Hillbillys, a demolition derby, barrel racing, carnival rides and lots of fried food.

More information is at http://bit.ly/1outQHw

Cheeseburgers & Fun

The Bunker Hill Run car show, Cheeseburgers & Fun, as well as the Howl At The Moons footrace brings 400 vehicles and 7,000 people to Kennekuk Cove County Park, 22296 Henning Road, Danville, on Aug. 9.

Organizer Larry Smith said the event, in its seventh year, is mostly free; any funds raised go to the Learning Center at Kennekuk.

Final planning takes place in July, but probable music acts are the Wright Brothers, Ben Jenkins and Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets.

There will be door prizes for car show participants and various outdoor food opportunities.

"It's kind of unreal how many people show up," he adds.

There's no beer, but if you want to take a cooler into the park, that's fine.

There will also be an honor tribute to veterans with a 21-gun salute and color guard.

More information will be available soon at vccd.org

Taste of Champaign-Urbana

The former Taste of Champaign-Urbana three-day event is down to Aug. 15, 5 to 11 p.m. and Aug. 16, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at West Side Park.

There's a car to raffle and local beer to drink along with all the food.

It's still being planned, but more information is at

champaignparkdistrict.com/programs-events/special-events/taste

Urbana Sweetcorn Festival

The 39th Annual Urbana Sweetcorn Festival, which will be held Aug 22-23, is one of the longest-running traditions in the area.

The first day is from 5 to 11 p.m. It's 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. the next day, on Main Street between Race and Vine Streets.

The festival has had as many as 50,000 visitors. It's also the official welcome for incoming and returning students. This year's event is still in the planning stages.

"We hope to have some announcements coming in the next few weeks," said Cynthia D. Chandler, executive director of the Urbana Business Association.

Check facebook.com/urbanasweetcorn for updates.

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