CHAMPAIGN — Visitors to this weekend's music festival in downtown Champaign will be allowed to drink alcohol on closed streets and sidewalks after Mayor Don Gerard on Wednesday issued an emergency order allowing them to do so.
Gerard, who also acts as the city's liquor commissioner, issued the order allowing alcohol on certain streets between 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 a.m. Sunday. It's the latest in a series of allowances Gerard has made this summer — he granted similar permissions for the Blues, Brews and BBQ and Bud Light Summer Stage events in June.
Historically, the city has been a bit more conservative with its liquor regulations, Gerard said on Wednesday. But he is trying to be "a little more permissive" and hopes the allowances can bring more traffic to downtown Champaign.
"We're trying something a little bit different with downtown," he said. "We're very optimistic that it can work out."
A signature event from the Champaign Park District, this year's Champaign Music Festival has 11 bands booked for three stages between 6 p.m. Saturday and 12:15 a.m. Sunday.
Without Gerard's order, possession and consumption of alcohol on public property would be illegal. Gerard's order allows alcohol — in plastic cups only — on streets and sidewalks within the confines of the event area. Alcohol is still prohibited in city parking lots at 47 E. Main St., 401 N. Neil St. and the Hill Street parking deck.
Typically, the farthest anyone could go outside with a drink would be a licensed outdoor cafe.
"This way it's actually more of a walk from stage to stage from area to area," Gerard said.
The city code allows Gerard to issue emergency orders related to alcohol when he "has a reasonable belief that there may be a threat to the public health, safety and welfare from celebratory activities by members of the public in response to the University of Illinois' participation in a noteworthy athletic event, or from some other form of anticipated public assembly or civil unrest."
In the past, Champaign mayors have routinely issued restrictions on liquor during Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, but Gerard has made more frequent use of the rules this summer to allow alcohol on sidewalks and streets during special events.
He said the wording of the ordinance "sounds ominous," but he sees it as another way to increase activity in downtown Champaign.
"It's one of the tools in our tool box," he said.
The Champaign Music Festival has evolved over the years. The three-stage setup started when city and park officials consolidated their available money and combined three streetfests into one bigger event for the city's sesquicentennial celebration.
They continued that practice last year and will again this year.
"The community response has been wonderful for the last two that we've done," said park district spokesperson Laura Auteberry. "They like having the variety."
Liquor has been allowed at those past events, too.
"That's a regular part of any streetfest that we've ever done," Auteberry said. "That's nothing unusual."
She said she is excited about this year's music lineup. James Wesley, an "up-and-coming country star," has been booked, and Auteberry thinks that will mix well with the local talent the park district will feature.
Music festival lineup
Neil and Main stage
6-7 p.m., Carrie Lyn Infusion, Blues/Soul
7:30-9 p.m., 90's Daughter, 90's Hits
9:30-11:30 p.m., Brat Pack, 80's Hits
Walnut and Chester stage
6:15-7:45 p.m., Delta Kings, Blues/Rock
8:15-9:45 p.m., Mighty Pranksters, Southern Rock/Jam
10:15-12:15 p.m., James Wesley, Country
Main and Market stage
6-6:45 p.m., Pete Stillwell
6:55-7:40 p.m., The Fabulous Javelinas
7:50-8:35 p.m., Justin Larkin, Blues/Rock
8:45-9:30 p.m., Cody Sokolski, Southern Rock/Jam
9:40-10:25 p.m., Hathaways
Those interested can visit champaignparkdistrict.com for more information. The event is presented by the Champaign Park District and sponsored by the city of Champaign, Classic Hits WKIO 107.9 FM, Country US 105.9 FM, and the Sousa Archives: A Center for American Music.