Crowd pours in for Homer Soda Festival

Crowd pours in for Homer Soda Festival

HOMER — The town's population: 1,193, 364 days a year. Saturday: 10,000.

That's a conservative estimate for the Homer Soda Festival from Kate Boyer, co-owner of the Homer Soda Company on Main Street. "We have 97 volunteers, and I wish we had more," she said. "This is the biggest year yet."

Her shop and the festival honor something that is quintessentially America, soda pop.

Europeans might deride us for it — Elvis Costello sang we "pour Coca-Cola just like vintage wine" — and health experts warn that we shouldn't be downing the Big Gulps, but it just tastes so good.

And at the 25-cent tasting, there was no danger of overdosing on Butterscotch Root Beer, Cheerwine, Prickly Pear or an Americana Huckleberry soda.

"This festival does everything right," said Amber Miller of Mahomet. "They've got a great American Main Street lined with classic cars, food that's totally American, country music and drinks that are nostalgic for everyone."

Dennis Paul of Champaign had one of the most classic cars, a 1948 Studebaker Champion, a model made in South Bend. Ind., until 1958.

"Studebakers are rare, and Studebaker convertibles are even more rare," Paul said of his burgundy beauty, which his grandmother found in Iowa in 1965.

The body has more than 70,000 miles on it, and the rebuilt engine about 4,000. Paul likes to drive it except for one thing — "I never like to take it out in the rain."

Which was kind of a big topic Saturday.

The weather gods couldn't make up their minds; first it drizzled on and off, then there was a completely dry hour or more midafternoon, then driving rain that made traffic on Interstate 74 almost invisible.

"It rained hard for 15 minutes, and then all the lines were full again," Boyer said.

The temperature was only 73 degrees, but the 89 percent humidity made the soda sell fast in the Main Street Belly Deli, where long lines and body heat contributed to guzzling of the glass bottles.

You might think the combination of hot food and high humidity would have led to some heat emergencies, but at midafternoon, the Homer Fire Department tent was about the only place without a line.

"Just a Band-Aid so far today," Fire Chief Don Happ said.

Claudetta Hartman of Homer was cooling off with homemade ice cream.

"This is the best thing right now, ice cream," she said, which was also available in every manner of float. "This is a great thing for Homer."

Her husband Robby agreed:

"I'd like to see this thing go for two days, but I'm afraid it might lose a little magic that way."

Adding to the magic: anything you want deep-fried, whether it was Oreos or sweetcorn, which Bud's BBQ of Danville sold.

Marlon Briggs of Danville was in a separate barbecue competition, cooking chicken, brisket and pork butt "low and slow."

There was a calorie-free booth near the center of the festival, Dr. G's Brainworks of Urbana's Lincoln Square.

Alen Romero of the store was helping kids try games that challenged their intelligence and hand-eye coordination. "It's been really great to have so many people," he said.

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