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I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since Shoe Fest. As always, I am struck by how much there is to say about this festival, and how little words end up doing it justice. It was my sixth consecutive trip to Shoe Fest, and it was a little bittersweet, as I had to take off on Sunday morning. That being said, Friday and Saturday crammed in more than enough good times.

We pulled in on a beautiful Friday right around noon. One thing I really noticed this year about Shoe Fest is that it’s no longer simply pull in and park; there’s a real line now. Word has been spreading for years about the quality of summer’s last dance, and people are starting to show up in full force. It’s wonderful to watch it grow and be a part of it year after year. People were leisurely strolling through the lines of cars greeting friends, high-fiving, planning camp sites, strumming guitars; just reveling in the easy-going atmosphere of Shoe Fest.

Once we got in and set up shop behind the Uncommon Pavilion Stage, it was time to check out vendor row, get some food (I needed an immediate stop at the legendary Big Ass Wraps – an unparalleled culinary experience), and take in some tunes. Featuring sets from All the Cool Molecules, Mind Enigma, The Dawn, Flaccid, Jaik Willis, and Tom Hamilton’s Acoustic Duo, Friday afternoon kept things nice and loose.

As the sun crept towards the horizon, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and Kind Country picked up the energy before the main act of the evening; festival hosts Old Shoe, performing the Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers in its entirety. Featuring guest musicians (including Chicago Farmer on a fantastic "Wild Horses") and some of the best Stones material out there, it was an absolute blast to watch. Afterwards, Shoefarmer took everybody to a boot stomping, jammed-out hootenanny back at the Pavilion. The atmosphere at night at Shoe Fest is terrific; nice and peaceful, mellow, with the late-night music from the Mackey’s Hideout Stage drifting through the trees.

Saturday morning brought coffee and another trip to Big Ass Wraps. It’s always fun to saunter past the river, watching people cooling off, dogs splashing around, and of course, the famous Shoe Fest rock formation. After everyone at camp was up and moving, we checked out some more of the vendors; there was so much to take in and so little time.

The music of the day started out with The Fox Crossing String Band and The Bashful Youngens. From Saturday afternoon onward though, it was a string of Shoe Fest veterans dishing out show after show of killer music: Edward David Anderson, Chicago Farmer, Sun Stereo, Old Shoe, Lowdown Brass Band, Leftover Salmon (members had played Shoe Fest before, but the band as a whole had not), and The Schwag closing things out. It was a rollicking night of bluegrass, folk, stomp box, funky horns, and roots rock jam music.

Saturday night was a tempting scenario. The Shoe Fest family was out and about; lights glittered from camp sites and vendors, trees were illuminated from within the leaves, and everything was at peace (a little rain never stopped anybody at Shoe Fest). However, I turned in fairly early to make sure I could get up on time on Sunday to get where I needed to be.

I always hate having to leave Shoe Fest early, and this year in particular meant I had to miss stellar shows from EGi, Mr. Blotto, Jeff Austin Band, Zmick, the Shoe String jam, and more. Never miss a Sunday show indeed.

Regular readers will know I’ve been writing about Shoe Fest for six years now. It holds a special place in my heart, as it does for so many more. The people, the food, the music, the beer, the artwork, it’s all part of a wondrously healing experience. If you’ve never been and what you’ve read here makes you want to check it out, I hope to see you there next year.

Andrew Howie lives in Champaign and hides his pretentious music taste behind self-deprecating humor. If you seek radio hits, this is not the column you're looking for. Come here to find the acquired tastes, the obscure albums, the innovative and bizarre.