Rose Bowl Tavern’s outdoor venue revitalizes downtown Urbana music scene


Sydney Wood

The Rose Bowl Tavern held its first C-U Irish Session of the season on Tuesday. For the third summer in a row, the tavern has set up its outdoor patio performance space.

By Sydney Wood, buzz Editor

On Tuesday, the C-U Irish Session made its summer debut at the Rose Bowl Tavern’s outdoor patio to the delight of folk ‘n’ roots fans. 

Back in July of 2020, the tavern began scheduling outdoor events as a way to continue holding live music despite COVID-19. For the third summer in a row, the Rose Bowl Tavern has once again assembled its outdoor tent in the parking lot adjacent to the bar. 

While patrons could buy drinks from the tavern, the Rose Bowl doesn’t sell food, so many people ate from takeout boxes from local eateries. The smell of various types of takeout wafted through the air, carried by the night’s soft breeze. 

Members of the C-U Irish Session sat in a circle facing one another underneath the warm string lights that adorned the tent’s ceiling. The performers are a local group of experienced musicians who play traditional Irish dance tunes, using instruments like accordions, banjos, fiddles and wooden flutes. 

With a set that began at 7 p.m., the ensemble played through the sunset until about 10 p.m. Although the night started off with around eight band members, a few more joined as the night progressed, totaling around 10 instrumentalists. 

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For Melissa Mason of Urbana, evenings at the Rose Bowl are a regular occurrence for her and her dog, Soli Buttercup. After Charlie Harris took ownership of the bar in 2019, she said the tavern has become more inclusive for patrons regardless of their race, sexuality or gender. 

“Since it’s changed hands, I feel like it’s home,” Mason said. “It’s very welcoming to every kind of music and every kind of person.”

As a drummer and guitarist herself, Mason said she enjoys the variety of music the tavern offers, which she likes to sing and dance to. She said the venue serves as Urbana’s public square — a fixture that the city currently lacks — and lets townsfolk interact with one another.  

“I’m so glad that Urbana allowed this tent to go up again,” she said. “I think it should be a permanent fixture until we have a better option of a town square or public square. Like I said, this fills such a need.” 

Some members of the audience stumbled across the night’s performance by accident, including Adam Eidukas of Urbana and Burcu Carlon of Danville. 

Eidukas — who runs the tavern’s weekly Wednesday trivia nights — said he and Carlon ate at the Masijta Grill near the tent before ending their evening with some live music. He said the Rose Bowl Tavern is one of the few venues left in Champaign-Urbana that regularly offers live music. 

“I really appreciate the Rose Bowl for being one of the few places that stayed true to live music being the foundation of their business,” he said, “and that’s a testament to the owners.”

Local folk ‘n’ roots musician Ayla McDonald was also in attendance. She said the C-U Irish Session was one of the first music groups that she connected with after she moved to Champaign-Urbana in 2017. 

She said the night’s atmosphere was special because of the performance space and her history with the ensemble. 

“This is probably the first time (that C-U Irish Session) played Rose Bowl,” McDonald said. “Yeah, the vibes are just so good. I’m really loving this event in this space in particular. It’s just very open, the sound carries really well.”

She said she loves Champaign-Urbana’s close-knit community and how she can attend music events and often know the performers. 

“I think Champaign-Urbana is a very unique place and that it has a high concentration of amazing musicians,” she said, “and you’ll often find musicians in the audience if they’re not on stage. I love that about this town.”

As the night progressed, a few Irish dancers ascended the stage and danced along to the ensemble’s music. Their shoes clacked loudly against the stage floor, staying in tempo with the music. 

At around 10 p.m., the performers ended their set to the sound of applause from audience members. By that time, the sun had completely set, and the patio was illuminated by the warm, yellow lights that decorated the inside of the tent. 

McDonald said she looks forward to attending the tavern’s outdoor events throughout the summer. She said the Rose Bowl’s patio space is one of the good things to come out of the pandemic. 

“I think having music outdoors in the middle of the downtown area has made it so much more accessible than it was before in a way that’s felt safer with COVID-19,” she said, “but also in a way that has brought vibrancy to the streets in a way that wasn’t present before.”


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