C-U music scene caters to all tastes

By Jim Vorel

On any given night in Champaign-Urbana, a live band is likely tuning up somewhere. Students and residents need only head to the local club, theater, bar, café or museum to experience the burgeoning music scene. In addition to the everyday exhibition of newly formed bands in local bars and cafes, nationally touring artists play in Champaign’s largest, sold-out venues, and several local music festivals continue to grow in prestige and scope with each passing year. The four years that most students spend at the University may seem to pass quickly, but all should experience the veritable plethora of musical experiences available to every imaginable taste and preference.

Some music venues can’t be overlooked, such as the towering Assembly Hall, which advertises its nationally touring stars heavily on campus. Assembly Hall also puts on shows in Foellinger Auditorium, located between the north and south quads.

The usual Assembly Hall season includes a mix of genres and artists, usually tailored toward students. Jennifer Larson, marketing director of Assembly Hall, said the average season includes 30 to 35 major events. Assembly Hall’s first major music event of the 2008-09 year is country music star and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood on October 2.

“Our idea is to offer programming in a variety of genres,” Larson said. “Country sells very well in the community, if not with the students. But most of our programs are for the students.”

The rest of the Assembly Hall schedule has yet to be announced to the public, but Larson confirmed that Assembly Hall would be publicly announcing a show by indie rock group Death Cab for Cutie on Quad Day. The show is scheduled for October 12.

Beyond the large shows, though, one can find live music in Champaign and Urbana just about any night of the week. Urbana’s Canopy Club, 708 S. Goodwin Ave., has nightly shows, some of them free, such as the popular Tuesday night “Piano Man,” who plays sing-along pop music to large, enthusiastic crowds.

In downtown Champaign, one can expect several shows from local bands and DJs every week at bars such as Mike and Molly’s, 105 N. Market St., and at clubs, such as The Highdive, 51 E. Main St., and Cowboy Monkey, 6 Taylor St.

Urbana, while also having its own musical venues, is also notable for being the home of indie rock label Parasol, as well as the Independent Media Center at 202 S. Broadway, which attempts to give emerging local artists a place to perform with superior equipment and aesthetics. Champaign is also home to another indie record label, the Polyvinyl Record Co.

Perhaps the biggest single event this year in Champaign music is the return of the fourth annual Pygmalion Music Festival, which is well on its way to becoming a yearly staple. Taking place from September 17-20, the city-wide celebration of indie rock music will feature more than 70 groups in locations throughout campus and beyond. Seth Fein is the event’s main coordinator and founder of The Nicodemus Agency, a Champaign-based press agency. Fein said the main change between this year’s Pygmalion Music Fest and previous years is a new focus on the physical layout of the shows.

“The biggest change is in the location,” Fein said in an e-mail. “The great majority of the festival is taking place in the newly formed Krannert Center Entertainment District. Aside from Saturday, all shows will be within walking distance of each other: Krannert Center, Canopy Club, Krannert Art Museum, Courtyard Cafe and Red Herring all sit in a small radius.”

Fein said that this close proximity would allow festival goers to experience a more festival-like atmosphere, being able to walk from show to show and experience more in one day or night.

When asked which unheralded performance might steal the show at Pygmalion, Fein pointed to a show at the Canopy Club by bands Dark Meat and Dan Deacon on September 18.

“I think that will bring out more kids than people expect,” Fein said. “And both artists make audiences go crazy. That’s the idea.”

The indie music scene of Champaign featured at Pygmalion is increasingly well recognized, being mentioned alongside prominent indie scenes such as San Francisco and Portland, even on Internet staple Wikipedia.

“There are so many great bands here, it would be stupid to try to list any,” Fein said. “Except Tractor Kings. They are still tops for me, locally speaking.”

A year of music in Champaign-Urbana includes something for everyone. There are even shows tailored to preschool audiences, such as “The Backyardigans Live! The Tale of the Mighty Knights,” which comes to Assembly Hall on October 7 and 8.

With so many choices, the Champaign-Urbana music scene continues to flourish and expand, producing great bands, great shows and great memories for students and residents alike.