Urbana enjoys a kernel of entertainment

By Phil Collins


photo DI multimedia


Sweetcorn Festival

Click to view a slideshow.

Hot corn, cold corn and a whole lot of sweetcorn. It was 7 p.m. Friday when the Chicago bluegrass band Cornmeal took the main stage in Downtown Urbana. Most of the crowd sat on wooden chairs but a large group danced up a storm near the stage. Midway through their set, the band paid homage to the festival by challenging the crowd to count the number of times they said “corn” in the next song. The winner would receive a free t-shirt.

Several choruses of “hot corn, cold corn” later (the song gradually sped up to a point where the band members seemed to just barely be able to keep the words from bleeding together) guesses as high as 100 were shouted out from the crowd. The band asked that anyone with a guess swing by the merch booth at the end of the show to officially enter the impromptu contest.

“I just made that up for this festival on the fly,” said Chris Gangi, bassist for Cornmeal.

The band ended up giving out three free shirts after the set – one to the woman with the closest guess to the actual number (78) and two to two very insistent women who were convinced they had counted correctly. This was just one of many festivals Cornmeal has played this summer.

“It was a good atmosphere, good people and of course good food,” Gangi said.

Friday and Saturday marked the 33rd year of the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival. In addition to live music on three stages, the festival offered plenty of choices for food (Garcia’s, Siam Terrace, Fryer Tuck’s), art vendors and activities for children – pony rides, laser tag and a rock climbing wall. Not to mention the corn.

“Two for one corn. Wal-mart gave us more corn this year so we’re selling it for a lower price,” said university alumnus Katie Freeman of the Urbana Business Association, the group that organizes the festival.

This year one ticket (costing one dollar) bought two ears of sweetcorn. Last year the same price only bought one ear of sweetcorn.

Becca Allgeyer, who also works with the Urbana Business Association and is a University alumnus, said last year the festival drew 45 to 50 thousand people and that it looked busier this year.

“It’s a nice sized festival,” said Doc Davis, freshman in FAA. “Not too big, just big enough.”

Saturday brought cars from as long ago as 1908 to the festival. The Motor Muster was set up until 4 p.m. Saturday. John Barham of Urbana brought his 1937 Chevy Coupe Hot Rod to be part of the show.

“It’s been fun, a little hot, but a good time,” Barham said of his first time showing the car at the Motor Muster.

He has owned the bright lime green Chevy for 10 years. Although looking at it recalls an older time, Barham said the car has a modern engine, air conditioning and stereo.

“We go to the grocery store in it. We drive it all the time,” he said. Barham added that he just put 1,000 miles on it on a trip. Barham is often asked if his 1937 Coupe is a kit, or replica, car.

“It’s the real thing,” he said.

Other highlights of the festival included Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute band who closed out Friday night on the main stage. Mike Morgan nailed Jimmy Page’s guitar riffs and solos while Matt Jernigan danced and wailed away as Robert Plant. Zoso played a wide selection of Zeppelin tunes and the crowd shouted approval and sang along. “Rock and Roll,” “The Immigrant Song” and closer “Stairway to Heaven” were among the highlights.