‘Ashleyfest’ a tribute for a friend

Friends say Ashley Ames amazed them during the 39 days she battled to recover from third-degree burns covering over 80 percent of her body. While the damage ultimately proved too severe, the positive 23-year-old’s spirit known by her friends still thrives.

Ames’ passing on July 6 was difficult for friend Alice Cronenberg, 20, making her question whether she could follow through on this weekend’s ASHLEYFEST; however, she was encouraged by friends to continue her efforts for the fundraising event, but now with a new focus.

“The point of the benefit is more-so to celebrate Ashley’s life and to celebrate the things she loved — art and music,” Cronenberg said.

Kicking off Thursday and running through Saturday, Ames will now be memorialized through ASHLEYFEST. Cronenberg organized the festival, which she said has grown beyond her own efforts.

“ASHLEYFEST has taken on a life of its own,” Cronenberg said.

The festival consists of an auction and three-day concert taking place in downtown Champaign. Artwork for the auction will be on display from about 2 until 9 p.m. continuing Friday and Saturday. Music will be performed each night as well.

While Thursday featured blue grass music, Friday and Saturday night will feature music from the punk and metal scenes.

“As for the music part, that’s what a lot of us do,” said Brent Faklis, who is helping Cronenberg organize ASHLEYFEST. “I was in a local band, Alice’s brother is in a band, all of our friends are in bands — we do that all the time, just not on this scale.”

The artwork is on display at Indi Go Arist Co-Op, 9 E. University Ave. The music will be performed at Class Act Interactive Education, 114 S. Neil St.

Art in the auction comes from all over, and the auction also features retail items and collectibles.

Both Cronenberg and Indi Go owner, James Barham, were particularly excited about a baseball signed by Curt Schilling.

“It is pretty rare stuff. I’m hoping someone from the Red Sox nation will get excited,” Barham said.

Other items include artwork made by locals and retail items.

After arranging to have the festival at Indi Go, Barham said the group met within about four hours.

“I was very honored,” Barham said. “This is what we enjoy doing. This whole place is to give back to our community.”

Indi Go has held auctions for non-for-profit organizations before, for groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Champaign County Forest Preserve, but Barham said this festival provides a change.

“This one is a lot different; the cause is much tougher. It’s their friend,” Barham said. “They are laughing one moment and then crying the next.”

Cronenberg became friends with Ames through her boyfriend, James Onderdonk.

“When she started dating James Onderdonk, he said ‘I’ve got this new lady friend, you’ve got to come and meet her,’” Cronenberg said. “I met her and was like, ‘Wow she’s really, really cool. She likes Buddy Holly and vegetarian food.’”

Cronenberg said they had a great relationship from the beginning, a friendship consisting of music listening and friend-to-friend advice.

“She was the most positive person,” Cronenberg said. “I never heard her complain or obsess about stressful things in her life — she’d be like, ‘I’ll work it out, it’ll be okay.’”

“We want to remind the community that Ashley did a lot of things without having any clue and she brought a whole bunch of people together,” Cronenberg added. “We are just celebrating her passion for living positively.”