Local eateries, artwork vendors, bands take bite out of fest

People from around the state came to Champaign’s West Side Park for this past weekend’s annual Taste of C-U, which brought together a wide range of Champaign-Urbana’s musical, artistic and culinary talent.

The Taste drew 25 food vendors — three of which, Minneci’s Ristorante, Noodles & Company and Fazoli’s, were new to the event — in addition to 35 art vendors and 17 nonprofits. Tony Oligney-Estill, special events and volunteer manager for the Champaign Park District, estimated that 30,000 people came to the Taste, which raises an average $10,000 a year for the Champaign Park District Youth Scholarship Fund, the event’s main beneficiary.

This fund helps children who cannot afford to participate in the park’s recreational programs. The Taste is the largest fundraiser for the program. Oligney-Estill said he was pleased with this year’s event, especially because of the relatively good weather for Father’s Day weekend, contrary to what many weather reports predicted and in sharp contrast to last year’s Taste, when it stormed all three days.

The event also provided an opportunity for local artists to display and sell their work, which ranged from paintings and photographs to wicker chairs and journals made of antique books.

Scott Westgard, an art vendor selling etchings at the event, said he has been to the last 13 Tastes and was happy with this one. He said he especially likes the Taste because, unlike other art shows, it has a very low entry fee.

Artists pay a flat fee to get a booth, and they keep 100 percent of their sales. Westgard graduated from the University with a masters degree in printmaking in 1994, and although he now lives in Buffalo Grove, Ill., he likes returning to Champaign-Urbana.

“The event is very well run, and the people are really friendly,” he said.

The Taste also brought various musical talents, including bands Good Luck Jane and the Bow-Dacious String Band, a children’s folk band run by the Community for the Arts Center, or C4A. The taste included lots of activities for children, such as magicians, a rock-climbing wall and a mechanical bull.

In addition to the entertainment, several non-profits had booths set up around the park, offering information about their groups to attendees.

Meaghan McDonagh ran the booth for the American Cancer Society and said the event was a good opportunity to raise awareness about cancer and resources the society offers for those affected by cancer. The booth had decorative items for sale to benefit the American Cancer Society’s cause.

“We’ve had a lot of people come by and purchase Luminaria bags (decorative paper bags to put candles in) for people who want to honor a loved one,” she said.

The event drew people from all over the state, including Michelle Urberg, who came down from Chicago especially for this event. She and her husband, Lee Baugh, said they enjoyed the atmosphere, and their only complaint was that there were few options for vegetarians.

“We really want to support the youth program,” Urberg said. “I wanted to see what was here for food. I’ve never been here before.”

The Taste was also popular with local residents, including Connie Gonzalez and her daughter Mariah, who come every year.

“I like to support the park district,” Gonzalez said. “And Mariah likes to eat the food.”