Music festival moves to Champaign, beats weekend heat

Neither heat nor rain could take down the 5th annual Blues, Brews and BBQ festival hosted in downtown Champaign this weekend.

Put together by Jeff Grant and Perry Davidson of Fluid Events — an event company that has helped with festivals such as the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival and the Pride Festival — Blues, Brews and BBQ once again saw a rise in numbers, even though they changed their venues from downtown Urbana to downtown Champaign this year.

“My partner and I always wanted to have the blues festival be something very similar to like a Memphis in May, or a New Orleans Jazz festival type thing where you always have all the bars and the businesses doing something along with the festival, and it was just not happening the way we wanted it to happen in Urbana,” Grant said. “Before we made our move, we went and we talked to a lot of businesses, a lot of people in Champaign to see how they would receive it first. From there, we kind of gaged the feedback, and we knew it was going to be positive right away.”

The temperatures reached into the 100s on Friday, and Grant said the festival was slow when it started at 5 p.m. But once the sun went down, the festival started bringing in a crowd. Grant reported that this year, the festival made more money Friday than in years past on the same day.

Blues, Brews and BBQ, which began in 2008 as a way to celebrate the 175th birthday of Urbana, has been growing in numbers every year.

Grant said this year’s festival “doubled their vendors in terms of merchandise and information,” while they kept the same number of food vendors.

Different vendors aren’t the only new thing the festival brought this year. Along with a second main stage that was located behind the main stage, it also featured a new motorcycle show that had three different categories, each with a $500 prize, “the largest cash prize in the state of Illinois at this point” Grant said. The winners were chosen by judges, and an additional $200 went to the audiences favorite contestant from all three categories.

“Those were two huge elements that we always wanted to do,” Grant said. “And it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough room to do those things in Urbana, but the situation here and the layout were much more feasible for us to do the things that we need to do without spending a ton of money on extra generators and power.”

The festival took up large sections of Walnut and Neil streets starting at Main Street. Though there was no admission required at the gate, there was a $5 suggested donation that went to keeping the festival going for next year and to the Twin City Derby Girls team.

“This is our first year ever being involved with the festival,” said Jodi Thomas, skater representative of the Twin City derby girls’ board of directors. “We received the offer to volunteer at the gates, helping collect donations, (and) in return, we get 10 percent of the proceeds at the gates for our organizations.”

Another different aspect of the festival was the layout in downtown Champaign. Last year, the vendors were set up in a circular format, facing each other. This year, the set up was a line of vendors that included everything from barbecue to massages.

“It’s just different for me,” said Jean Rasner owner of Po’ Boys, a barbecue restaurant in Urbana. “Before, where we were, we could see a lot more of things, but because we’re only on the end, we can only see the News-Gazette building. It would be nicer for me, personally, to see more things, but I could take a break and walk around.”

Though both days featured weather that can often hurt a festival, heat seemed to play a big factor for some vendors.

Kelly Jo Lamb, owner of Piato in Champaign, was making her second appearance at the festival due to a really good response last year.

“The heat really hurt us (Friday), I think.” Lamb said. “I wouldn’t want to eat hot barbecue when it was 100 degrees out … (Saturday) was a little damper with the rain, but it picked back up.”

Although the weather was hot and muggy, Grant was confident they would still surpass their goal of having 35,000 guests.