Aug 24, 2015

Scenes from the 2015 Decatur Celebration

One of the many things I admire about The April is the pride she has in her hometown of Decatur, Ill.  But even she had to admit that Decatur Celebration, version 2014, was rather disappointing, especially given the lack of variety in the food vendors last year.  But that experience did not deter The April from giving the street festival, held every year on the first full weekend in August, another chance.

Conceived in the head of Fred Puglia, the Decatur Celebration has been giving the citizens of their blue collar town located in the heart of Illinois something to get excited about for nearly 30 years.  So, yeah, if you’re from Decatur or anywhere nearby, it’s kind of a big deal.  Although I am not aware of any certain aspect of the celebration that specifically celebrates Decatur. 

And, while the festival is still mostly “free,” a $6 wristband for the “privilege” of purchasing food and drink seems a little counter-productive to a budgetary conscious commoner like me.  But those costs probably help bring in some decent music acts year after year.  For instance, The April was determined to see Blackberry Smoke on Friday night.  You could have also seen Kool & the Gang, Blues Traveler, Lonestar, En Vogue or even Vanilla Ice (he’s still performing … who knew!?) at other times during the festival

Still, to me, food comes first at a street fair.  And the variety we found at the 2015 Decatur Celebration made up for last year’s disappointment.   

Case No. 1:  Here’s something you don’t see every day in the Midwest – a stand selling jumbo lump crab cake sandwiches.  The $10 price tag was a little steep, but I’ll be honest and admit it was worth it.  It might have been my favorite food at the celebration if we hadn’t run into this guy …

What better way to advertise whole hog pulled pork than to proudly display Arnold Ziffel’s distant relative? 

The sign advertising the nachos sealed the deal for us. 

We gladly splurged for an order and found the nearest shady spot in downtown Central Park, which is ground central for the celebration.  It may have been the best $7 we spent during the celebration – at least on food.  The pulled pork tasted downright delicious, and they didn’t skimp on the toppings – jalapenos, sour cream, peppers, onions, baked beans and barbecue sauce.  I may even be forgetting an ingredient.

Sufficiently stuffed, we set out through the park and through the packed streets to try to walk off some of our dinner. 

Along the way, I noticed this year’s celebration featured a hot dog eating contest, with locally made Hinkel’s franks as the star attraction.  As much as I’m a fan of gluttony, I decided I couldn’t watch myself or anyone else eat another bite that night. 

So, we roamed until the beginning of the Blackberry Smoke show, held on the main stage closest to the park.  It was a great night to be outside listening to live music.  And I must admit, anything with a strong Southern rock vibe makes me pretty happy. 

Strange as it may seem, we liked the Decatur Celebration enough this year to go back again the next day.  Although, it’s really not that strange when you consider we had only begun to scratch the surface of the food options available to us there.   

As The April says every year, you haven’t enjoyed the Decatur Celebration until you’ve had a marinated chicken kabob.  The excellent vegetable fried rice is just bonus. 

The April was also on a mission to see her longtime friend Jon Griffin, who typically has a booth located in the arts and crafts vendor section of the celebration.  His work on concert posters in particular is very impressive, and we found one for a Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers show that was held in Springfield, Ill., that we felt would go perfectly with our home office décor.      

All in all, it was a much more enjoyable experience at the Decatur Celebration in 2015 than the year before.  And judging by this year’s attendance, a lot of festival goers agreed with us.  I’ll be looking forward to finding out what different sights, sounds and tastes will come to the Decatur Celebration next year.  As for the smell … well, nothing can completely eliminate the smell of soy from Archer Daniels-Midland when the wind is blowing right.  But, as anyone who lives in Decatur will tell you, that’s the smell of money.    

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