If you didn’t find a reason to get out of the house in 2009, it had to have been a pretty boring year. And if you didn’t find a reason to get out of the house, you must have been living in a bubble.
Despite tough economic times, the last 12 months were full of activities in the arts for Southern Illinoisans. Every weekend, there was something to do for those in the area and no reason to drive more than an hour to find quality entertainment. In fact, the only problem was deciding what you wanted to do.
The holiday season is a good time to take stock of what has transpired in the past year and look forward to what will happen in the next. This region has a lot to be thankful for, and this year is a perfect example of the depth of talent and resources that come together to keep Southern Illinoisans out and about.
We’ll take a look back on the year in the three different categories in which Flipside lists events.
The reopening of Varsity Theater in Carbondale as The Varsity Center for the Arts has already been a shot in the arm for the arts in the area before its massive renovation is even complete. As the new home for The Stage Co., it has re-energized the longtime community theater group, which was most evident in this spring’s performance of “Crimes of the Heart.” A last-minute addition to the groups’ season, “Crimes” was directed by the legendary Chris Moe and featured a cast of new and returning faces to a Stage Co. production. Although it was previously performed by the group in the 1980s, the performance was fresh and vibrant and added a spark to The Stage Co.’s first season in its new home.
In March, the Varsity also hosted the Southern Illinois Improv Fest, featuring improv groups from around the country.
The year also showed the depth in the theater community in Southern Illinois. John A. Logan College continued showcasing new works such as “Smell of the Kill.” Artstarts produced one of its most ambitious musicals yet with “The Wizard of Oz,” featuring area youth and The McLeod Theater on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale hosted a number of fantastic productions, such as the McLeod Summer Playhouse’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and “Company” from this fall’s theater department schedule.
The Superman Celebration in Metropolis once again featured activities and guests fitting for its hometown hero, and in terms of larger than life characters, All American Professional Wrestling keeps bringing family-friendly sports entertainment to the area in their monthly events.
Locally grown music suffered several tough losses this year. Longtime favorite bands The Woodbox Gang and Bourbon Knights broke up and in February, the roof of Hangar 9 collapsed because of extreme winter weather, leaving Carbondale without its foremost venue for live bands. Booby’s Sandwich Shop, another longtime spot for homegrown music, which was a favorite of Southern Illinois University Carbondale alumni Jim Belushi, closed down in December. Construction is just beginning on a new Hangar 9, which will, hopefully, once again give local bands a home sometime this spring, and there are rumors of what will eventually land in Booby’s place. But the loss of these two important stages have left only a couple of outlets for young bands to find an audience. Although alternative venues have popped up, let’s hope 2010 is kinder to the area music scene.
Despite these disappointments, 2009 was still a good year for local bands. Stace England and the Salt Kings’ “The Amazing Oscar Micheaux” was the foremost release of the year by a Southern Illinois artist, which has already brought the band attention across the country. Other notable albums include The Swamp Tigers’ “Nobody Else” The Bankester Family’s “Somewhere In Between” and The Ivas John Band’s “Live From St. Louis.”
The popularity of Southern Illinois wineries continues to be a bright spot, giving local musicians a whole new set of places to play and providing all ages with an alterative venue to see live music than bars. The opening of Rustle Hill Winery in Cobden, with its natural amphitheater, was one step up, however, Walker’s Bluff in Carterville brought things to another level by bringing in acts like Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Sebastian and legendary Cajun group BeauSoleil.
The Southern Illinois Music Festival was another month of class, giving towns all over the area a taste of culture.
In terms of nationally touring acts in the area, there were several notable concerts. Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider with Bruce Robison at Shryock Auditorium showcased three important singer-songwriters in the world of Americana. Another fantastic songwriter and guitarist, Robbie Fulks might have been the best show of the year to a packed crowd at PK’s. Before its closure in February, Bloomington alt-country favs, Backyard Tire Fire, rocked Hangar 9. Seattle’s Lonely H brought their mix of classic rock to Booby’s in August. At this year’s HerrinFesta, country-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel demonstrated why they have been at the top of their game for more than 30 years and David Ball turned Rameses in Marion into a country honky-tonk in November.
Two final notable mentions in music were fantastic tributes to two of rock’s most influential acts. In October, John A. Logan College hosted “Rave On: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Holly” and in September, “A Day in the Life” brought together local musicians for a transcendent performance of Beatles’ music at The Marion Cultural and Civic Center, which will hopefully become a yearly tradition.
Southern Illinois wineries have also given the artistic community a boost by regularly featuring art work and hosting art fairs. The many fantastic exhibits include notable showings by Janet Althoff at Starview Vineyard and a July exhibit by Heather Lose at Rustle Hill Winery.
The second “Local Yokels” exhibit took place in October at Red Ear Gallery in Makanda, showcasing a number of talented artists.
Events which also gave exposure to the art community include Art Around the Square and the Downtown Art and Wine Fair in Carbondale; combining art, music and wine to bring activity to the historic town square.
The opening of the Hughes Gallery in Murphysboro and anthill gallery and vintage curiosities in Cobden has the potential to be great spaces for artists to display their work.
At University Museum, cinematographer and former SIUC student, Steven Poster returned to open an exhibit of his work, “Around the Edges.” Poster has manned the camera on such movies as “The Box” and “Donnie Darko” and his homecoming is another example of the number of important artists who have spent time in the area.
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