In a few weeks the 32nd Decatur Celebration will take place with some major changes. The Celebration has always been on the verge of being canned due to financial shortfalls. Every year we’re warned that it might be the last. Festivals aren’t the easiest things to make money off of.
For one, some of the vendors which pay to be in the Celebration, don’t show all of the money that they actually make, of which the Celebration is supposed to get a cut of. I don’t know how many vendors do this but I know that many under-report for obvious reasons. Then the wrists bands for buying food didn’t quite pan out like some thought it would.
I know for my family, only one of us purchase the wrist band. It would be kinda silly for both of us to, when only one of us does the purchasing. One year a man gave his wrist band to ******* (to protect the guilty) as he was leaving. He didn’t sell it. He was just giving it away. He did a masterful job making the band appear like it hadn’t been cut and taped back together.
Then of course, an outdoor festival is always at the mercy of the weather. I think over the past 31 years just about every type of weather, except a blizzard or a Category 5 hurricane has hit downtown Decatur during the first full weekend in August. One year, I spoke with a craft vendor who literally watched her money go down the drain. A severe thunderstorm had blown in and blew her tent and several other tents over. Her merchandise and cash box bounced along the pavement. As she was ducking wind-borne crafts of various media she watched helplessly as her cash box broke open and her hard-earned cash flowed down a gutter towards a storm sewer. Luckily, she kept her sense of humor about it, at least while she told the story afterwards, but it just goes to show that festivals are a risky business for the organizers of the festival and those hoping to make an income from them.
This year the Decatur Celebration will be fenced in for the first time, assuming the city council approves the fence perimeter. It will no longer be a “free” street festival. I don’t know how well this tactic will work out. I think a lot of it depends upon how interested people are in the musical acts that are scheduled to perform. I think it will keep a lot of people out during the afternoon when major acts aren’t playing but we’ll see.
I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see a musical act that would normally cost way more in any other venue. My only concern with the fence is safety. Only time will tell if fencing and charging a gate fee are good ideas or not.
Going Stale or Somewhere?
What I am more interested in is how to make the Decatur Celebration better. It has become a bit stale and maybe in its current form it has run its course. Every year it’s the same thing, which has its appeal. It’s kinda become a late summer ritual for me to brave the weather, the smoky BBQ fires, and crowds to pay homage to downtown Decatur, which seems almost nothing like it feels the rest of the year.
It’s like downtown fades into the background and isn’t even there during the Celebration. Over the years, downtown Decatur businesses have become less and less involved to the point where they don’t even participate or maybe I just don’t see them. I’m not sure which but maybe there needs to be a whole lot more of “Decatur” in the Decatur Celebration. I’d love to see the work of local artists and craftspeople featured.
The parade has been interesting over the years. I remember one year we invited our new pastor and his wife to the Razzle Dazzle Goodtimes Parade and both my husband and I wanted to hide beneath a manhole cover when the scantly clad middle-aged belly dancers stopped in front of us and and made suggestive gestures to the crowd. They had turned Franklin Street into a poorly casted remake of a really bad Arabian themed porn video. None of us knew quite what to think. My young children couldn’t process the information. I didn’t know what to do but to turn around and say, “Welcome to Decatur!”
The parade has always been a funny thing. I remember one year when the then mayor wasn’t in the car that was supposed to be carrying him. It was just an empty convertible with his name on the side of it driving by. It was indicative of the local political climate at that time. Then there is always the jail-themed float for Crime Stoppers that many joke is carrying a former Illinois governor or two. One year, there was a big uproar as Decatur Memorial Hospital tried to rename the Celebration in their honor. (Decatur roars over silly things quite often.)
It was going to be the “Decatur Memorial Hospital Decatur Celebration”. Besides not having much of a ring to it, the plan didn’t go over well. Hundreds of St. Mary’s Hospital employees (Decatur’s other hospital) and their family members marched by in the parade, cheering and laughing, while about a half-dozen Decatur Memorial Hospital employees shuffled by, probably wishing they had paper sacks to wear over their heads. It was a hoot. You’re really missing a lot if you keep up local politics and don’t attend the parade. There’s always some local political satire or message included but you have to be informed to see it.
The more I write about the Celebration, the more I hope it continues and the more I realize it’s special. It’s something and it’s usually memorable. It’s always uniquely Decatur one way or the other.