DECATUR — The summer air was cooler than usual on Friday, which doesn't quite live up to this year's Decatur Celebration slogan of "It's Getting Hot in Here."

That didn't seem to bother the massive crowd that flooded the downtown area during the street festival’s opening night.

An air of excitement and anticipation hit its peak once Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe primed herself to say the magic words and put everything in motion for the 32nd time.

“I love being your mayor,” she said while standing on the main stage next to the Decatur Civic Center. “But the very best time to be mayor of Decatur is during the Celebration.”

Among the loud cheers of the crowd, Moore Wolfe made it official, and the Celebration had begun. 

While performances by headliners like Bret Michaels and Nelly were on the minds of many attendees, a lot of attention was still still aimed toward the Celebration board's controversial decision to install a 6-foot fence around the festival's perimeter. 

Producer Lori Sturgill said despite some small kinks that come with implementing any big changes, the Celebration's first night with the fence went well. She praised the hard work of her fellow board members and volunteers in ensuring both the new changes, and the event as a whole went as smoothly as they possibly could. 

"I'm so proud of our entire team that helped put this on," Sturgill said. "They've done an amazing job."

Friday's main stage performances were bookmarked by a concert from Grammy-winning country star Travis Tritt. As they waited for him to take the stage, Warrensburg-Latham residents Matt and Kelly Carlson spent some time watching the Prairieland Dance Club demonstrate a series of vibrant dances on the Civic Center lawn. 

Despite multiple invitations from members of the club, Matt and Kelly decided against joining them on the dance floor. However, both had an appreciation for the club member's moves, and for the classic country music that played as they danced. 

"Country music is great because they sing about things that people can relate to," Matt said. "They also like to sing about having a good time, which doesn't hurt."

Kelly said she's been coming to the Celebration for years, and one of her favorite things about it is the food. Once she and Matt left the dance club performance, they planned to seek out a vendor that sold pumpkin-flavored funnel cake. 

"There's just too much good food to choose from," she said. 

Attendees had 61 food stands featuring items that ranged from more traditional fair food to more exotic offerings like crab fritters and cheesecake bites.

In addition to the food options, the wine and craft beer garden that occupied a grassy area near the ADM City Center at 350 N. Water Street was also a popular destination as the evening went on. 

Jim Lovelace operated a booth across the street from the Garden, which sold intricate oil paintings that he painted himself. He said this was the fourth year in a row that he's set up shop at the Celebration in the exact same spot, near the intersection of Water and East William streets. 

"This is my spot," he said with a laugh. "Some people have tried to take it from me, but I've always beat them to it." 

Lovelace said his experience as a vendor during the Celebration has been enjoyable for him, mostly because it provides him an opportunity to share his work with all of the people who visit during the weekend. He doesn't plan on breaking his tradition any time soon, he said. 

"It's real fun. It's also a hobby, so if I don't sell anything, I don't go hungry," he said. 

As the sun went down, the festival provided an abundant amount of activities for people to participate in well into the night.

Children played in inflatable bumper balls as their family members watched from a distance. In Central Park, a screening of "Back to the Future" was hosted on the lawn. Bands like Rock of Ages, local country group Wreckless Whiskey and gospel group The Carson Singers took to the other stages throughout the area. 

Sturgill said the Celebration board won't be able to tally how many people came attended the festival until it's over, but was encouraged by the turnout she saw on Friday. 

"It was a good sign of what's to come," she said. 

jcook@herald-review.com | (217) 421-7980

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