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Tim Cain

Is Decatur Celebration half-empty or half-full?

Moreover, are we prepared for the answer we will receive?

Public evaluation of Decatur Celebration is dominated by the loudest voices. The pro-Celebration voices this weekend aren't on social media or a watering hole or the grocery story talking about how great the event is. They're downtown enjoying it.

How does it stack up against previous years? Do we have to know right now? And if someone gives an honest answer of their impression, will we believe them?

To my eye, Friday night seemed maybe a little busier than we've seen the last few years. Saturday seemed to build more slowly than it usually does.

Perhaps Friday can be attributed to pleasant weather. Maybe Saturday can be explained by considering how many people who watched the parade outside the fenced area. In the past, would those people have walked down Franklin Street and felt compelled to buy a sandwich or some Thai chicken or something else on a stick?

If predicting the results of a festival was easy to do, a lot more people would be putting on festivals.

The wildly disparate reactions to Celebration create some amusing outcomes. Seldom in history is such an effort undertaken: The effort to ruin someone else's good time. Or, even more insidiously, the effort to convince attendees that they did not, in fact, have as much fun as they say they did.

The event belongs to the people who attend it. If Decatur Celebration doesn't satisfy enough paying customers, those customers will stop coming. If it doesn't satisfy vendors whose living depends on their success at street festivals, those vendors will steer clear of Celebration in the future.

Both of those scenarios would be the case whether the festival had a fence around it or not. There are plenty of people who have sworn off Celebration, and had done so long before the fence was a notion in the mind of anyone. Vendors of food and crafts have come and gone. I didn't see one of my long-time favorites this year. Whether that vendor has retired or passed away or just didn't want to come here any more is anyone's guess.

If it's a normal Celebration' discussion, everyone with an opinion about the event already has their guess to answer that question, and their minds will not be swayed.

For me, the new $8 admission price (or $5, if you were early on your purchase) is wholly reasonable for the entertainment level provided. In fact – and it feels like I say this every year – the admission price is worth it to me for the Heinkel's Hot Dog Eating Contest, which had its sixth annual competition this year. A year or two back, a co-worker said, “I feel like the purpose of this contest is just to see how many times Aric Lee can say 'wiener'.”

Celebration Fence

A fence rings the carnival area of Decatur Celebration in 2017. 

For me, that's at least an $8 value.

The new fence around the perimeter didn't strike me as unfriendly as many seemed to fear it would be. Some of those predicting doom and gloom were probably disappointed there was no barbed wire across the top of the fence.

Via necessity, the fence cut off some of my favorite entry and exit spots, and I suspect I'm not alone in that. My trip to the Funfest Stage and the hot dog eating contest was extended because of my inability to sneak up Prairie Street and approach the stage from the back or from the side. If you were on the south side of Celebration looking to leave to the west, you had to walk a few blocks to find your way out.

And maybe it's because of how new the concept is to everyone, planners and customers alike, but the entry points didn't seem very intuitive, particularly if you were approaching them from a direction where signage wasn't apparent, and specifically if you didn't know what to expect. But if that was the biggest problem, consider the fence as much of a success as it could have been.

Even the volunteers thought so. Celebration board member Greg Spain was overseeing the fence placement, and said, “Overall the fencing project was successful, but it was a learning process for the future.”

There's one definite change I noticed while wandering the grounds. Those attending seem to be a lot younger than they used to be.

Wait – I think maybe it's that I've gotten older.


Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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