DECATUR — Decatur Celebration is one of our greatest examples of telling one another what to think, and this weekend is when the volume reaches a crescendo.
Thousands of people continue to pour into downtown to participate in an event that's part carnival, part music performance, part food festival, part arts and crafts show, part reunion. One of the beauties of Decatur Celebration is it can be anything anyone wants it to be.
Make no mistake about the devotion some have to the event. Look no further than the 17 people who wore their wristbands from the 2017 event all year for a chance to win $1,000 in the Land of Lincoln Credit Union 365. Originally, 70 people entered a drawing to be one of 20 selected to participate in the contest. Another 50 applied for the version of the contest that begins Sunday and runs to the start of the 2019 Celebration. The applicants included four people who participated in the inaugural event.
That clearly shows some people have an abiding love for the event, but the complaints ring loud and long, even for those who love Decatur Celebration.
Contest winner Krystal Sturgeon of Decatur used her year wearing the wristband as a walking advertisement for the event.
"I love being able to talk to people about (Celebration)," she said. "There's so much negativity around it, and I just want to push the positivity about it.”
That's not what some people want, though, is it?
For the most vocal, it's not enough to stay away from downtown the first weekend in August. They take to social media and public places to not only declare that they won't attend the event, but also use it as an opportunity to complain about every Celebration change, from the fence to the cost of the food to what they see as mediocre entertainment.
We get it. People don't like change.
But they also seem to not like seeing others have a good time.
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If this year is consistent with previous recent Celebration weekends, social media will be relatively quiet. The people excited about the event are there. Those who aren't apparently find something else about which to complain.
Decatur Celebration isn't immune from criticism. We've unleashed some pretty stinging stuff about the event, especially in the past decade. Many who dislike the event think the Herald & Review is simply a Celebration cheerleader. Celebration lovers will tell you otherwise. Neither is accurate, but both positions draw plenty of fire and ire.
The fire was especially hot 10 years ago when founder and producer Fred Puglia announced an infusion of funds was needed if the event were to continue. That set up what has become a decade-long discussion and argument about Decatur Celebration finances. The volume increased when Celebration announced a plan to require wristband purchases to buy food at the event. Enough people ignored the requirement or skirted the rules enough to prompt a fencing off of the downtown area for the weekend.
That decision unquestionably changed the face of the event. Decatur Celebration isn't what it was, and it really can't be that again. If the current plan doesn't work, the disappearance of the event is easy to foresee.
But there will always be people who battle back and almost militantly support Decatur Celebration. Think about the 17 people who wore wristbands for a year. Think about what they went through while leaving that piece of plastic around their wrist for a year.
Contest coordinator Aric Lee said a number of the contestants were competitive athletes, including mud volleyball players. One of the entrants had their wristband on through childbirth, “and everything that entails ended up on that wristband,” Lee said.
The year the wristbands were introduced, one festival-goer did his own version of a protest against those complaining about their implementation. He bought 12, and chained them around his neck, declaring his love for the event. It took years and a grand scheme involving 20 contestants to outdo that effort.
Those event lovers may not be a majority. There may not even be enough of them to keep Decatur Celebration running.
But this is a guarantee: The people downtown this weekend are here for the party, and they don't have room or time for naysayers.
Columnist Tim Cain wrote the book "Decatur Celebration: A History of the World's Fair of the Prairie." Contact him at (217) 421-6908. Follow him on Twitter: @timcainhr