Last Friday, September 9, saw Krannert Center for the Performing Arts blast out of the gates to hit the ground running (olympic-speed sprinting, really) with an Opening Night party that could scarcely contain the amount of energy in the crowd. To say that the house was packed would be an understatement, as each of the three performances had partygoers crammed shoulder to shoulder so that everyone could partake in the music, fun, and dancing — and there was plenty of all three! Krannert Center also showed their seasoned planning capability, running two stages so that everyone could move immediately from one performance to the next with no downtime.

A mere $5 got you in out of the rain and provided you with entertainment for the entire night. No fewer than three miniature bars stocked with wine and beer were strategically placed around the lobby, and a giant canopied tent outside on the southeast terrace kept everyone dry while waiting in line to buy food from a variety of local restaurants.

Not one to leave their guests standing around with nothing to do prior to the music, Krannert Center had a variety of family-friendly activities off to the side: paper flower crafting stations, a community coloring project, and even artfully painted temporary tattoos. 

The music didn’t take long to start and, once it did, it pretty much never stopped. First up was the Pedrito Martinez group, bringing a Grammy-nominated pop, hip-hop, and funky Afro-Cuban folk style together to get the crowd warmed up. Born in Cuba but hailing now from New York, Martinez led the way with up-tempo beats on the batá drums combined with solid vocals, all backed a trio of bass, keyboard, and even cowbell.

Next up were Davina and The Vagabonds, making the crowd feel like they were being treated to a private parlour show. Combining big band sound with soulfully edgy (and oft times humorous) blues lyrics and a voice sultry enough to curl your toes, The Vagabonds could easily have kept the crowd entertained all night just on their own.

Capping off the night was Red Baraat, and while the previous two bands got the crowd fired up and crazy, this one made it downright explode with energy. Headed up by exquisitely-mustached Sunny Jain on the dhol (a double-headed drum), the eight piece ensemble featured more instruments than any normal band would know what to do with — including a sousaphone! Dubbed by NPR as “the best party band in years”, it was easy to see why they earned that title: high-octane songs, tons of charisma, and constantly inviting the whole crowd to participate in all sorts of ways, including bringing some lucky guests up on stage for a dance contest.

Opening Night was a grand success for Krannert Center, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for the community. Make sure to keep an eye on their website for upcoming events, and don’t forget to check out their page on Facebook too!

About the Photographer: Stephen N. Kemp

Stephen is an IT Manager at the University of Illinois and has been a photographer with Smile Politely since 2015. Find his photography on Facebook, the web, or contact him directly via email.