There's something happening in the music scene here in Champaign-Urbana. While it isn't necessarily good, or bad, one way or the next, there's some sort of rebirth or rebuilding happening. I can't decide which, to be frank. Rebuilding, meaning, things are down in some ways, but not lost by any stretch of the imagination. There's so much value in this particular music scene, and I think being too close to it makes one analyze the blemishes far too much.
While I'm not here to go over what's wrong or right about the current state of affairs — I really want to discuss what's happening this weekend in nearby Monticello, and another that I went to last weekend in nearby Tolono. I'll try not to be too hyperbolic.
I'd imagine a lot of you are unware of what Hogchute even is. That's totally cool of course. There is just an overwhelming amount of live music happening week in and week out in this community, that we're really pretty spoiled — but these few that I'm gonna talk about make me a happy scene member. Hogchute Opry and Oktstonerfest, those two. They just appear and feel different to me than the rest.
Hogchute Opry Harvest, which is taking place this Saturday at the nearby Kalyx Center in nearby Monticello — it takes place in a building that should be a prized gem of the region. This goddamn beautiful barn. Just look at it.
We've covered the Hogchute events pretty closely over the course of the years. I've been to a few of them by now, so there's some precedent that's been set at this point, now that the event has grown a bit.
Hogchute has a few iterations: the Hogchute Opry in June, and Hogchute Opry Harvest in October. Hogchute Opry Harvest takes place this coming Saturday — a week after another event that is one of my favorites in town, Oktstonerfest by Matt Talbott's Loose Cobra (Talbott is the lead singer of HUM) — which is fairly fitting considering PYGMALION just concluded (full disclosure: I'm one of the producers of the event). And, well, I don't wanna do much more than relax and think less about how the logistics of the event is set up, and more just enjoy the music and atmosphere being presented in front of me.
At Oktstonerfest, there are metal bands in a dive bar, and usually on a hand-made stage that sits in a parking lot (but due to rain, wasn't utilized, sadly). Not all was lost though, there was a burning shopping cart that provided entertainment outside if you wanted a break from the metalic assault.
Anywho — back to Hogchute.
There's one stage (though during the summer iteration, they used the roof on the old building as a mini stage), inside that amazing barn, with a bunch of talented bands performing throughout the evening. You can hang out outside the barn, or inside, whatever you'd prefer. There's an amazing balcony up top inside the barn to hang out above the stage and folks on the first level. There's a bonfire nearby, but distanced from the action. There's a spooky looking house right next to the barn. You can camp there if you want, but totally don't have to if you have a safe ride home. The plot of land is cleared out of the middle of the woods. Serenity.
There's nothing special about it, but everything is special about it at the same time. It remains untouched in a lot of ways, a hidden gem.
As a consumer, I'm looking for things like Hogchute, and Oktstonerfest, to make it simple for me. Of course I want a curated and thoughtful event, but simple is good. I wrote about last year's CobraFest, headlined by HUM, as one of the more important events in the area music-wise over the course of the year. The reason being is that they look unlike anything else really. Sure, there are bands, and a schedule, at a venue, that sorta thing. There's a headliner, and a bunch of others to go along with said headliner, but each doesn't look like you're average "festival". This is a word that Hogchute and Oktstonerfest shouldn't even be associated with now that the industry standard for festivals encompasses $10 Bud Lights, impossible sightlines to stages, and douchebags abound only there to update their Facebook and Instagram about their location at that particular time of day. Sure, these are macro examples, I get that.
But, there's not much status here outside of people saying: "Ahh, yes, this is what I want. Look how great this is."
That said, Hogchute takes place literally out in the middle of nowhere Monticello near Allerton Park — where you have impossible reception, and the only thing you can do is appreciate the woods you're surrounded by, the people you're with, and the music that is being performed in front of you as you have the libation of choice with you in your hand. Simple, simple.
Brad Olsen is the organizer of this event, and he does so with some help, but it is his baby. Olsen performs in Neoga Blacksmith, so he knows how the scene functions, and one thing they've done to promo a bit are weekly Hogchute performances at Bentley's in Downtown Champaign, or the open mics at Loose Cobra — these presentations of micro-Hogchutes are neat. A show series, while not revolutionary, is cool to me.
Within the realm of this particular lineup, the string of artists isn't madly diverse — but, when you see ZXO (they are psychedelic, and not even remotely folk or Americana which is the way Hogchute leans, traditionally), to Tractor Kings and Fiona Kimble (which totally fall into that folk/Americana realm), to The Dry Look (um, these guys are skuzzy rock), and new-ish acts like Colonel James Presents — just mentioning a few acts, things get loose when it comes to the true scope of the music programming.
As you can see below, this year's lineup looks like this:
The schedule for the evening looks like this:
4:45 - 5:15 Patriot Patrol
5:30 - 6:00 Jack Anthony Johnston
6:15 - 6:45 Fiona Kimble
7:00 - 7:30 Rebekah Songer
7:45 - 8:15 The Dry Look
8:30 - 9:00 Walt Falbo & the Falbonauts
9:15 - 9:45 Tractor Kings
10:00 - 10:30 Colonel James Presents
10:45 - 11:15 Lonely Trailer
11:30 - 12:00 ZXO
There's a lot of the same, but a lot of new-ish components to Hogchute Opry Harvest, and this should be a memorable one — especially if you want to be included in the action, as Olsen discussed how "anyone can jump in in play if they want" from 2-5 p.m. on the open stage in the barn before the action begins. That's some solid inclusion if you're wanting to get up there and belt a bit.
There's just something special about Hogchute that's pretty tough to put my finger on, though as much as I want to express it to you here in words, and as cliché as it sounds — it really is something that you simply have to be at to make an assessment.
It isn't a complex feeling, or one that is going to blow your mind even remotely, there's just something about the way it is set up, and the human beings involved that makes it a little more meaningful to me as time goes on.
Hogchute Opry Harvest takes place on Saturday, October 14th — the cost is $15, and you can get all the information about directions, camping, and all other FAQs at the Facebook event page.
Photos by Sam Logan, aside from the Hogchute Opry poster, which is designed by Olsen.