News Column

Celebration banking on star power to draw crowds

August 1, 2014

By Jim Vorel, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

Aug. 01--DECATUR -- In her fourth year as producer/director, Lori Sturgill is preparing for another big weekend at the Decatur Celebration.

In a year when the number of stages and performers has been slightly reduced, the festival is focusing on a "quality over quantity" approach, banking on the star power of headliners such as Joan Jett, Ruben Studdard, Salt-n-Pepa and Jo Dee Messina, along with the promise of sunny weather.

"I am looking forward to seeing how the caliber of headliners we have this year impacts the crowds and overall sales," Sturgill said. "One thing is, we've never really had a big headliner on Friday night as we do this year, so I think Jo Dee Messina will be pretty big for us."

On the Tuesday afternoon before Celebration, Sturgill sat in her office entertaining visitor after visitor, each bearing their own last-minute preparations.

Final clothing designs for the Celebration King & Queen contest awaited her approval, interrupted regularly by the ringing of the office phone. Until the festival starts, there are always changes to be made -- even to performers on the Show Stage. Decatur native and "X Factor" finalist CeCe Frey was a late addition, being announced as the lead-in performer to Joan Jett only a few weeks ago.

"We've not historically had a lot of opening acts, but it's getting more and more difficult to get headliners the quality of Joan Jett who want to do two sets," Sturgill said. "She was set to do one show, so I got thinking about good opening acts, and CeCe seemed great for it. I just texted her saying, 'Hey, you want to do it?' and she was on board right away."

Other acts performing at this Celebration include Led Zeppelin tribute Led Zepplica, R&B group Space Capone, Christian pop/rock band Royal Tailor and songwriter Jamie Grace, among others. Also returning are popular events such as the Heinkel's Packing Co.Hot Dog Eating Competition and the Land of Lincoln Credit Union 21 Film Project on Friday night in the Decatur Civic Center.

One thing that will be different, however, is a simplification of the ticketing system for beer and wine drinks.

"This year, instead of having separate tickets for craft beer and the wine garden, there's just a single type of ticket," Sturgill said. "Each ticket is $1, and everything from regular beer to a bottle of wine in the wine garden will be priced with those tickets. It was getting way too complicated, nobody knew which tickets they were supposed to use where."

Facilitating this change, all ticket and wristband booths at the festival have been fitted with credit or debit card readers for the first time. It's one less thing that Sturgill has to worry about, but she still isn't likely to catch many shows. The work of a director leaves little time for entertainment.

"The only one I watched a good portion of was Here Come the Mummies when they were on the Funfest Stage," she said. "I brought them here hoping everyone would understand what made them so special, and thankfully, they did.

"If I could watching anything this year though, it would definitely be Salt-n-Pepa."

Other than a few more unusual events, such as a free screening of "The Avengers" at The Avon Theatre immediately following the parade Saturday morning, it should be business as usual on the festival grounds, according to Sturgill.

It sounds as if things this year have come together especially well, which leaves the producer feeling more confident than ever in the turnout and outcome. The proof will be seen walking the streets of downtown Decatur this weekend.

"The weather is looking good with only a slight chance of rain, so it could be a perfect weekend," she said. "We've dealt with some of the challenges of our first few years and are feeling good.

"Things are going really smoothly -- I hope I'm not jinxing it by saying that."|(217) 421-7973


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Source: Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)

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