News Column


August 4, 2014

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

Aug. 04--Crowds gathering in Central Park on Sunday afternoon were treated to a thoroughly professional performance by several bands of amateur musicians, the graduating class of Decatur's initial year of First Gig Rock 'n Roll Camp.

The camp was hosted at Eisenhower High School in July with a class of 18 students, who learned guitar, bass, drums and vocals from music teachers and rock veterans from throughout Central Illinois.

"It wasn't necessary for them to have experience; some did but others only had a few lessons," said camp director Mikey Schoneman. "In fact, if they have no experience, that just means we have an opportunity to teach them the right way from the get-go."

Emma Lacefield, a junior from Urbana High School, could be seen throughout many of the songs in the kids' hourlong set, singing lead on many tunes and backing up the band on bass for numbers such as Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." She came to the camp with plenty of performance background, but none of it was in rock music.

"I've been on stage as a dancer and a cello player, but this is way more fun," she said of her band Heyday, which is based out of Danville. "This is the most fun I've ever had being on stage, it's just a lot looser and more relaxed. We're definitely going to continue playing together whenever we can."

In fact, the camp was enough of a success that Schoneman says the organizers are already working on planning the second Decatur First Gig camp for the summer of 2015. Within a few years, there could be quite a few young bands of high school students performing around Central Illinois.

"From what I saw at the camp, we had kids who were afraid to sing a note or hit the drums on Monday, but by the end of the week they're not just playing, they're performing," he said. "It breaks them out of their shell, and they end up with a whole new musical family."

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WEBCOMICS -- On the Celebration grounds, art fans are likely to notice Zac Atkinson's paintings of comic book characters such as Deadpool and The Joker first and foremost, but it may be what he's doing online that is most interesting. In the spring, Atkinson launched three new webcomic series through his personal site,, each to be updated once a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"I'm just one of those guys who is totally ADD; I can't focus on only one project," said Atkinson, who bases his physical work out of the Vault Arts Collective in Tuscola. "I had a lot more ideas and narrowed it down to these three, which all take quite a bit of time each week."

Atkinson has worked for 15 years as a colorist on major comics titles such as Teen Titans and Young Justice, and said he was an avid reader of several webcomics. Never had he dipped his toes into the online waters until now, though, recognizing the Web's ability to offer him a platform to build on three new storylines.

"The biggest thing is creative control; you can get it out there without anyone controlling your work," he said. "I'm not making money off them yet, but I'm not paying anything but my time because there's no materials and distribution cost. And down the line, if the comics become popular, I could monetize them with advertising."

The three comics are "Bait," described by Atkinson as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"-inspired, a "villains turned heroes" comic called "Skeleton Crew" and "No Strangers to Danger," the most complex and time consuming of the stories, described by Atkinson as "Beavis and Butthead meet The Tick."

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CHESS MASTER -- In an afternoon of chess matches in Decatur'sCentral Park on Sunday afternoon, Scott Nelson's win-loss record hovered somewhere around "60-something" wins and four losses. It's an undeniably impressive tally, but not for Nelson. The co-president of the Decatur Chess Club spent the afternoon walking in a circle playing simultaneous games, but said the four losses were more than he was defeated at the event last year.

"Two of the guys who beat me have come to the club before, but two of them were strangers who just played good games and bested me," he said. "There's typically a few stronger players at the table, and I'll figure out who they are in the first five or 10 moves, and then I'll pay a bit closer attention to those games."

Nelson has lived in Decatur for five years, working as an engineer for ADM. A member of the chess club for almost as long, he says he first "got serious" about chess as a hobby in high school, studying openings and tactics. Today his ELO Rating is 1,791, just barely under class A, the level below "Expert." That makes him a very strong player, although other members of the club are still ranked quite a bit higher, including a FIDE Master with a rating higher than 2,300. Playing the "simul" games is good practice for a player such as Nelson, though, offering unexpected challenges resulting from trying to keep 10 or more games going at the same time.

"There's a version of chess called blitz where you play with a clock," he said. "This is like that, but the difference is that I'm looking at a different board every turn, which increases the challenge. It's less like playing a game and more like solving puzzles. Each board looks looks like a puzzle to me, and I'm just looking for the best possible moves."

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MIKE QUEARY -- Queary, a past Celebration president, concluded his 24th year as a volunteer with the event.

"All the volunteers put in a ton of work," one Celebration board member said. "But he goes above and beyond. I'll bet he doesn't get more than two hours sleep in a row the entire weekend. He's one of the things Celebration is all about for me."|(217) 421-7973. H&R entertainment editor Tim Cain contributed to this story.


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