Tim Cain Column: The 'whys' are hard to pin down
By TIM CAIN - H&R Entertainment Editor
The band had just played to an enthusiastic crowd. Yet the turnout was smaller than the band, the venue and many in the crowd had anticipated.
The band's leader, through a confused and baffled face, quietly muttered, "What else is there to do in this town, anyway?"
It wasn't an indictment of Decatur, or at least it didn't seem that way. Rather, the thought process seemed to be, "We sell out shows in Chicago and New York - why can't we get more than a couple of hundred people through the door in this city?"
Listening to me list a number of the other events in town that evening, his smile went from wry to incredulous and back.
Ultimately, the band had to be satisfied by my conclusion:
"I don't know, guys. All I can say is if I were an event promoter in Decatur, I'd be broke within six months. I have no feel for what works and why."
Ask a dozen people what the primary issue is, and you'll get a dozen different answers.
The economy. Ticket prices. Over-the-hill acts. Performances geared toward THEM, not ME. The .08 percent alcohol driving law.
Each of those arguments has merits and demerits, depending on the point during which they're deployed. In a recent discussion with a friend, we recalled Kirkland Fine Arts Center hosting five times as many empty seats as audience members when Celtic fiddle wizard Eileen Ivers did a rave of a show on St. Patrick's Day a few years back.
A name performer, an affordable ticket - Decatur, my friend reminded me, hasn't always been an entertainment-friendly venue for the not-widely known, even during the best of times.
Too often, which it comes to entertainment or just living in general, Central Illinois consumers want Chicago entertainment at Decatur prices. It just doesn't happen that way.
Those over-the-hill acts might be good for a laugh, but Skid Row crammed 1,000 people into the Lincoln Square Theatre, so somebody's interested. One person's "over-the-hill" is the next person's fun evening of nostalgia.
As for the variety of performances, as was discussed in this space recently, for the size of the city, you can't beat the theater offerings available just within the city limits. From musicals to light comedy to Shakespeare to experimental theater, Decatur does pretty well. The trick is, you actually have to get up and GO TO THE THEATER.
For years, a segment of people have maintained the change in the driving-under-the-influence law, which said a .08 alcohol content was illegal, "killed live music in this town." Another segment insists the free entertainment at Decatur Celebration kills other attempts to bring in national acts, because Celebration has spoiled the taste of the value of entertainment for many in Decatur.
These are repeated as "fact" so much that they've become accepted as true, for no good reason. Is the DUI law different in Springfield, Bloomington or Champaign? Their nightlife spots seem to have the same ebb and flow as Decatur's. Maybe the grass is greener, or the buckets of beer are colder, in someone else's yard?
If anyone has the answers, we're all eager to hear them. Especially the people who are struggling to bring acts to town.