As I strolled into Champaign-Urbana early Thursday afternoon to collect my press pass — surveying which venues would be used within the massive Krannert Center for the Performing Arts — I had a few things on my mind. Where was I going to stick the temporary tattoos I’d just been given as press swag? Where was all the money coming from for the new building developments on Green Street? The mafia? International students? Both? And most importantly, what was it like to be a British sound engineer?
The University of Illinois is a great place for questions, most decidedly more profound than the ones I was pondering. I should know. I spent four years there contemplating the entire spectrum, from shallow deliberation on how best to get a pretty girl to come back to my dorm to deep adolescent nihilism and feeling swallowed by the inevitable blackness to which we all return, all the while growing up with and around one of the most incredible artistic oases in the Midwest.
To understand why Champaign-Urbana (or C-U) is commonly ranked in the top places to live for young adults, it helps to have a working knowledge of the city’s development. Through my conversations with established members of the community, I started to see the bigger picture. Many say it started around the mid-2000s when students simply began to stay. Aspiring entrepreneurs and artists who deeply valued their free time were drawn to the cheap cost of living and bustling nightlife brought on by an unending supply of 18-22 year olds. And while they came for the cheap rent, they stayed for the community.
Walk around the University of Illinois and you won’t see too many aesthetic treasures. More likely, you will find cracked streets, broken glass, and shabby apartments. Downtown Champaign and Urbana both respectively offer more appealing scenery, but in themselves neither are remarkable sights. C-U is not home to mountains, or transcendent architecture, or even Uber (yet). Its occupants find solace in street fairs, art galleries, and well-stocked music venues. The growing number of musicians, artists, and small businesses has removed the area’s ghostly visage and replaced it with a bustling bohemian playground, a trend local musician Cody Jensen has dubbed the “Urbana Renaissance.”
Photo by Sasha Geffen
Pygmalion for its part has been along for every step of the way. It began in 2004, growing from performances in bars to a full-fledged citywide event that’s hosted the likes of Cut Chemist, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Grizzly Bear. This was my fourth PYG, and its growth was noticeable. The acoustics were on point. Hiccups were minimal and well-handled. Local emo heroes American Football returned to play their first official show in 15 years. With the help of a wonderful staff and worryingly perfect weather, 2014 was a complete success. It was a perfect storm, distracting me to the point that I forgot how nostalgic I was supposed to feel. It saved otherwise doomed ears from my incessant whining, and for that I am thankful.