The greater Champaign County area is a hotbed for festivals and events that are sure to give your Instagram followers FOMO. We’ve created a list of our top 10 festivals, featuring the best in music, culture and food, so you don’t miss out.
Krannert Center 50th Anniversary Celebration & ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival | September 2018–2019
For its 50th anniversary, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, recognized as the nation’s premier university-based performing arts center, will host an outstanding lineup of performances along with special events throughout the year to commemorate the occasion. Celebrations kick off with the must-attend Opening Night Celebration, an evening full of performances from funk to jazz to street theatre. The celebration continues all year long with marquee performances, culminating in the biannual ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival, which returns in September 2019 to celebrate guitar legends around the world.
Matsuri Festival | September 9, 2018
Japanese culture will be celebrated at this growing festival, held at the Japan House at the University of Illinois. Returning for its fourth year in 2018 and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Japan House, Matsuri features sake tastings, tea ceremonies, martial art demonstrations and local, Asian-inspired food and drinks. Special performances from internationally known Japanese rock bands the 188.8.131.52’s and Shonen Knife will surely impress before the evening ends with fireworks over the scenic Arboretum.
CU PrideFest | September 14–16, 2018
This family-friendly event is the largest Pride celebration south of Chicago and the only celebration in September. Complete with a colorful parade through the streets of downtown Champaign, a drag brunch, community vendors and evening parties, this weekend-long festival puts our pride on full display for all to enjoy.
PYGMALION | September 26–29, 2018
This festival features a mixture of components that have been curated over the decade-plus of its existence: music, literature, technology & hacking, crafts and food. In 2018, the festival adds even more to the experience: comedy and podcasts. You’ll find no other event quite like it, showcasing local talent alongside headliners like Tig Notaro (comedy), Playboi Carti and Mount Kimbie (music), and Luis Alberto Urrea and Safiya Noble (literature). Where else can you watch a Tesla coil in an amphitheater, eat local food and listen to live music and a poetry marathon in one culture-filled weekend?
Champaign-Urbana Folk & Roots Festival | October 18–20, 2018
Celebrating 10 years in 2018, this festival brings together national and local folk artists for more than 80 high-quality folk performances and participatory activities throughout downtown Urbana. For its special anniversary, singer/songwriter Robbie Fulks, who headlined the inaugural festival in 2008, returns alongside dozens of other headliners and performers. The incorporation of dance, education, jams, song circles, storytelling and much more make for a full, Outside of Ordinary weekend of celebrating music.
Champaign County Area Restaurant Week | January 25–February 2, 2019
After celebrating Champaign-Urbana's win as Midwest Living's Greatest Midwest Food Town, area chefs are ready to show off why we are the best. This nine-day celebration of all things food offers prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner from $9 to $39 so you can discover your new favorite dish or date night spot! From soul food to fine Italian dining, you’ll understand why the greater Champaign County area is a foodie mecca.
Engineering Open House | March 8–9, 2019
The University of Illinois is home to one of the world’s top-ranked engineering programs, and its students show why during this annual event. Featuring two days of exciting exhibits and captivating competitions that illustrate the talent and ingenuity of engineering students, this festival will also showcase robots, drones, tesla coils, 3D printing and other modern marvels to engage people of all ages
Boneyard Arts Festival | April 4–7, 2019
This local favorite, happening every April in conjunction with the University of Illinois’ Moms Weekend, takes a traditional art fair and completely flips the concept. Rather than bring art to one location, this event brings art to venues spread throughout Champaign County. Local businesses partner with artists to showcase their work, whether it’s in a downtown café or an unused warehouse. Follow along a detailed map to find photography, paintings, pottery, weaving, jewelry and pop-up events and demonstrations. This four-day event takes over the community and makes art accessible to everyone, so it’s an ideal way to explore the area and discover our homegrown talent.
Ebertfest: Roger Ebert’s Film Festival | April 10–14, 2019
At a young age, Roger Ebert developed a love for writing. Growing up in Urbana, Roger went to the University of Illinois, where he wrote for The Daily Illini and local newspaper The News-Gazette. After Roger’s success as a film critic brought him nationwide fame, he never forgot his roots in Champaign County. More than 20 years ago, Roger founded Ebertfest—originally titled the Overlooked Film Festival—to celebrate films, genres and formats overlooked by distributers, audiences or critics. Once you attend the festival, you’re part of a family of movie lovers who relish in the films played on the Virginia Theatre‘s immense screen. The showings are followed by intimate discussions with directors, producers, composers, screenwriters and actors that further enhance the movie-going experience. Over the years, Ebertfest has hosted guests such as Tilda Swinton, Oliver Stone, Bill Paxton, Jason Segel, Patton Oswalt, Norman Lear and Shailene Woodley, amongst many others. Stay tuned to find out the lineup for year 21!
Arthur Freedom Celebration | June 29, 2019
This massive celebration has one of the best firework shows in Illinois, along with festivities like a parade, military airplane show and skydiving from planes. Tens of thousands of people from around the Midwest travel to the heart of Illinois’ Amish Country for a display that won’t soon be forgotten. Get there early to stake your spot before exploring all Arthur has to offer, from homemade Amish baked goods to impressive craftsmanship. The Freedom Celebration is the time to get to know this small town just outside Champaign-Urbana.
The question now isn’t which festival you’ll attend—it’s how many.