'Small town USA. This is what it's all about': Summer Concert Series brings Mahomet community together

Hundreds of community members gathered at Barber Park last Friday for one sole purpose — celebrating Mahomet.

Mahomet Parks and Recreation kicked off its Summer Concert Series with acts such as the Caleb Cook Band and Mike Ingram and provided goodies from local food truck vendors, including Chester's BBQ, Kona Ice, the Snack Shack and TK's Cheesesteaks.

"It's great to have live music and just connect with faces you haven't seen in a while," Leah Bice of Mahomet said. "It's kind of a warmup to Music Fest."

Three free-standing inflatables, including a bounce house, obstacle course and slide, kept most youngsters entertained.

"I like the obstacle courses," Journey Alexander, 8, said.

Though Mary Alexander's younger daughter, Walden, 2, was admittedly timid of the bounce houses, she found it to be a great way to "run off some energy."

"Small town USA. This is what it's all about — coming together and doing the fun things," Mary Alexander said. "That's why we live in Mahomet."

"And because it's more safe," Journey added.

Insight Therapy of Champaign welcomed children to create balloon-shaped animals and objects ranging from alligators, butterflies, parrots, swords and even unicorns with its balloon artist.

"I'd say butterflies come in third most popular and then the unicorn," owner Kathleen El Koury said. "It's a good opportunity for families to come out and enjoy a night together and do something a little different on a Friday night."

Other family-friendly activities included giant yard games such as Connect Four, Jenga and soccer. Re/Max realtor Max Mitchell of Champaign even brought one of his hot air balloons to showcase at the event. Though he was unable to take flight given unfavorable weather conditions to the east, Mitchell decided to show off his balloon as a way to celebrate Mahomet.

"Mahomet's just a really family-friendly community, and I think because of that, it just brings a lot of nice people out, nice kids and parents who want to bring the family out for something to do on a Friday evening," Mitchell said.

Kari Waisath and her children rode the golf cart over from the grass lot near the Mahomet IGA to join in the fun at the park.

"It's something fun to do with the kids," Waisath said.

The Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce moved its farmers' market to Barber Park for the evening and even shuttled event attendees from its approximate half-mile trek from Mahomet IGA's grass lot to the park from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. with its two six-seat carts and one four-seater.

"They were not always full, but they were consistently moving," chamber director Walter Pierce said. "They were constantly moving and one would get there and then the other would take off."

The service was provided by the First State Bank of Forest and took roughly six to seven people to successfully run the service.

But food and music weren't the only things community members were celebrating during Friday's booming event. WCIA 3 News live broadcasted its "Our Town" segment featuring local happenings from Mahomet all evening long.

"It (the Summer Concert Series) kind of exploded because of the WCIA 'Our Town' approaching the chamber and the village and saying we're coming to town the first week of June and seeing if we could have a cool event to build around that," Mahomet Parks and Recreation Department Director Dan Waldinger said. "The chamber had the idea of moving the farmers' market to Barber Park to create a Summer Concert Series and get everyone in one spot. We supersized our concert series for the benefit of 'Our Town' Mahomet."

The spotlight on the village sent many community members buzzing about their hometown.

"I think it helps show how nice of a community it is," Gina Morphew said. "I teach at the high school, and we moved here so that our kids could go to school here, and it's just a nice place to live — not every town does something like this."

Tara Allen, who attended the event with her daughter Livi, 3, and neighbors, said the event was a great way to "socialize among the grown-ups," she said jokingly.

"I love Mahomet, and I love living here," she added. "It's nice to see familiar faces."

Laura Bice has lived in Mahomet for 27 years. For her and her daughter, Leah, the event is an excellent way to simply show support and pride in the community.

"I think it's special when we get to come together during the summertime to celebrate this awesome town we get to live in," Leah Bice said.

"This town always rallies for one another," Laura Bice added. "It's just a big family and we're blessed by that."

The crowd-pleasing moment of the evening for Waldinger was when Pierce presented Bob and Kristi Seaman a card created by Yellow & Co. owner Elizabeth VanHoutan acknowledging the heroic efforts of their son, Jason Seaman, who is a 2007 Mahomet-Seymour graduate who tackled a gunman where he works as a seventh-grade science teacher at Noblesville (Ind.) West Middle School.

"Everyone is rallying behind him," Waldinger said. "There's so much pride."

The card was available for community members to sign at the entrance of the Mahomet IGA for the last two weeks, filling approximately eight pages of signatures.

"I think Bob and Kristi were touched," Pierce said. "It was fun for them to look through it and find signatures of people they knew."

"They were just amazed at the support that Jason got from the village," Pierce added.

A key factor to the event's success was simply the cooperative weather.

"My favorite part was 7:45, when the sun was setting. The parked looked amazing and Caleb Cook was playing his tunes and everyone was happy and relaxed enjoying it," Waldinger said. "Temperature wise, it finally cooled off, and it just was perfect. It's kind of how I envisioned the music in the park to be."

The event was the first of a three-part series. The Concert Series will resume its 6 to 8 p.m. sets July 13 and Aug. 10 in Barber Park.

"The next ones won't be quite as huge," Waldinger joked. "They'll be a little more low key."

The idea for the series initially began as a Food Truck Friday event last year.

"Food Truck Friday was a trial to see how it would go and if people would like it," Waldinger said. "It went well and people asked for more and that's how it evolved into a Summer Concert Series."

He credits the first of the series going off without a hitch due to the tireless efforts of his team, including parks and recreation program coordinator Denise Reynolds, parks maintenance worker Dennis Mohr and administrative assistant Johanna Jewell.

"Hosting at the park takes a lot of prep," Waldinger said. "There's so much work that they make look easy, and we're really proud of them for that."

Waldinger also thanked the numerous sponsors for the event, including stage sponsor Fisher National Bank and inflatable sponsors American Graphx, Taylor Realty and Walk Chiropractic for their efforts.

"It doesn't happen without them," Waldinger added.

The Summer Concert Series left many cherishing their small town, such as Nick Morphew, who said the event was a good way to build "pride" and "unity."

Pierce added the event made people realize Mahomet is more than a bedroom community to Champaign.

"We're a lot more than that," he said. "We're a great parks and rec department, forest preserve at Lake of the Woods and schools. It's just utopia out here."

"It makes you feel good about where you live," Waldinger added. "You get to know your neighbors a little bit better and your community."

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