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Olson: Corn Fest has long music history

Lots of attractions have been added and subtracted from Corn Fest over its 40-year history as a community festival.

Some of the additions have stayed with the festival for the long haul (such as the annual DeKalb Corn Classic 10K race, which started in 1981). Others have fallen by the wayside, such as the “ethnic food festival” and disco dance lessons.

But no matter how the festival has changed, music consistently has been one of its main attractions.

Tonight’s acts will include rockers Catfight from 5 to 6:30 p.m., the rap/hip-hop cover band Too White Crew from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and ’80s rock cover band Hi Infidelity from 9 to 11 p.m.

It’s rather different from the first musical act to perform at Corn Boil Fest in 1977: a barbershop quartet called the Kish-wau-keys. There also was a puppet show performed at the same time. I hope that unlike Spinal Tap, the ‘Keys got top billing over the puppet show.

Corn Fest hosted scores of musical acts in the decades afterward, some of them famous, some probably long forgotten. I looked back in the archives to refresh some memories of the bands that have graced the stage at our community festival in the 20th century.

There were big-name acts, such as .38 Special (1999), Jefferson Starship – sans Grace Slick– in 1995, John Kay & Steppenwolf (1992) and “Queen of Blues” Koko Taylor (1992, ’94 and ’97) and Greg Kihn, who did “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song” also played Corn Fest in 1994. Eddie Money showed up in 2000.

My personal favorite 20th century act to play Corn Fest came in 1996: Blue Oyster Cult, who brought us classics such as “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Burning For You” and “Godzilla.”

Coincidentally, their appearance was sponsored by the Daily Chronicle.

There also have been bands with novelty appeal. The Jump ‘N’ The Saddle Band, a Chicago-based band that got on MTV with “The Curly Shuffle,” played in 1985.

The Spanic Boys, fresh off their emergency appearance on “Saturday Night Live” after Sinead O’Connor refused to play for host Andrew Dice Clay, appeared in 1990. As father-and-son rockabilly duos go, they weren’t bad, but they never really hit it big.

There also have been some bands with just funny names, such as The Jerks (1981), Johnny Bounce and the Bad Checks (1985), and Tools of Romance (1985).

There have also appeared some very dedicated local acts on the soundstage. Mr. Meyers, a reggae band, was a local favorite that played almost every year in the ’80s and ’90s and into the aughts. Another regular act was the DeKalb Footstompers (later just the Footstompers), and John Smith and the Shananigans Big Band, who opened the festival on Friday evening for years.

Maybe what we need is a Corn Fest Music Hall of Fame. Something to commemorate all the acts this local festival has brought to DeKalb over the years.

After 40 years, we’ve certainly got enough history.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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