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Escape Artist: Midwestern Culture Trips

Craving vacation plus inspiration? Hit the road for arts-themed adventures in three towns: Columbus, Indiana; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

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The crowd at the 2011 Pygmalion Music Festival
Pygmalion concertgoers in 2011


Drive time from Chicago: 2.5 hours

If heat or crowds keep you away from Chicago’s indie fest Pitchfork, Pygmalion is the answer. With a bill of more than 55 well-known acts, not only does it bring in more bands, it also has a couple other notable advantages: the shows are spread across several venues, both indoors and out, diffusing the masses, and it’s held September 27 to 29, when cooler weather is on the way in.

This year’s lineup is worth traveling for, and includes surf rockers Best Coast, experimentalists Grizzly Bear, and arty wailers Dirty Projectors. The latter will be touring for their new album, Swing Lo Magellan. After Pygmalion, you won’t catch them in Illinois before next year.

A short walk from one of the main outdoor stages, Carmon’s Bistro (415 N. Neil St., Champaign) serves oysters, steak frites, and other French-influenced small plates and hearty entrées. Locals go to Esquire Lounge (106 N. Walnut St., Champaign) for cold beer, good sandwiches, and free peanuts. A few doors down, the English-style pub the Blind Pig Co. (120 N. Walnut St., Champaign) has an impressive list of microbrews and international drafts.

The boutique I Hotel (1900 S. First St., Champaign) rests on the southern edge of the University of Illinois campus. It’s out of the way of most venues but has more personality than the chain lodgings that dominate town. The unfussy Eastland Suites (1907 N. Cunningham Ave., Urbana) offers a free shuttle to concerts for festival attendees.

The massive Market at the Square features an Illinois-only lineup of farmers, artisans, and food vendors from 7 a.m. to noon each Saturday (Illinois Street and Vine Street, Urbana).

Exile on Main St. (1 E. Main St., Champaign) is a Pygmalion venue and downtown Champaign’s only remaining independently owned record store. Two blocks south, Furniture Lounge (11 E. University Ave., Champaign) sells a solid selection of midcentury modern furniture and housewares—and claims to ship anything anywhere.

Passes ($100; pygmalionmusicfestival.com for schedule) offer access to the festival’s full lineup but are in limited supply. Tickets to single shows (from $15), including each night’s headlining acts, will be released in batches on Pygmalion’s website up to the week of the fest.


Photograph: Courtesy of Justine Bursoni Photography


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