In the 1840's, a group of religious emigrants left Sweden for Illinois, where they founded the Henry County village of Bishop Hill. Their experiment in utopia dissolved during the Civil War, but the bustling town they built survives as a National Landmark Village, and an Illinois State Historic Site. Today, descendants of those pioneers still live here, zealously preserving their Swedish heritage in festivals throughout the year.
In Sweden, almost every town celebrates Midsommar near the longest day of the year. "The next best thing to celebrating this event in Sweden is to join us for Midsommar in Bishop Hill," says Roger Luft, director of the Bishop Hill Arts Council. "This year the celebration is Saturday, June 23."
Sommarfest begins with music workshops at 10 a.m., and main stage performances at 11 a.m. Both continue throughout the afternoon. Workshops and jam sessions take place on the steps of the Steeple Building, and on streets off the village park. Visitors are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in the jams. Main stage shows take place at the Gazebo in the park.
Those leading workshops and performing on stage are:
• Black Hawk Pipes and Drums, a Quad Cities Scottish bag pipe ensemble.
• Manuel 3 (Manuel Lopez III), a Galesburg-based jazz, Latin and Christian percussionist. keyboardist and vocalist.
• Jansson 5, a Bishop Hill-based group named in honor of Eric Jansson, founder of the Bishop Hill colony, that specializes in a diverse musical style with an authentic Midwestern flavor.
• Vanessa & Richard League, Peoria-based couple specializing in classical harp, violin and guitar.
• Tim Grimm, an Indiana country singer.
At 4 p.m., villagers dress out a giant maypole with flowers, and led by expert Swedish accordionist, Ernie Sandquist, everyone processes from the park to the Colony School for more music and distinctive Swedish maypole dancing by the Heritage Folk Dancers. The day-long party winds down with an old-fashioned barn dance in the Colony School, featuring the Rusty Pickup String Band and caller, Gail Hintze.
All events take place rain or shine, and all are free except the Barn Dance, for which suggested donations are $5 adults, $3 kids, $15 family max.
Midsommar is sponsored by the Bishop Hill Arts Council, and is co-sponsored by Bishop Hill Heritage Association, Bishop Hill State Historic Site, Bishop Hill Old Settler's Association, VASA Lodge #683, area businesses and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council.
In 2007, Midwest Living magazine named Bishop Hill one of its 100 best small town destinations. Plan to stay the weekend, and sample the history of this historical gem. Tour five fascinating museums, dine on Swedish cuisine, browse unique gift shops and art galleries, and shop for Swedish imports.
For more information on Bishop Hill and Midsommar, phone 309-927-3311, 309-927-3899 or go to www.bishophill.com.
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Henry County is located in western Illinois, between the Quad Cities and Galesburg, Ill. The fertile farmland is bisected by the Hennepin Canal and dotted with charming small towns replete with antique shops, bakeries, farm markets and country cafés. For information on everything you need to plan a getaway, contact the Henry County Tourism Bureau toll-free at 877-436-7926 or www.VisitHenryCounty.com.