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Mount Pulaski Courthouse Festival a dancing in the streets good time

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[July 03, 2014]  MOUNT PULASKI - The Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation's third annual street festival may have kicked-off Friday night under cloudy skies and few rain showers, but that sure did not put a damper on the evening's activities.

The Prairie Land Dancers kicked-off the event at 5:30 p.m. and squared danced in the rain to a variety of songs from country classics to swing music.

In the background, the luring aroma of Hilltop Catering's grilled brats and hotdogs filled the air.

Meanwhile folks meandered around from tent to tent checking out the food and drinks available. The city of Mount Pulaski served pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, while the American Legion served alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

As the rain began to fall a little harder following the performance by the square dancers, street festival organizer Renee Martin announced there would be a 30 minute rain delay to allow for the weather to pass.

At 6:30 p.m. Courthouse Foundation president, Tom Martin, addressed the crowd with opening remarks. He began by thanking the 2013-2014 Mount Pulaski Grade School third graders who raised $610 toward the continued restoration of the courthouse. Martin also mentioned a Christmas tree project that several of the businesses around town supported had also brought in between $3000-$4000 in donations. On behalf of the committee Martin expressed his appreciation for the community support and urged visitors to visit the courthouse and not only sign in as guests, but also vote for the art show finalists which included first and third graders of MPGS.

Martin mentioned that $70,000 had been raised in the community in recent years and this money goes toward the ongoing courthouse projects such as cleaning, painting and repairing windows. He noted that the state cannot do much these days and it's been left up to the residents of Mount Pulaski to take over.

Martin also said a $250,000 donation has been bequeathed from the Waldo Bertoni family. In closing, Martin thanked everyone who had helped with the courthouse and said, "It's kinda up to the Mount Pulaski folks to take care of it."

Following Martin's remarks, Abraham Lincoln impersonator Randy Duncan addressed the crowd with stories of the past. He spoke as Mr. Lincoln and talked of meeting Mary Todd at a dance back in the day in Springfield. He explained how the men would stand in one corner of the room and the women in the other corner and eventually a man would work up the courage to ask a woman to dance. He finally did just that, asking Mary Todd, "Ma'am, I should like to dance with you in the worst way." She obliged and eventually returned to her friends saying, "He danced with me in the worst way."

Mr. Lincoln also mentioned traveling the courthouse circuit and meeting Judge Davis in Mount Pulaski . He noted how he would go on to appoint Judge Davis, a good man, to the Supreme Court. He also spoke of a court case he took on for five dollars in nearby Petersburg.

The crowd truly enjoyed hearing Abraham Lincoln speak, as the folks of Mount Pulaski are very proud of the connection to him and to their historic courthouse where Lincoln once practiced his profession as a circuit rider lawyer.

Next up on the entertainment stage was a man who also has a more recent historic connection to Mount Pulaski as well. And boy, did the crowd ever enjoy this performer. John Schlitt, a native of Mount Pulaski, former lead singer of the '70s rock group Head East, and lead singer of the Christian rock group Petra, took the stage with a lively introduction of himself and immediately launched into the Head East classic "Since You've Been Gone." The crowd loved it! And this was just the beginning of a night of mutual admiration between John and his hometown friends and fans. Schlitt quickly noted that even though he's been away from Mount Pulaski for a long time, "I am always here in Mount Pulaski in spirit."

John also sang "The Grafting" from his solo release of the same name. He also mixed things up a bit by performing "Take Me Home," "Faith and Freedom," "Hope That Saves The World" and "Trading My Sorrows."

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Much to the delight of the crowd, John even performed the Petra hit, "Beyond Belief." But it was this next song from the 1974 album "Flat As a Pancake" that had the crowd on it's feet and singing to every word.

When the music began for "Never Been Any Reason," the hometown folks knew they were in for a rare treat, and John delighted in the experience as much as his fans. He even invited a young man from the crowd by the name of Stephen Biker of Milan, MO to join him on stage and sing this classic hit. What a priceless moment that was for all who were on the Mount Pulaski square Friday night.

John Schlitt, the man whose career has spanned decades and taken him to all 50 states and 35 countries performing in front of millions of fans, was back in the community where it all began. He was among friends and family. And he wasn't done yet. Following "Never Been Any Reason" he asked the crowd if they wanted one more. People were dancing in the street as John closed his set appropriately with "Get Up and Enjoy Yourself."

Yes, John, the folks of Mount Pulaski did just that thanks to you.

Immediately after getting off stage, John was greeted with a line of people who wished to express their sincere gratitude for his wonderful performance and also share memories with him from the good 'ole days. It was also a nice feeling to witness local high school musicians Brady Walsh and Andrew Moody of the band "Haircut Actual" standing in line to meet John, and of course, take selfies.

John has influenced a whole new generation here in Mount Pulaski. And as evidenced by the enthusiasm of the crowd, John re-ignited a spark in that crowd that grew up with him and his music 'back in the day.' What a treat for all the folks of Mount Pulaski.

The final musical performance of the evening was the band "Rosetta Stone." Rosetta Stone performed a variety of country and rock hits that kept the lively crowd going even a little later than anticipated. Not to take anything away from Rosetta Stone because they, too, were wonderful, but hometown boy John Schlitt was a tough act to follow. Rosetta Stone however, rose to the occasion and John Schlitt himself commented what a "fantastic band they are" and he even told Renee Martin that "it was a pleasure to share the stage with them." Renee Martin also noted that "it is definitely a good possibility that we may bring John back in the future. He is such a humble and down to earth man. He enjoyed visiting the old friends, family and fans."

When asked about plans for next year's street festival, Renee Martin commented, "Next year I look forward to concentrating on the things people liked the best and improving upon them. This festival is based on the simplicity of things. We just try to provide a simple, but fun night where folks can gather and socialize. We like to bring awareness to the courthouse and thank the volunteers and community for all they do throughout the year."

Judging by the enthusiastic crowd Friday night, the evening could truly be deemed a success. Kudos to all who put together a such a nice event.


Note: John Schlitt will be returning to Illinois in August. He will be appearing with Petra at the Illinois State Fair on August 17th.

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