Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Sydney Edwards
Mattoon High School
The annual Red, White & Blue Days is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year by keeping the tradition of free concerts in Morton Park.
The main stage concert this year features Tate Stevens, the 2012 X-Factor winner, who is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on July 3.
The free Red, White & Blue Days concerts began 23 years ago and have attracted a variety of musicians over the years.
“We have had Jake Owen, Trace Adkins, Heidi Newfield, Tracy Byrd and Ronnie Milsap preform over the past years, ” said Betty Coffrin, one of the first committee members for Red, White & Blue Days.
As national stars have arrived to perform at RWB Days, they have brought fans from outside of Coles County.
“When Jake Owen came, I had calls from people asking about the concert and I had to convince them that it was free,” Coffrin said.
The theme for this year’s event is “Only in America.”
“Only in this country can you go on a show and win and then you’re a mega star,” Coffrin said, referring to Stevens.
During RWB Days events, Mayor Larry Rennels said, Charleston economically improves.
“Through the hotel and motel packs, the added sales taxes benefit the community,” Rennels said.
According to Rennels, he started attending the RWB Days festivities when it first started. Through his attendance, he has seen an increase in activities for the event.
“It is a patriotic celebration that has grown into a festival with a parade, games for kids and local vendors, ” Rennels said.
At RWB Days, local organizations even offer entertainment for every age.
“The fire department has a swimming pool full of foam,” Coffrin said. “Usually, the kids go crazy for it.”
The Independence Day celebration also offers children a way to be patriotic artists.
“The Great Chalk-In is held by the Coles County Arts Council,” Coffrin said. “They give kids a square and all the colors of chalk they want.”
The RWB Days festivities are set to kick off from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at Morton Park with bingo, where community members can play to win cash and prizes. The Red, White & Blue Days events resume July 3 and then continue through July 4.
According to Coffrin, at Morton Park, event organizers ask all organizations to be non-profit.
Members of the Knights of Columbus will be a primary vender and plan to sell hamburgers and lemon shake-ups.
For $2, the Red, White & Blue Days committee is offering the traditional of all-you-can-eat ice cream on the Fourth. All venders open at 3 p.m. July 3 and will be open all day on July 4.
“I tell people to come out and support the vendors because the money they get goes right back into the community, ” Coffrin said.
Events next week also include the 4 on the 4th run/walk for Habitat for Humanity; registration starts at 6:30 a.m and the run is at 7:30 a.m.
On July 3, the Farmer of the Year award will be announced, in addition to the crowning of Little Mr. and Miss Firecracker following the 6:30 p.m. main stage performance by the Lemon Brothers Band.
At 2:15 p.m. on July 4, there will be a bell-ringing ceremony for the late John Morrisey, one of the first Red, White & Blue Days committee members, and in honor of the late John Daum, founding director of the Charleston Community Band.
“Red, White & Blue Days is just a fun event, it’s free and I hear from people that they plan their Fourth of July celebration around it — that’s our motivation to keep it going,” Coffrin said.