A Divine Experience at Concerts on the Creek

With a diverse lineup of musical acts, this donation-based series offers accessible entertainment to all, celebrating music while fostering a warm and inclusive environment.

Concerts on the Creek is now a beloved institution, but nearly a decade ago, an unexpected setback nearly derailed the series at Spring Creek United Church of Christ, 4500 Spring Creek Road in Rockford.

“I talked with some of my musician friends, and they agreed to play in the courtyard, but we discovered that, due to ordinance restrictions, outdoor concerts were not allowed,” recalls Ron Holm, a musician and church member who volunteers with the concert series.

Not to be dissuaded, Holm asked the church’s leadership to move the concert indoors.

“To their credit, the church decision-makers basically said, ‘Since we have a sanctuary and musicians liked playing there, let’s make it available to those musicians and to the community,’” he says.

Whether it was a happy accident or divine intervention, the popular concert series caught on. The inaugural concerts were well received, partly because the indoor space created a more comfortable environment for the audience – no mosquitoes, weather worries and uneven surfaces to negotiate. Not only was the sanctuary designed for flexibility and accessibility, but its tasteful design and simple beauty create a comfortable environment for secular and community-focused events. An acoustical ceiling also adds to the experience.

“Attendance was pretty good for a new series and the acoustics were utterly excellent,” Holm says. “We’re always grateful that the zoning restrictions caused us to move inside, because I’m not sure Concerts on the Creek would have continued as an outdoor event.”

These days, the series draws a wide range of original and tribute acts that celebrate fresh new music alongside tributes to legends like Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley. A few years ago, a Neil Diamond retrospective by Denny Diamond drew more than 300 people.

Performances run on select evenings, typically Saturdays at 7 p.m., from May through mid-October.
From late October through April, most shows start at 3 p.m.
An Inspiration on the Creek matinee series runs on occasional Sunday afternoons from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The shorter Sunday concerts are a good option for families with young kids who might not have the patience to sit through longer shows.

Ultimately, the point is to make music accessible to everyone, which is why you won’t see a ticket price on these performances.

“Everyone is welcomed at all of our concerts, and donations are optional,” says Liz Schultz, Community Care Ministry Chairperson for Spring Creek United Church of Christ. “We ask that our audience donate what they feel the concert is worth, to the extent that they are able. We don’t want anyone to miss a concert for financial reasons.”

More recently, the series has also begun offering an early donation option. This is especially helpful on the more-popular acts, because, since the pandemic, Concerts on the Creek shows are limited to just 150 patrons.

“If you go online and make a $5 non-refundable donation, you are guaranteed a seat regardless of when you show up,” adds Holm. People who can’t access the concert website at springcreekucc.org can call (815) 877-2576 to make their own early donations.

Whatever funds they collect are divided among performers and the church, with musicians typically getting 75% of the total.

“The donations the church receives go to defray the church’s hosting costs,” Holm explains. “This is a highly mission-oriented church, so part of the church’s share goes to keeping the lights on and part of it goes to the outreach missions of the church.”

Another benefit is that it introduces local audiences to talented musicians.

“The series attracts musicians who have played these kinds of events and high-profile concerts for years,” Holm says. “It’s the same level of entertainment you’d see if you drove to a big city.”

This upcoming season brings a true variety of acts. On Sept. 9, Chicago singer-songwriter Dave Rudolph brings a selection of his works, from a career that’s included 42 albums, songwriting awards and stage work with artists ranging from The Beach Boys to the Smother Brothers. The acoustic folk duo Ashley and Simpson appear a few weeks later, on Sept. 23.

“On Oct. 1, Dan Holmes will be here playing Christian music with a gentle message,” says Holm. “He’s a songwriter, guitarist and composer. Just excellent. He plays around the country and has a big following in the U.K.”

The next week, on Oct. 7, British guitarist Claude Bourbon takes the stage.

“He’s a genius guitar player, and an opportunity to see him is unique,” Holm says, adding that he’s equally excited to see ukulele virtuoso Todd Lorenc the following week, on Oct. 14. The month closes on a high note with Denny Diamond’s “The World’s Okayest Vocalist Variety Show” on Oct. 28.

Grass Attack performs Sunday, Nov. 5 with a lineup of country, folk, newgrass and bluegrass tunes. Then, the always-popular Jodi Beach Trio returns Saturday, Nov. 18. The 2nd City Chorus brings its special a capella Christmas program on Dec. 2, and two weeks later there’s a 2-hour Irish Christmas matinee on Dec. 17.

Holm serves as the contact for musicians and helps to schedule shows, but the Church’s ministry leaders – appointed by the church council – have final say on which acts are booked.

Each concert season brings a true balance of acts, with some performers returning and some new faces arriving. Some of those acts are pretty popular, judging from the way Holm has to schedule them well in advance.

“[The New Normal Jazz Band] works out of DeKalb, but their musicians come from around the area,” he says of the act that appeared Aug. 19. “They have a tight schedule – I contacted them probably back in March and they were able to give me one or two dates from which to select.”

Holm also keeps a busy schedule of performances. Back in February, he and his fellow bandmember, Janel Nelson, wanted to do a show with local radio personality Chip Messiner, with Holm singing George Strait songs, Nelson singing Linda Ronstadt hits and Messiner singing Conway Twitty songs. However, the first date all three were available was Aug. 26.

Trinadora and Messiner are now scheduled for a “Favorite Icons” performance Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3.

Later that week, on Sept. 8, something new is on tap when Concerts on the Creek hosts a Sock Hop organized and run by Vincent Records, owned by area musician Vince Chiarelli.

“Vince played a Concert on the Creek in early July and had an exceptional experience, and he asked if we could do the Sock Hop at Concerts on the Creek,” says Holm. “It’ll be fun. Instead of hiring an act from somewhere else, Vince is putting his group and Trinadora together for a special night. It’s not the kind of thing you’ll see anywhere else.”

Next year marks a special occasion for Concerts on the Creek: The series’ 10th anniversary. That milestone was nearly unimaginable when the series began with audiences of 60 to 80 patrons.
“This little series that was going to happen in a courtyard but had to move inside attracted a few people, but it just grew and grew,” Holm says.

Schultz is also pleased with the concert series that almost didn’t happen.

“We are so proud of what Concerts on the Creek has become and strive to continue to bring high-quality, accessible entertainment to our community,” she adds. “We hope to see you soon.”