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By Cara Jepsen

JUNE

When bluegrass legend Bill Monroe played at Indiana's Brown County Jamboree in the 1950s, he enjoyed the experience so much he purchased the 55-acre concert venue and campsite, which he fixed up and owned until his death in 1996. It was recently bought by Dwight Dillman, who played banjo with Monroe's band in 1974. Monroe's mandolin-picking son James and his band the Midnight Ramblers will be one of the headliners at this month's Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. Dillman's 15-year-old son Derek will also perform, as well as Tim Graves & Cherokee, J.D. Crowe, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Sullivan Family, and many others. The four-day event starts at noon on Thursday, June 18, and runs through Sunday, June 21, at the Bill and James Monroe Festival Park and Campground in Bean Blossom, Indiana--about 250 miles southeast of Chicago. Admission is $15 to $20 per day; a four-day pass goes for $60. Campsites with amenities are $11 per day; "primitive" sites are free with two-day tickets. Call 812-988-6422 or 800-414-4677 for more.

Chicago's big-city status is directly traceable to the 1848 opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which extended 97 miles from the Chicago River to the Illinois River at La Salle. But the railroad came along a few years later, and the completion of the more modern Illinois Waterway in 1933 sealed the canal's fate. Today the 450-square-mile Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor is a national park that links historic sites, trails, and towns. Photographer Edward Ranney's large-scale black-and-white photos of the area are on display in an exhibit called "Prairie Passage" at the Cultural Center through June 28. On Friday, June 19, a panel of experts, including Reader contributor Jerry Sullivan, will discuss "Cultural and Natural Treasures of the Lake Calumet Region" in conjunction with the exhibit. It's at 12:15 at the center, 78 E. Washington. Admission is free; call 312-427-3688, ext. 388, for more. Afterward you may have a yen to see the corridor firsthand and attend one of the many related activities taking place throughout the summer, like concerts, garden strolls, bike rides, and river cruises. Call 800-926-2262 for detailed information.

JULY

Mitchell, South Dakota, may have its famed Corn Palace, but our cheesehead friends can boast of their walkable Wisconsin Corn Maze carved out of ten acres of corn. The maze celebrates 150 years of Wisconsin agriculture; in addition to cheese, our northerly neighbors produce cranberries, soybeans, mint, and ginseng, among other crops. The maze's grand opening is July 25 (it closes October 31), and the festivities will include live music, square dancing, food, displays of different types of corn and antique farm implements, and helicopter rides. The last will allow visitors to see that the cornfield has been carved into the shape of the state of Wisconsin, with the design of a barn and two silos decorating its interior. The day starts with a ribbon cutting at 11 and winds down around 8. The maze is on the Hughes Farm at the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 14 just east of Janesville--about two hours northwest of Chicago. It's $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for kids 6 to 11. Call 608-756-2207.

AUGUST

When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967, the inexpensive high-performance sports car was hailed as the poor man's Corvette. But sales have fallen off in recent years, and "there's a rumor they're going to quit making them after 2000," says Doug Aldridge of the Central Indiana Camaro Club, who owns two. This month hundreds of Camaros and their owners will make their way to his group's biennial Circle City Camaro Festival, which runs August 14-16 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort and Inn, 4400 W. 16th in Indianapolis. Owners will be able to take a lap around the Indy speedway, attend technical seminars, cruise to the local Dog & Suds, and compete and meet with other aficionados. It's $30 to preregister, $40 at the festival, and it's free to watch. Call 317-787-0648 for more.

Each year players from the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints, and the Kansas City Chiefs join the Green Bay Packers at various branches of the University of Wisconsin for summer training camp. "They come because of our great weather," says a spokeswoman for what's known as the Cheese League. The practices are free and open to the public--although tickets are required for scrimmages--and make for great autograph and photo opportunities. Call 414-270-6200 for general information; neither of the following hot lines will be in service until July. The Bears practice at UW-Platteville's field on Southwest Road in Platteville from July 24 through August 19; call 608-342-1496. They'll scrimmage against Mike Ditka's Saints on July 30 and August 1 at the Saints' camp at UW-La Crosse's Memorial Stadium, Pine and East in La Crosse. Call 608-789-4550.

SEPTEMBER

After the cattle that produce the ammo for the annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw have done their duty, volunteers--yes, unpaid volunteers--harvest the greenish pies and place them on a rack to dry. They're then sold to participants in the toss, where the record throw is 248 feet. In addition to the men's, women's, and children's competitions, there's also a tug-of-war, an arts and crafts fair, live music, and Bovine Bingo, in which cows wander about a giant chalk bingo board. If one poops on your number, you win. It's from 6 PM to midnight September 4 and from 8 AM to midnight September 5 in Marion Park at Grand and First in Prairie du Sac, about 100 miles northwest of Chicago. Admission is free; pies for the toss are $2. Call 608-643-4317.

When James Dean attended high school in Fairmount, Indiana, he won first place in the state forensic speech contest and placed sixth in the nationals; he also acted in school plays, played basketball and baseball, and dabbled in art. Items of Dean's on display at the Fairmount Historical Museum include drawings of farm implements, flowers, and the Wright brothers; his baby clothes; and two of his motorcycles. (There are also items relating to Garfield creator Jim Davis, who attended the same school 14 years later.) On September 25-27 the town of 3,186 will hold its annual 1950s-themed Remembering James Dean Festival, with a carnival, antique auto show, James Dean look-alike contest, and sock hop. It's from noon to 11 on Friday, 8 AM to 11 PM on Saturday, and noon to 7 on Sunday at the Fairmount Historical Museum, 203 E. Washington in Fairmount, about a three-hour drive from Chicago. It's free. Call 765-948-4555.

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