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SoundCheck: Hot Chili and Cool Tunes Help the Sertoma Clubs Make Our Community a Better Place

Nearly everyone in Springfield is familiar with the Sertoma Chili Cook-off. It’s the big celebration in February where local businesses and organizations compete for the best chili, all while helping support the Boys and Girls Clubs. Anyone who’s been to a chili cook-off knows that live music is a major part of the day’s events. This year’s event on February 23rd will again feature the KSMU Acoustic Stage, as well as the main stage in the big room of the downtown Expo Center.

I spoke with Sertoman Ken Childers about what makes live music such a vital part of this event.

"If there’s one thing we Americans expect to be, it’s entertained,” he said.

Ken has been with Sertoma long enough to have seen the event evolve over the years.

“I am an 18-year veteran of Sertoma. I remember a long time ago when this used to be held in what was known as the Sears Building, before it morphed into the Expo Center, so just the top part. That was about it. There was no big three massive floor Expo Center, and it was a seriously good time,” said Ken.

The first Springfield Sertoma club formed over 80 years ago to raise money for the first Boys and Girls Club in town. The word Sertoma is actually an acronym, standing for Service To Mankind. Thirty-eight years ago in 1981, the local group held its first ever chili cook-off. It was a simple affair without live music.

“We joke about, like y’know, how many people were there and what it raised and everything like that. And I’m like, ‘Well, if you’re telling me right, then there’s no way there’s even room for a stand or any money to even plug an amp in.’ It was kind of just a real thrown-together thing,” said Ken.

The Sertoma Club knew live music was a great way to draw a crowd. There were a lot of members of the group who were in bands.

“So it’s just been a natural that Springfield, being the music hub that it is, but not necessarily that everybody in the world knows yet, so when you bring it into a party like this, it’s like, ‘I know him! I know her!’ and it makes it a lot of fun. Feels like it’s in your backyard. It IS in your backyard!” said Ken. 

At some point over the cook-off’s evolution, the Friday night before the main event, when chili cooks would come to the venue to set up their kitchens, became a party in itself. The Cook’s Party, as it’s affectionately called, has become a raucous evening full of music. The Pspringfield Psychos, a band made up of several Sertomans, including brothers Tim and Nick Love, have been the mainstay of the Cook’s Party since around the year 2000. Drummer Kenny Wirt told me that while the Psychos aren’t playing this year, they will undoubtedly continue to make occasional appearances. As he says, “Can’t keep a Psycho down!”

This year’s Cook’s Party will be held on Friday, February 22nd beginning at 6 pm at the Springfield Expo Center and is free and open to the public with musical performances by Krista Meadows and Kris Palmer, Wicked Shimmy, and Innuendo.  

For the actual Chili Cook-off event on Saturday, February 23rd, the main stage will feature music from the Mixtapes, the Dirty Saints, Ryan Collins, Smokey Folk, and the Steve Moeller Band. DJ CEO will spin tunes in between band sets. Upstairs, the KSMU Acoustic stage will take a more chill approach to live music. Again, here’s Ken Childers.

“It’s not the Super Bowl Half-Time Show, it’s what leads into that and gets people a chance to, ‘Ah, this’ll break me into going down and having a beverage and seven bowls of chili and everything else,’” he said.

The Shandies will kick things off at the KSMU Acoustic Stage at 11:00, followed by the Henderson Kids at noon. This brother and sister duo features Mike Henderson and Sertoman Melissa Henderson-Rea, who is the Queen City Sertoma Chairman of the Board and the Sponsorship Chair. Drifters Milewill shake things up at 1:00, giving a full-band vibe to the stage.

"With the Acoustic Stage, you’re often getting one or two, a singer/songwriter and stuff. So this will be more of a band up there, but it fits the mold, it fits the genre and stuff of what we’re trying to present during that time,” said Ken.

The final performance on the KSMU Acoustic Stage will be Justin Larkin and his Suitcase at 2:00.

KSMU is stoked to be a part of the Seroma Chili Cook-off again raising money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield. Be sure to check out to get the latest schedules and tickets for the event. The Chili Cook-off has a rich history of live music and public engagement that brings the community together year after year. I’ll see you there.

Thanks for tuning into SoundCheck, I’m Jess Balisle.

Be sure to tune into Studio Live on Friday, February 8th at noon with Ken Childers and musical performances by the Shandies and Justin Larkin. Studio Live Social Hour at the Backlot at Alamo Drafthouse will feature the Shandies that night from 6-8 pm.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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