Summer in the Clubs!
Live Music Venue GUIDE
Iowa City is what is known in the biz as a ‘small market.’ Acts on national tours book shows in Iowa City based on it’s geographical position within a half-day’s drive of Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City—it’s a great place to shoehorn a show in between bigger cities, to avoid a ‘dark night’ on tour. The local commercial live venues—The Blue Moose, Gabe’s, The Mill, and the Yacht Club—take advantage of this to bring Iowa City audiences shows that pass by more out-of-the-way cities.
The summer music schedule in local bars is less hectic than it is in fall or spring, the traditional heavy touring seasons, but there’s still plenty of interesting events to choose from.
Blue Moose Tap House
(211 Iowa Ave.)
The Blue Mouse is in a nineteenth-century brick building that has been a music venue under different names and styles since the 1960s. When it became the Blue Moose they renovated part of the downstairs area into a concert room with a capacity of 600. The Moose books a variety of music, but is the venue most likely to host nationally touring indie-pop and hip-hop acts. It also features a separate venue upstairs, The Blue Room, which can be used for smaller shows but more often functions as a green room for acts performing downstairs.
In June and July the Blue Moose will present some interesting shows. Des Moines’ Parrenderos Latin Combo (June 9) bring South American heat; Destroyer (June 11) who, despite the name, crafts carefully made, radio friendly pop songs; Big K.R.I.T. (July 15), a popular and critical success as a hip-hop MC, representing Meridian Mississippi; two big metal shows (Motionless in White on June 13 and The Word Alive on June 26) are bound to appeal to the younger headbangers among us.
The schedule will fill out more in coming weeks, and there will probably be a few more dance and dubstep DJ nights announced; they’ve been a successful draw for the Moose.
The Yacht Club (13 S. Linn Street) and Gabe’s (330 E. Washington)
Scott Kading bought the Yacht Club building because when it had been open in the late ’80s and early ’90s it was his favorite bar. It’s not exactly the same—there are no peanut shells littering the floor, for one thing—but it has developed a passionate following. Kading says “Our vision for the Yacht Club has never changed—have as much fun as possible … we get to throw a party in a basement every night.”
The Yacht Club features its regular lineup of dance parties on Tuesdays and jam sessions on Wednesdays. Local favorites like Dennis McMurrin (June 2), Dead Larry (June 16) and the Diplomats Of Solid Sound (July 6) prove that music, like beer, is often best when it’s fresh and locally made.
Kading also bought Gabe’s recently. Gabe’s has been an institution in Iowa City for over 40 years, hosting countless memorable concerts in those years. Since 2009 it has changed hands three times, but Kading is committed to living up to its storied past. “The potential is amazing. We haven’t had a sold out show yet, but it’s coming.” Sadly, the regular downstairs customers—formerly the best free show in town—have moved on. “The previous two owners went out of their way to ensure the old regulars are gone” Kading says, “We have spent the last six months cleaning the place up and making it a nice place to hang out again.”
Kading listed several upcoming shows he was looking forward to at Gabe’s: The Firecracker 500 Festival (June 28-30) returns with a stellar line up of punk and garage music, with Clevelend’s Hotchacha headlining. Surf-guitar legend Dick Dale returns (July 7), with Iowa guitar legend Dennis McMurrin opening up. Funk-bass virtuoso Victor Wooten will play Gabe’s the following night and Iowa City reggae favorites Public Property come back for a reunion concert on July 12.
(120 E. Burlington St.)
The Mill is Iowa City’s oldest live music venue, celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary this year. Talent Booker Chris Wiersema says, “It’s the one venue that the median age isn’t 23. It’s more like 33, just because of its history and type of music, and it’s a restaurant as well. It isn’t just a concrete room with a stage at one end of it.” More than any other local music venue, The Mill has atmosphere, featuring some decorations in the front bar that go back thirty years or more. It also has Iowa City’s scariest basement, which few have seen and fewer still have seen twice.
The Mill’s emphasis, through most of it’s history, has been in acoustic American music. “Folk being the broad term,” says Wiersema, “Bluegrass is obviously a main thing, traditional folk, singer-songwriters from the ’60s folk era. Because of that we have a stable audience throughout the summer.” But since changing owners in 2003, the booking has branched out to encompass just about every sort of music that would fit onto its small stage, or sometimes spill over onto the dance floor in front of it.
Summer highlights for The Mill include, Moonface (June 17), a project of Spencer Krug’s (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) playing wide-screen Bowie-esque Rock Music; Finders and Youngberg (June 28), proponents of Bluegrass’s new wave; Quintron and Miss Pussycat (July 19) play what they call ‘Swamp-Tech’ combining electronic music with pure Louisiana Weird; He’s My Brother She’s My Sister (July 6) describe themselves as “glam-billy” but manage to echo both X and early Jefferson Airplane.
The Jazz Festival (June 29-July 1) is a free street festival that has been happening in downtown Iowa City on the first weekend in July since 1991. It brings internationally known Jazz musicians to perform in the open air, and also features local and regional jazz players. I spoke to Craig Kessler about this year’s lineup. He was pleased that the festival secured The Heath Brothers as headliners. The Heath Brothers are still vital performers who have played with Jazz greats like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Kessler said that the emphasis of the festival has been shifting. “I think they’re trying to see if they can’t cultivate some new people to look for younger talent.”
Kessler says, “even if it’s someone I’m not really familiar with, I always enjoy what happens. People ask me ‘who should I see?’ and I say ‘look, go see the whole thing, it’s free!’ And it’s always a gas. You never know what you’re going to get, but I look forward to all of it.”
The Marco Benevento Trio (June 30, 4:00 p.m.) definitely stretches the definition of Jazz, combining piano with synthesizers and live looping. Though you won’t hear him playing out of the Great American Songbook, he’s a fearless improviser and technically accomplished pianist. Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors (June 30, 6:00 p.m.), led by bassist Sickafoose, create an original sound with echoes of Frank Zappa at his most wistfully orchestral, Radiohead and the fearless improvisation of Miles Davis.
The Mill will be featuring Jazz Festival after-party jam sessions that will get started just as the festival’s outdoor activities wind down in the evening. It’s a place where the musicians who play the festival can sit in. In the tradition of after-hours clubs like New York’s legendary Hinton’s, The Mill will give listeners a front row seat at the raw creative process of jazz, along with pizza and plenty of cold beer.
Kent Williams gave up religion for Lent.
Five Questions with Local Musicians
With its relaxed pacing and breeziness, summer serves as a perfect time to relax and catch up on remaining projects. This is definitely true for music as school, work and/or life can get in the way of actually keeping up with what is going on. Using this idea as a launching point, I got in contact with a variety of local musicians and asked them how music has been treating them for the first half of this year, both live and on record. If you are active in Iowa City’s live music scene, the people that I’ve talked to will likely be familiar to you. If not, many of them will be playing around town over the summer and are certainly worth seeing live.
Current favorite albums?: A Commitment to Excellence by Sister Fucker, American Beauty by Grateful Dead, Pandemonium Shadow Show by Harry Nilsson, Tanglewood Numbers by Silver Jews, and Marquee Moon by Television.
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: Stillsuit from Oakland on June 8 at my house with Supersonic Piss. Planning on going to Chicago for Bitchpork (not to be confused with Pitchfork) in July.
Favorite show so far this year?: I really enjoyed Featureless Ghost at The Mill, and Sister Fucker at Gabe’s. Overall though, the epic comedy show featuring David Cross, H. Jon Benjamin & Jon Glaser was the most amazing thing I’ve witnessed so far this year.
Brendan O’ Keefe (Cuticle, member of Ginseng)
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: Mark Fell has possibly been around a while but this is definitely the year he blew up. Not sure if he would be filed as noise or dance music but his music is not hard to listen to in my opinion. Its challenging on the rhythmic level and that can really scramble the ear.
Favorite local acts?: Goldendust, Muscle and Surgery
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: The only one I can think of is Grass Widow on June 3.
Current favorite albums?: I’ve been into Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes and Maraqopa by Damien Jurado. I don’t know a lot about Alabama Shakes, but I can’t get enough of them. I never got into any of Damien Jurado’s other stuff, but this new album kind of slays me. Specifically the second half of the album—the first half is weird.
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: As mentioned above, Alabama Shakes. They’re new, right? Also, First Aid Kit. They’re not brand new, but they’re new to me and I love them.
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July? Quintron on July 19! I saw him and Miss Pussycat perform once in Portland and it goes down as one of my favorite shows of all time.
What’s been your favorite show so far this year?: Sharon Van Etten‘s Mission Creek show. I may be a bit biased on that one.
Current Favorite Albums?: Twin Shadow’s Forget is my latest obsession though it isn’t new. Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory is still awesome, especially the first half. Just starting to listen to Bloom—the new Beach House album—in-depth, but also listening to stuff from last year and beyond including: Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972, Natural History’s Beat Beat Heartbeat, French Kicks’ Young Lawyer EP
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: Twin Shadow
Favorite local acts?: Emperors Club and Cuticle
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: Moonface (Spencer Krug’s new joint) and Quintron & Miss Pussycat (full disclosure, it’s a MCF presents show)
What’s been your favorite show so far this year?: Tim Hecker at First United or Black Milk at Gabe’s (full disclosure, both were Mission Creek Festival 2012 shows).
Current favorite albums?: Enter the Dragon by Keith Hudson, White Mice’s self-titled LP, Mister Yellowman by Yellowman. I’m always jamming down under stuff from New Zealand and Australia such as Time To Go, a compilation double LP recently put out by Flying Nun, the great New Zealand label from the 80s that’s now back at it. I’m also jamming the Six Impossible Things and Solomans Ball 12-inches by The Bilders, which were just recently re-released. I recently scored one of my all time lost classics on vinyl: Solid Space’s Space Museum. Everyone interested in post punk, cold wave or synth pop should hear it.
Favorite local acts?: I sit close to Goldendust and the stuff Brendan O’Keefe is doing. I saw Taterbug play a nice set recently that surprised me. Gem Jones is also making some cool recordings that are really wild and so different than anything anybody is doing locally, which I like.
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: I’m looking forward to the Wet Hair record release show with Grass Widow and The Outside World on June 3.
What’s been your favorite show so far this year?: I really liked seeing Merchandise, Featureless Ghost and, recently, my old friend Russian Tsarlag. Dirty Beaches at Gabe’s was good times too. I was blown away by Group Bombino at CSPS in Cedar Rapids. It was a tiny show, but it felt very, very special to witness.
Current favorite albums?: In the last few weeks I’ve been listening to the newest releases by Fatoumata Diawara and Tinariwen. I’ve also been enjoying an older favorite of mine, Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: I met a young artist named Krystle Warren when I was touring in Australia recently. She’s from Kansas City but lives in Paris. She’s got magic!
Favorite local acts?: So many local artists have influenced me including my dad Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Dave Moore, Bob Black and Al Murphy. I have not had the opportunity to check out many local shows in the last couple years because of touring. I look forward to having some time to check out some local shows this summer and fall!
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: I’m looking forward to playing the fest with my dad & co. on June 1! I heard Los Lobos and Carrie Rodriguez will be in town on June 2. And I look forward to Jazz Fest!
Brian Johannesen (Grand Tetons)
What albums are you into right now?: Recently I’ve been listening to a shit ton of Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams. I’ve also been hitting a lot of the new Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug records, which I think go hand in hand. The single for the new Gaslight Anthem record is pretty awesome, I’m really stoked about that. Oh! And the new Norah Jones album KILLS.
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: I’ve really been into the new Daughn Gibson record, All Hell. Talk about taking country in a whole new direction. He’s really the only new guy I’ve been getting into. New to me, however, have been bands like Cloud Nothings, The Horrible Crowes and The Men. I guess Jack White’s solo album is new, right? I love that album.
Favorite local acts?: ALL OF THEM. I am considering “Iowa” as local to answer this question because it really is just one big scene. I particularly like Christopher the Conquered, Alexis Stevens, Brooks Strause and The Wandering Bears. GO SEE LOCAL BANDS PLAY.
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: Always. June 6 at Gabe’s is going to be Fairfield’s electrifying Little Ruckus playing with Midstress and Robots Counterfeiting Money. I’m also keeping my eye out, as you should, for the date of Alexis Stevens’ record release party in early June, that will be a lot of fun. And, of course, Destroyer on June 11.
What’s been your favorite show so far this year?: I was able to see (and play with) Will Whitmore, Justin Townes Earle and Joe Pug in just a matter of months, which is like the holy trinity of songwriters for me right now, and all of those shows were exceptional and very special for me. It would have been a perfect year if I could have played with Craig Finn when he played at the Mill because that show was incredible. That one probably takes the cake.
Bernardo Moreira (Dream Thieves)
Are there any new artists that you are into right now?: All of the above. Maybe they are not “new artists” per se, but they are to my ears
Are there any shows you are looking forward to in June and July?: I like music festivals. I always go to Camp Euforia. I’m also looking forward to either Jazz Fest (IC) or BluesFest (Davenport), depending which lineup looks better. It’s a little bit silly to have them in the same weekend, no?
What’s been your favorite show so far this year?: In Iowa City, I think JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound. Amazing live performance, amazing control of the stage by JC. Outside of Iowa City, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg and M83 with Amon Tobin, both at Coachella Music Festival.
A.C. Hawley’s favorite new artist is Tops. His favorite show so far this year was Dirty Beaches at Gabe’s.