319 Fest will present 70 artists — including Davenport’s Soultru, fresh off a new release

319 Fest + Blended In Fashion Show

NewBo City Market — Saturday, Aug. 10 at 10 a.m.

Soultru’s Terrance Banks — Samm Rodriguez

In 2016, Cedar Rapids’ 319 Fest took a year off. Their goal was to refocus, redevelop. Organizers changed the location of the festival, and were determined to make it always free, organizer Jason Zbornik said in an email, “in hopes that it would allow more people access to new original music.” Now in its third year back from that break, 319 Fest’s eighth iteration is definitely meeting that goal, featuring over 70 artists on five stages (up from three last year, and including the new EDM stage, Blackout Room).

There’s also a fashion show inside the NewBo Market, along with other attractions such as a Ferris wheel and a giant art wall.

At its outset, the festival truly did center on musicians living and working in the 319 area code, which encompasses the Iowa 380 corridor up north just past Cedar Falls, as well as south down 218 all the way to Keokuk. But with the refocus in 2016, Zbornik said, they began to involve some artists from outside the area, “to create a fresh mix of talent that people in the area may not have seen before.” The mix is kept roughly to 50-25-25 of artists from the 319, other Iowa artists and out-of-state performers.

Enter Quad Cities artist Terrance Banks.

Banks, who lives in Davenport (in the 563), was among that first crowd of musicians who expanded 319 Fest in 2017. He’s returning to perform again this year.

As the timeless, worldly, taffy-pulling-voiced Soultru, Banks has been taking off in Eastern Iowa of late. His December release, Soultru & Progeny (his third album, and first full-length), prompted our reviewer Dr. Dawson to write: “The ‘i’ in hip hop could represent innovation, idealism, even pure intellect. I may have to declare that by the end of 2019 it will stand for Iowa.”

Iowa’s metal scene has seen explosions in national attention recently, as have its blues artists. It might well be time to include Banks’ blend of hip hop and soul in Iowa’s musical reputation. Banks, who had just returned from a West Coast tour when he answered my emailed questions, can certainly see that possibility.

“I think there is a place for us on the national level,” he said. “Stopping in Kalispell, Montana; Seattle; Portland; Los Angeles; and Denver — multiple shows in all except Montana — and every show had no less than 30 people in attendance.”

“I feel like Iowa is growing with the hip-hop and spoken word [scenes] at the least,” Banks said of the genres he feels he’s been best embraced by. “Soul music, I know some groups/performers but not as many as I would like to … I definitely want to see more soul artists.”

Banks certainly doesn’t let strict genre definitions lock him in. 319 Fest has a hip-hop stage, The Playground, headlined by rapper TwoCold out of Waterloo — but you’ll find Soultru on the White Sofa Records Rock and Alternative Stage. Banks explored melodic metal “years ago” with a Muscatine band, Acceptable Levels of Violence, an experience he says “helped me just as much as anything” on his musical journey.

But, if his performance moniker wasn’t a big enough clue, “soul” in many senses is the driving force behind all that Banks does. His music is coming from a spiritual place and trying to speak to the same in others, even when he’s locked into a hip-hop groove or exploring other avenues of expression.

“I want audiences to hear the emotion and reality of the world in our songs,” Banks said. “Each track has meaning to me one way or another whether … experiencing something first hand or something that came from another persons perspective.”

Banks first came up with the name Soultru in junior high, when he started writing poetry. “I wanted to speak my truth and pull from my heart and soul,” he said. “No matter the lyrics I wanted people to connect to my story.”

And although he “grew up in gospel churches” and sang choral music at the all-state level in high school, the soul sound is a natural landing pad for his style and approach.

“I’ve been singing since as far back as I can remember,” Banks said. “I learned how to sing by imitation … learned how to sing that [soulful] way by ear over time, which I feel helped me to be the artist I am today.”

Banks, who has collaborated with a wide variety of artists on his releases, will be joined at 319 Fest by pianist Colton David Graham; the two have been performing shows as a duo for a while. The pair recently recorded a track called “Must Be,” out Aug. 9 on The Record Machine, a Kansas City, Missouri label that also represents the Fey, a Lincoln, Nebraska band who also play the White Sofa Records stage, earlier in the day.

“Must Be” is a fantastic vehicle for Banks’ voice. He’s in fine form, turning in a track filled with retro flavor and modern restraint. The walking cadence of Graham’s piano propels the tune forward, forcing Banks’ vocals into a dance with the line. If this is the future of Iowa soul, the world is in for a treat.

Genevieve Trainor tried singing in a soul band once, but it was all covers, and they never got out of the drummer’s basement. She still keeps “Laura” by the Scissor Sisters in her repertoire, though, dammit. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 268.