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A celebration in honor of Bill Sackter, champion of abilities awareness in public life


Bill Sackter’s Birthday Bash

Uptown Bill’s — Thursday-Sunday, April 13-16

In honor of Bill Sackter’s life and legacy, Wild Bill’s Coffeeshop and Uptown Bill’s Coffeehouse will hold their annual celebration over the course of this weekend, from Sackter’s birthday through Sunday, April 16.

Sackter would’ve been 104 on Thursday, April 13. He spent 44 years in the Faribault State Hospital, a long-time mental asylum in Minnesota. Released in 1964, Sackter went on to live in a rooming house and work in the kitchen of the Minikahda Country Club. Sackter met Bev and Barry Morrow — screenwriter of the academy award-winning “Rain Man” (1988) — at said club, with whom he would eventually relocate to Iowa City in the early 1970s and later become an affectionate icon of “abilities awareness” as the subject of two television movies and a feature-length documentary.

Uptown Bill’s namesake would be 104 this year. — photo courtesy of Tom Gilsenan

The events focus on abilities awareness. Thursday night, including Uptown Bill’s open mic in celebration of Sackter’s birthday and of 15 years of open mics at the space, co-hosted by the UI Career Leadership Academy. Friday night’s theme will bring to the Uptown Bill’s stage a benefit concert entitled “Tribute to Women in Country,” co-sponsored by the UI Council on the Status of Women. featuring all female performers. Saturday and Sunday will be individual performances varying hour-by-hour, supplied with cake.

“Lifting up unexpected or unappreciated music, and other aspects of life, is part of Uptown Bill’s role,” says Tom Gilsenan, former manager of Wild Bill’s, a coffee shop staffed by over a dozen individuals with disabilities, and now director of Uptown Bill’s, a combination used bookshop, coffee stop and experimental social services venue — the “bigger, badder Bill’s,” as he calls it. “We’re always on the lookout for opportunities do that in terms of style of music, gender, ability — all those things are part of us.”

When Sackter came to Iowa City with the Morrows, following a job offer for Barry at the School of Social Work, he took over a small coffee hangout. Known as quite the harmonica handler, Sackter helped run a music series at Wild Bill’s called the Wild Women Collective for many years. Two performers for Bill’s Birthday Bash, Jennifer Danielson and Laurie Haag, go back to that era, having played at the original Wild Bill’s as a part of the Wild Women.

Other performers over the weekend include iowa-City-turned-Los-Angeles musicians Missy Brodsky and Diego Davidenko, who will perform Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The birthday celebration also includes a screening and discussion of The Theory of Everything: The Story of Stephen Hawking (2014) Thursday night at Wild Bill’s. All events are free and open to the public.


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