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Art in the time of COVID-19: Ryan Phelan


This series, Art in the time of COVID-19, highlights musicians and artists in eastern Iowa whose life and work have been upended by the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

If you would like to recommend someone to be featured in this space, please reach out to Little Village.

Ryan Phelan and his guitar. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Ryan Phelan, Guitarist

For more than 20 years, Ryan Phelan has anchored classic Cedar Rapids jam band Dr. Z’s Experiment. A staple on the scene, Phelan has earned the respect of myriad musicians throughout the area — a respect that’s mutual, as evidenced on his 2017 release, Memories: a collection of tracks recorded with a veritable who’s who of CR musicians.

Phelan traces his roots to a musical family. He’s been playing piano since he was 5. Surprisingly (when you hear his mastery of it), he didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 12. Phelan has been playing professionally now for 25 years.

He estimates that, between lessons and gigs, he lost at least $1,200 in the month of March.

Current associated acts: Dr. Z’s Experiment, Young The Lion, Ryan Phelan Trio — “I also play intermittently with multiple other musicians,” Phelan says.

Listen:

Purchase: Phelan doesn’t have much available for purchase at the moment. But follow his acts on social media, give him some spins on Spotify and keep an eye out for a new album forthcoming from him this year.

How many gigs have you canceled or had cancel on you since serious social distancing kicked in?

Four gigs and counting.

Where do pandemics rank, on your list of primal fears?

Used to be a three; now its an eight.

What is the role of art in a crisis?

I think probably a couple of things: to give people a sense of solace or security, maybe provide something that’s more than gloom, despair, panic — but also, cultural things are what unite us … music, but all of art actually is a universal enough language that people can experience it together. It provides a sense of community.

What’s your favorite corny aphorism that you find actually helpful?

THIS IS MY FAVORITE QUESTION:

“Tough tellin’ not knowin”
“If you want to dance with the devil, you gotta lead.”
“Brave men didn’t die face down in the Vietnam mud so I could not style on ya”
“The drip don’t ride in the back seat”
“There’s no traffic on the extra mile”
“The world doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you”
“Every building has a basement”
“Humility is one of my many talents”

How can we help?

Just by doing what your doing, promoting the music and giving people a platform.


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