Despite having attended Mission Creek Festival every year since it began, I often suffer from option paralysis when faced with the plethora of musical choices. Of course, part of the festival’s appeal is blindly stumbling across new musical discoveries while bouncing from venue to venue, but it also helps to plan ahead. Below are my must-see acts for the 2018 Mission Creek Festival (festival passes $75-150), each day of the week, Tuesday through Sunday. For the diehard Mission Creeker, there is no rest for the wicked.
Dessa w/ MONAKR, ION
Gabe’s — Tuesday, April 3, 8 p.m.
Dessa embodies Mission Creek Festival’s border-crossing spirit — a quadruple threat who can seamlessly alternate between her roles as emcee, singer, essayist and public intellectual (she has, for example, contributed to New York Times Magazine and delivered a keynote presentation for the Nobel Peace Prize).
Perhaps best known for “Congratulations” — her contribution to 2016’s The Hamilton Mixtape that has racked up over five million plays on Spotify — she is both a solo artist and a member of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Doomtree. Dessa’s new album Chime is an expansive mix of hip-hop grime, pop hooks and pretty indie rock that defies easy categorization.
Current Joys w/ Younger and Hot Tang
Gabe’s — Wednesday, April 4, 8:30 p.m.
Younger’s energy, intricate arrangements, barbed lyrics and catchy choruses have secured the trio’s status as one of Iowa City’s best homegrown rock bands. Many of their songs contain verse-chorus-verse-defying breakdowns and changes, though without sounding busy or proggy, such as their self-titled debut album’s lead track, “Street Rat.” The album continues similarly, with “Clash,” which begins with a lilting guitar riff and rumbling bass line that prop up the first two verses before switching gears halfway through, slowing the tempo and descending into a spiral of three-part harmonized, interlocking bah-bah-baaaah vocals.
Another standout song from that record, “Trenca,” features fuzzed-out guitars, layers of vocal harmonies, pedal-to-the-metal tempos and badass lyrics (“I saw the needle spinning by on the ’table last night/and we drank a couple beers and we got into a fight”). I’m looking forward to hearing Younger perform the new songs they have been developing for their sophomore release, which can’t come soon enough for my impatient self.
Horsefeathers w/ Counterfeit Madison, Dana T
The Mill — Thursday, April 5, 8 p.m.
Hailing from Columbus, Ohio and fronted by Sharon Udoh, an innovative pianist with a formidable voice, Counterfeit Madison’s new album Opposable Thumbs is an absolute delight. Udoh’s powerful, versatile vocals shift with ease and grace from the melancholic balladry of “Song for the Loyals” to the boogie-woogie sassiness of “I Hope It’s Alright,” leaving room for some gospel-infused art rock during the album closer, “Slow as Molasses.”
Funny, strange, moving and (at times) cellphone-waving anthemic, the group’s aesthetic is as eclectic as it is eccentric — and by all accounts their live show is not to be missed.
Wye Oak w/ Margaret Glaspy, Sister Wife
Englert Theatre — Friday, April 6, 7 p.m.
Jenn Wasner’s voice is a thing of beauty, as are the folky, atmospheric soundscapes conjured up by multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack, the other half of Wye Oak. After this Baltimore-rooted group released their breakthrough sophomore album, Civilian, the two have lived on opposite sides of the country — a move that freed the duo to take their songwriting and production into new realms. Wye Oak’s 2015 follow-up, Shriek, added electronic flourishes that have fully flowered on their newest album, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, the group’s strongest release yet.
Julien Baker w/ Squirrel Flower
Gabe’s — Saturday, April 7, 8 p.m.
Sprained Ankle, Julien Baker’s 2015 debut, is a quiet masterpiece whose spare production and simple songcraft prompted listeners to lean in and listen closely. 2017’s Turn the Lights Out fleshed out the skeletal voice-and-guitar framework of her first solo album by adding more layers of instrumentation and atmospherics, wrapping Baker’s lovely vocals in a warm blanket of sound. She is a purveyor of what I call “pretty sad” music — pretty, as in beautiful, and also pretty goddamn sad — ensuring there will be a tear in every beer Saturday night at Gabe’s.
Jamila Woods w/ Psalm One, Ancient Posse
Englert Theatre — Sunday, April 8, 7 p.m.
This Southside Chicago native made a big splash in 2017 with her remarkable debut, HEAVN, an ambitious album that refuses to be pinned down, stylistically. Veering from shit-hot rhyming to heart-melting singing, Jamila Woods is a formidable talent who is steering R&B music into fresh, interstellar directions.
She appeared on the closing track of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, “Blessings,” and he returns the favor with a guest verse on HEAVN’s “LSD” (a sly homage to her native city that refers to Lake Shore Drive, in which she sings, “My city, like my skin, it’s so pretty … you gotta love me like I love the lake”). The spare, minimalist soul of “Holy” makes it another standout; it is reprised for album’s final track, closing it on an emotional and spiritual high.
Kembrew McLeod is currently practicing a plate-spinning act with his trained mammal sidekick, Ralph Waldo Emerseal. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 239.