Iowa City Weekender: July 4th Especial

This coming monday will celebrate the 235th year of this country’s existence, as it will be the day that a group of rather old white landowning men sat in a super hot room in central Philadelphia to craft a document which pledges this country’s freedom from the tyranny of the British monarchy and restores the three rights lost under its rule: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This last one will come into play a lot this weekend and show why this weekend is especial. That extra e in special isn’t for show. This weekend and this Weekender are so special that they get an extra vowel. As all who’ve watched Wheel of Fortune know, vowels don’t come cheap. You might be asking yourself why this edition is especial as I do this every week. To address that concern, this Weekender is going to span the entirety of the holiday weekend, starting from Thursday and going until Monday. Enough with the introduction, let’s get started. I have a lot of things to tell you about.


Bill Callahan w/ Neal Morgan // Blue Moose Tap House // 7:00 PM // $12 Adv., $14 Day of Show; All Ages

Singer-songwriters are everywhere, but not many either stand out from the crowd or have a great amount of longevity. Neither of these things is true for Bill Callahan. Better known as Smog, Callahan has been consistently producing thoughtful, Americana music for the past two decades and has gained more acclaim as he gets older. With a gentle knowledge of the human psyche and a knack for creating intimacy even in the most cavernous of rooms, Callahan’s music and soulful, deep voice hit the spirit of the listener hard. In addition to being an excellent musician, Callahan is also a very attractive man. Just throwing that out there. With Neal Morgan opening, Callahan’s appearance in Iowa City is a real treat.


Haley Bonar & Holcombe Waller // The Englert // 8:00 PM // $12, All Ages

Following on the heels of the successful Horse Feathers concert, The Englert is hosting another show in its Intimate series. This time, the featured artists will be Haley Bonar and Holcombe Waller. Bonar hails from Canada but calls Minneapolis home now. Touring in support of her new album Golder, Bonar’s voice is strong and suited well to the darker Americana sounds that cover her album. She has a folky sound, but still has a solid grasp of the pop style. Her sound is accessible, but full of her spirit and soul. Playing with her will be Holcombe Waller. Having worked with a number of prominent artists such as Bob Mould and Feist, Waller is critically acclaimed and rightfully so. His vocal range is wide with his style sometimes sounding feminine. His lyrics are sensitive, fragile, and beautiful. His music hits deeply like that of Bill Callahan’s. Since both artists aim to draw the listener closer to them with their music, the closeness provided by being on the Englert stage will make this show very charming.


Iowa City Jazz Festival // Downtown Iowa City // All Day // Free, All Ages

The Iowa City Jazz Festival features local, college, regional and national artists playing on stages set up along Clinton St. and on the Pentacrest with food vendors and kids activities available as well. Over the past two decades, the festival has developed into one of the premier jazz festivals in the country and this year’s line-up shows no signs of letting up that title. On Friday, Carmen Bradford will be headlining on the Pentacrest stage. Having been chosen by Count Basie himself to sing in his orchestra as well as collaborating with jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and Lena Horne, Bradford is one of the elite vocalists of the jazz genre. She will be singing with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra, which is a collection of the best jazz talents the state has to offer. Saturday will feature the styles of post-jazz bands Kneebody and Josh Roseman Unit. Both groups are blurring the lines between hip-hop, funk, and jazz, melding all of the elements into a silky smooth, groove-inducing mix. Sunday night will feature a more traditional jazz sound with up-and-coming trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and well-established jazz piano great Randy Weston. While I say that both of these men are traditional, I mean that in the sense that they are firmly rooted in jazz. Both artists mix outside influences into their sounds while remaining rooted in the form’s traditions; Akinmusire’s trumpet playing brings in pop sounds while Weston is well-known for infusion of African sounds and rhythms into his jazz style. The line-up for this year’s Jazz Fest is rather formidable. In addition to the playing on the outdoor stages, The Mill will be hosting a free Jazz Fest afterparty for those that didn’t get enough jazz during the day. If you would like to find out about all of the artists playing this year’s festival, visit the Summer of the Arts website.

Firecracker 500 Festival // Blue Moose Tap House // 6:00 PM Each Day // $25/ 3-Day Pass, All Ages

Past the barriers at the end of Iowa & Dubuque at the Blue Moose, another festival will be occurring. While you can groove out to the rhythms being thrown down at the Jazz Festival, you can rock out at the Firecracker 500. While this festival has been around since 1997, this is the first iteration of the festival in this millennium. This festival will display the finest of the local, regional, and national garage rock scene. For those who are not familiar with that genre, folks like The Spits, The Mummies, The Sonics, Southern Culture on the Skids, and The Cramps would fall into it. The bands playing this festival carry on the fine tradition set by these fine, upstanding citizens. Headlining Friday will be Atlanta-based girl garage rockers The Coathangers. Their mix of guitars, attitude and keyboards are all rocking. Saturday will feature Chicago’s Paul Cary. Former frontman of the Horrors, Cary calls upon the diverse roots of garage rock in blues and country, sounding like a more organized Hasil Adkins. Sunday will feature Austin garage rockers The Strange Boys. Coming from that city’s active garage rock scene, The Strange Boys have a smooth, soulful swagger to their sound. I saw them when they played at Public Space One a couple of years ago, and they really blew me away. I highly recommend checking them out. If you want to know more about who is playing the festival as well as how to acquire tickets, visit the Firecracker 500 festival website.

July 4th

Marnie Stern w/ Safe Words // The Mill // 8:00 PM // $8 Adv, $10 Day of Show; 19+

If Marnie Stern could be described with a series of adjectives, they would, most likely, be the following: talented, alluring, gifted, hard-charging. Well known for her guitar heroics and love of fingerpicking, Stern has developed a reputation in indie rock circles for her dynamic, fast-paced music that is reminiscent of her drummer Zach Hill’s other band Hella. This means that it can start/stop on a dime and displays a considerable amount of technical skill and ability. In short, Stern is an excellent musician and an exciting performer. In addition to pushing the boundaries of guitar rock with her flawless style, Stern also puts on a fantastic live show. It is one not to be missed if at all possible. Playing with Safe Words, this show will be an excellent way to end your 4th of July since fireworks are illegal.

Like I said, this is especial. Next week, we’ll go back to regular affairs of only Thursday through Saturday. Don’t forget to barbeque or do something equally American on the 4th of July. Just remember to do it with friends because that’s the spirit of the American experience: working together and creating community. Have a good weekend and enjoy your holiday.


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