By Gabe Sperry
Recently within the Iowa City music scene there’s been a lot of talk regarding what’s wrong with the scene and how we can grow to make it better. This is awesome, as someone who plays in many active bands, books shows on a regular basis and runs a DIY page for this city. I am very excited that people want to make this city better for musicians and fans of music. I see a lot of fragmentation of subcultures, not enough young people/college students supporting local music, and general unawareness of DIY bands and music. All that is definitely changeable.
The problem I see keeping us from solving these issues is people within the overarching scene not supporting each other. So much trash talking and unsupportive behavior from people who have no context for the people they assume to know. I’m talking about those who make ignorant comments like, “I don’t go to $5 shows because I know the music is going to be bad” or “I only go to $5 shows to pay my dues.”
I’m the person Luke Tweedy was referring to in his Little Village piece: I handed him a flyer for a show I was playing, and when this person who I thought I cared about local music laughed in my face and said, “Wow, another $5 show,” I did ask him if he understood DIY culture. Why? Because if you ask almost anyone who is actually active in DIY scenes (tours, books, goes to shows) across the country, they will tell you generally shows are a $5 donation and all the money gets split between touring bands. Maybe he is aware of that, but since I’ve never seen him at a show he wasn’t paid to be involved with, I think that is a completely valid question.
I go to a ton of shows, a lot that very few people go to. Five-dollar shows, and this way of conducting shows, are a staple out of necessity. Most people coming to these shows, specifically house/DIY shows, are poor. Those that aren’t are highly encouraged to donate more or buy merch. All the money going to the touring bands happens because touring without a booker or guarantee is extremely hard and super risky. If you think a touring band is not worthy of that money, don’t play with them or book them.
I know Luke’s a very busy person with kids and businesses and honestly I don’t care if he ever comes to any of my shows. But when he uses me and my friends as an example of what’s wrong with this music scene, that’s where I need to clarify. We are not the problem, we throw great shows, and I can only speak for myself but I don’t want to be separate. I want this scene to be united. Condescending rhetoric like this only fragments us further. Because while it might make sense for the kind of shows Luke plays, upstairs Gabe’s or the Mill shows that have a built-in audience, and shows at the Englert, it doesn’t really for the shows I participate in, and I think that should be respected.