Three Iowa groups performed Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Blue Moose Tap House. River Glen (River Breitbach) of Iowa City opened with a dynamic set of tunes on acoustic guitar and wailing fiddle. He experimented with a looping pedal, producing fantastic, layered compositions. River sings with exuberance and charisma, like Brett Dennen or Eric Earley (of Blitzen Trapper), and he can play a wild, reeling fiddle solo. River’s music is precocious, infectious and entertaining.
Iowa City’s Songbird Bethann (Bethann Gavin) and Zaplin Vermie performed next, playing an acoustic set of original tunes. (Disclosure: Bethann is the author’s adorable little sister.) She writes songs that are heartfelt–yet wry–stories of losses and lessons, of the heart, the head and how we get by. Her guitar and voice form an intimate duo with Zaplin’s playful ukulele. Bethann’s vocals are lush and gorgeous. She displays breathtaking dynamic control across her broad range; she can whisper or wail with equal intensity. Her sound recalls anti-folk darlings JayMay and Laura Viers, but Songbird Bethann’s clever lyrics and outstanding musicality make her stand out.
Adobanga, of Cedar Rapids, is a large group that plays high energy, polished music. They are fronted by three beautiful women, Bree Nettie and Nikki Dietze on vocals, and Hannah Drollinger filling in on fiddle. Clayton Stanek leads the group, writes much of the music, plays the keyboard and sings. Justin Crippen adds backing vocals and Christopher Cook plays a screaming electric guitar. They have a tight rhythm section of Adam Gill on bass, Nathan Parsons on percussion, and Eric Madison on drums. Such a crew makes the band’s sound wonderfully versatile: They play danceable pop tunes, sultry blues songs and even gypsy-influenced rock. An Adobanga song has multiple vocal parts, tight guitar and piano solos, solid rythym and screaming fiddle rills. Their stage presence is electric, as they dance, have a good time and encourage the audience to do the same.