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Show Review: Carnival Hearts & Arts Parade @ White Lightning Wherehouse — 5/21/2011


Photos by Adrianne Behning

Carnival Hearts & Arts Collective, a local group of artists, musicians, writers, performers, actors & lovers of Iowa City, held their biannual “parade” on Saturday, May 21.  However, imminent rain forced the event out of the adorable Happy Hollow park and into the White Lightning Wherehouse.

The Wherehouse is a multipurpose art space below the dance studio on South Dubuque street in Iowa City, and it has a well-deserved reputation as a place of the offbeat and underground. Weird and unexpected events, like dance parties, punk rock, ambient noise, and fashion shows are normal and expected here. Additionally, as the Wherehouse is literally under the ground, the place smells like a dank basement, an odor perhaps more evocative of the vintage clothes and handcrafted art of this particular show than the smell of a spring afternoon in the park would be.

(Update:  The status of the Wherehouse as a public venue is in question. Read more about it here.) 

Vendors line the walls of this rambling, cavernous space. Handcrafted pottery and books are offered, jewelry and chain mail may be bought to complement your new designer fashions from local shops like SKIRT or White Rabbit. The event has the feel of a souq, of a community market in the ancient kasbah of Tangier, or of the mystery of London’s Borough market. The Carnival Hearts & Arts Collective has an authentic–and almost ethnic–subcultural atmosphere, a collective of tattoos, funky chic, librarian eyeglasses, and wry smiles.

In addition to the unique swag for sale, performances entertained the strolling shoppers. Pennyhawk is a folky group of women from Ames, playing lush and complex tunes with depth and certainty. Their sound is versatile, sometimes employing tight vocal harmonies or wind instruments. Their lyrics are dense and tricksy, requiring close listening to pick up on the clever humor. Following Pennyhawk, local authors read samples of some of their poetry for sale at the festival. The readings serve to quiet and focus the crowd’s attention, setting them up for the wackiness about to follow.

Christopher the Conquered, another Ames area group, sound like piano-driven pop on LSD, like the the love child of Billy Joel and Frank Zappa, like Jerry Lee Lewis mixed with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Chris Ford belts out his tunes with candor and confidence. He orchestrates a jazzy horn combo and a tight rhythm section, composing intelligent and beatiful anthems. He is very animated on stage; his closing song brought himself and the horn section into the crowd and engaged the audience in an immersive experience. (Listen to or download the free Daytrotter Session)

Douglas Kramer Nye‘s music is homegrown and honest, and his solo act feels autobiographical. Hailing from Iowa City, his music is American: blues and folk and simply real.

Alex Body, bedecked in a cape, combines catchy beats and samples with distorted vocals. Another local musician, his weapons include analog tape and digital synths, and his voice caterwauls and creeps. He layers industrial noise and haunting piano melodies with other electronic wizardry, creating a raw and complex soundscape.

Iowa City’s Brooks Strause resembles an Amish minstrel, if such a creature is possible. His music is boozy Americana, powerful and dirty like the Mississippi river he grew up near. It is raw and intense, like a tent revival holy rolling and wholly rocking through tales of heartbreak and hardship. Skye Carrasco adds a wailing fiddle to the sweet and swampy stomp of Brooks Strause & the Gory Details. (Listen to or download his free Daytrotter session)

It is the mission of Carnival Hearts & Arts Collective to bring the community of Iowa City together through diverse arts-based events while providing an all-embracing space for local & traveling artists to share their creativity. Keep an eye out for another Carnival Hearts & Arts parade in the fall, and continue to support local art!


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