Wayback tours: When ‘Black Sunday’ Hit Iowa City

This article is the first in a series looking back at concerts that shaped the Iowa City musical imagination as they reach milestone anniversaries.

Cypress Hill — illustration by Kate Goodvin

A concert 25 years ago can seem a little hazy, especially if the headliner was Cypress Hill nearing the peak of their popularity.

Iowa City was in a typical autumn football state of mind in 1993 on a very crisp and clear Nov. 19, and locals were gearing up for so much more than the historic and eye-opening show that was about take over the Iowa Memorial Union. The struggling Hawkeyes had rival Minnesota coming to town in a must win situation to secure a bowl bid and Keep the Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City. An undefeated City High led by senior running back and future Hawkeye, Tim Dwight, was set to play Sioux City-Heelan at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls for the state championship.

However, the bigger local story was what was happening the same night: the concert. For myself and many other classmates at City High, the decision to pick between the events was very easy. We showed up for Black Sunday that Friday at a packed IMU and discovered a “Rage” that remains for many who were there.

“My friend, Jade, got the tickets and I didn’t give another thought of the game in Cedar Falls,” said Dan Newmire, then a City High freshman football player and a starter on a CHS state championship team three years later. “I remember standing in line on a very chilly night waiting outside the IMU. Jade and I listened to Cypress Hill from our Walkmans on the bus and next thing they’re playing in Iowa City.”

The story was similar for many that night. Cypress Hill spoke to Midwest kids specifically because they came from areas that were completely different than ours. Their West Coast style of hip hop had a marijuana-induced rhythm that was unique to their sound. Many of us could recite every lyric on their breakout album, even though some there wouldn’t know what pot smelled like even if it was blown right in their face (which was inevitable in the IMU’s main lounge 25 years ago).

“I was too young to comprehend what was going on all around us at first,” Newmire recalled. “It became the best example of a giant hotbox you could think of.”

Everyone came to see Cypress Hill; those who decided to catch every band that night just hoped the openers would be entertaining. L.A. hip-hop group Funkdoobiest played first and then Seattle’s hard rocking all-female grunge band 7 Year Bitch, setting the tone for the third act.

The band that made a lasting impact on the many of those who attended, especially the legion of local high schoolers who found themselves in the mosh pits for the first time, was the third band to play: Rage Against the Machine.

“All summer I listened to Black Sunday,” recounted Seth Dudley, now the general manager of Hamburg Inn. “Before the concert, I saw a Rage Against the Machine video on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. I knew there was no way I was going to miss the opening acts.”

The IMU was not at full capacity by the time Rage set up, but the heat inside was still sweltering. The people who decided to wait until the headliners arrived will forever regret the power and artistry they passed up.

“It was my first concert. I saw some shows at places like Gabe’s but this was my first big time concert so I was going for the whole time no matter what,” Dudley said. His and many others’ eyes were wide open by the end of the night (and, for many, bloodshot).

“I made plans to meet my friend Trent there and we never found each other. That’s how naïve we were,” he said. “We really thought we’d just bump into each other somehow. I still came prepared, though, because I knew it would be hot from going to other shows. I wore steel-toed boots that I borrowed from my dad and cutoff jean shorts.”

Seth was clearly ready for moshing, but still had a lot to experience.

“I remember Rage’s music just being so amazingly loud. No one had ever heard guitar playing like that, and their lyrics were so intelligent,” he said. “Rage truly blew my mind, especially when they played ‘Killing In the Name Of.’ … Zack de la Rocha screaming, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ over and over — it just spoke to my 15-year-old self.”

“After they ended their set, I remember walking out to the foyer to cool off,” he continued. “Steam was literally coming off people’s bodies. I didn’t sleep that night. I listened to Cypress Hill the rest of the night because I didn’t own any Rage music. Yet.”

That would be what you heard everywhere after the concert. Cypress Hill with their giant joint prop that burned the whole time and their popular personalities were just what we came for and expected. But many of us learned so much that night. I walked back from the IMU with ringing in my ears. I started reflecting on the event, as I have done several times since and a lot lately. The militant style of de la Rocha’s rhymes mixed with pounding drums and hard guitar pitches were forever planted in my psyche.

There’s the rage you can feel that makes you lash out in a violent way, but that’s not what I felt. This is the rage that you use to show your opponents that you’re educated and free from the intimidation they may try to beat you with. The words may come with harsh tones, ear-piercing to the ignorant and complicit, but they are indeed thoughtful and moving and seek to overcome the challenges that the corrupt create. From a ’90s kid to the youth of today: Never lose your rage. Come with it now! Never, ever stop the rage.

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