Maximum Ames Music Festival: The most DIY punk rock thing I do

If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely a music fan living somewhere in or near Iowa. Or, you’re my mom or my wife or a friend reading this blog out of some sense of obligation. In either case, I want you to read carefully. Please go to your calendar or your planner or whatever app you use on your phone to keep track of all your plans and reserve the four days from Sept. 5 through Sept. 8. Plan to be in Ames during that time with your gnarliest pair of party pants because the 2019 Maximum Ames Music Festival is going to change your life.

It’s already changed mine, and it’s still six months away.

Lionessa performs at London Underground last Sunday during the Maximum Ames/Ames Pride date reveal party.

Last year, I volunteered to handle some of the promotion, communications and social media for the 2018 Maximum Ames Music Festival, then in its eighth year. The experience turned out to be one of the most inspiring, life-affirming grassroots efforts to which I’ve ever contributed, and this year’s festival promises to be even better. We just announced the date of the 2019 festival last Sunday at London Underground on Main Street in Ames. It was a ferocious party with Free the Snakes and Lionessa providing live music (look them up!), but that’s a story for another time.

Let’s talk about why the Maximum Ames Music Festival is so important to me.

Reading Michael Azerrad’s ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’ during my high school years changed my perspective of rock ‘n’ roll in some pretty radical ways. Before that book, I thought playing rock music was only for stars like Bruce Springsteen or Mick Jagger.

But reading stories about the do-it-yourself attitude that pervaded underground punk and indie rock throughout the 1980s opened my eyes to a whole new approach. Reading about straight-edge punks at Dischord folding and gluing their own record sleeves, or a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia putting together cassettes of avant-garde acts and self-publishing a fanzine, made me realize you don’t have to be Mick Jagger to make rock and roll. In fact, it might just be that average citizens – schmucks like me with jobs and bills to pay – expressing themselves through music might be a more revolutionary and subversive act than anything those celebrity musicians ever did.

That belief inspired me to volunteer to help organize last year’s Maximum Ames Music Festival. The festival, held last September, hosted more than 60 acts in a dozen venues near downtown Ames. The festival also synced up with Ames Pridefest, which occurred Sept. 29 in downtown Ames. The confluence of events reinforced the Maximum Ames mission of “providing a safe, inclusive environment that fosters creativity and understanding through music and art.” It’s precisely the sort of event our communities need nowadays, with division cutting so deeply and compassion for one another in such short supply.

Free the Snakes performs during the date reveal party.

I spent several months leading up to the festival planning media relations and promotional efforts, and I coordinated with a team of six other volunteers to take care of all the necessary arrangements to make an event like that happen, from fundraising to booking acts to making sure all the venues had functioning PA systems. It struck me at every meeting that all seven of us in the core team were all pretty much regular folks who just happen to think putting on a music festival in our small Iowa town enriches the entire community and advances the crucial values of inclusion, acceptance and creativity. More than any other music-related endeavor I’ve undertaken, volunteering for the Maximum Ames Music Festival made me feel like I was walking in the footsteps of the DIY heroes featured in ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life.’

And the festival itself is always a blast. Past acts have included the Mountain Goats, Meat Puppets, Wanda Jackson and Lavender Country. The Zombies, who were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are Max Ames alums. Last year’s lineup covered a dizzying range of genres, from guitar-heavy rock to hip hop to jazz to blues.

If any of this appeals to you, I invite you to attend and participate in a truly awesome community experience. If you’re a musician, apply to play at the festival. If you’d like to volunteer, we’ll need people to man the doors at venues, to deliver payments to the acts and photographers to document the experience. You don’t have to be a rock star to get involved. In fact, you don’t have to have any experience whatsoever in the music biz. All we’re looking for is a positive attitude and some DIY spirit.

I hear a lot of folks use slogans like ‘eat local’ or ‘shop local.’ Absolutely, let’s do that. But, while we’re at it, let’s rock local too. And remember! #MAMF9 Sept. 5-8!


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