The answer to one of live music’s biggest drawbacks and other scenes from Mission Creek 2019

Live music can test your patience.

Sometimes it’s the exquisite torture of those last few moments waiting for your favorite band to take the stage when the house lights dim. Sometimes it’s the monotony of waiting for a band to load its gear off stage so the next act can set up. Sometimes there’s a sound check in there too, which slows the proceedings down even more.

But this is all just an unavoidable part of the experience, right? If you take in a lot of live music, you’re going to slog through some downtime.

A copy of Tanya Tucker’s TNT that I bought between acts at the vinyl market during the 2019 Mission Creek Festival.

Friends, I’m delighted to report Mission Creek Festival, the annual music and literature celebration held in Iowa City, may have found the optimal solution to this age-old problem: vinyl records! The festival brought in a bunch of record vendors to set up shop at Big Grove Brewery, allowing listeners to comb through crate after crate of the good stuff while waiting between acts. The lines to snag beer and food were prohibitively long most of the evening I was there, but I barely had to wait at all to score a good deal on old records. It was a brilliant diversion to keep boredom from setting in.

My wife and I spent Saturday evening in Iowa City. It was the only night of the Mission Creek Festival our schedules permitted us to attend, so we missed a bunch of great programming from the other days of the festival. But I want to highlight some of the excellent stuff we experienced and congratulate the Mission Creek crew on a successful event.

For the uninitiated, Mission Creek takes place every spring in downtown Iowa City. The festival is presented and produced by The Englert Theatre. In addition to music, the festival also features a full slate of literary events, reflecting Iowa City’s reputation as one of the world’s premier destinations for literature.

My wife and I arrived at Big Grove just in time for the start of Middle Western’s set. Middle Western includes some fabulous Iowa musicians, including David Zollo and William Elliott Whitmore. They put on a terrific show, featuring a couple Les Paul-toting guitarists and Whitmore handling most of the lead vocals while playing a Gibson SG bass. Zollo took lead vocals on a few songs as well, his bare feet sliding around on the floor beneath his keyboard.

Middle Western plays at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City during the 2019 Mission Creek Festival.

After Middle Western wrapped up their set, I meandered into the adjoining room for some record shopping. I scored an excellent deal on a nice copy of Tanya Tucker’s TNT album from 1978 while East Nashville songwriter Lilly Hiatt set up.

Lilly Hiatt

Hiatt’s set turned out to be the highlight of the evening for me. I’m a big fan of her 2017 album Trinity Lane, and she and her road-tested band served up sizzling renditions of all my favorite tracks from the album, including “The Night David Bowie Died,” “Records” and the title track. The band delivered a spirited version of “Get This Right,” a track from Hiatt’s 2015 album Royal Blue with which I was unfamiliar, but I’ve been playing the song on repeat in my house all week. Hiatt also took home the award for “best guitar tone” with her gorgeous Rickenbacker plugged into a Princeton Reverb. The way her tone broke up on her louder material was just gloriously unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

Also of note: Between songs, Hiatt referenced a mysterious incident in Fairfield, Iowa, as one of the best nights she and her band had experienced on the road, but she didn’t elaborate further. The cryptic remark left me curious to learn more.

After Hiatt’s encore, we made our way to the iconic Englert Theatre to take in Hurray for the Riff Raff, our final show for the night. The Englert is one of those classic venues that every Iowan should visit at some point. Some true legends have graced that stage over the course of the theater’s 106-year existence.

Alynda Lee Segarra, the singer and main songwriter for Hurray for the Riff Raff, delivered an electric performance, particularly when she put down her guitar to roam the stage. Hurray for the Riff Raff’s set drew mostly from The Navigator, the band’s most recent album, which delves into political themes such as colonization and oppression. The songs demand action from the listener, while also providing hope, such as on “Pa’lante,” which Segarra told the audience translates to “move forward.”

For those keeping score at home, that’s three righteous shows (plus a sweet deal on a classic Tanya record and enough time to grab a burger for supper) in a span of less than five hours. Well played, Mission Creek. I’ll see you next year.


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