Glimmers of hope: A legislative update on effort to #SaveOurStages

The economic calamity wrought by the coronavirus threatens to devastate live music across the country. In case you think that sounds hyperbolic, a June survey of members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) found that 90% of live music venues could close within six months without additional government help.

That ought to chill music fans everywhere to the bone. But a few proposals are circulating in Congress that could provide help, some of which have received the support of Iowa lawmakers.

Here’s a quick rundown of the proposals and who’s backing them:

The RESTART Act – This legislation would amend and extend the previously approved Paycheck Protection Program with a focus on small and midsize businesses. That would be good news for music venues, and NIVA has backed this legislation. Sen. Michael Bennett, a Colorado Democrat, is the lead sponsor in the Senate. Rep. Jared Golden, a Maine Democrat, sponsored the bill in the House. The proposal has received bipartisan backing, including from Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who has signed on as a cosponsor. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) have cosponsored the companion bill in the House. This proposal was assigned the bill numbers S. 3814 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 7481 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Save Our Stages Act – This bill would establish federal grants specifically for live music venues, performance spaces and theaters. It was introduced in the Senate by the bipartisan team of Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Texas Republican John Cornyn. The narrow focus of the bill on performance venues makes it a more direct option to keep venues afloat. Dave Loebsack is currently the only Iowan in Congress cosponsoring the legislation . The Save Our Stages Act was assigned the bill numbers S. 4258 in the Senate and H.R. 7806 in the House.

The ENCORES Act – This bill would allow small music venues to recoup some of the losses they sustained due to ticket refunds from canceled events by providing a tax credit for half the value of refunded tickets. This bipartisan bill was cosponsored by Rep. Rob Kind (D-WI) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA). The bill was assigned the number H.R. 7735, and does not list any Iowa cosponsors currently.

An overlooked aspect of this issue is the plight of publicly owned venues, such as Stephens Auditorium in Ames, which is owned by Iowa State University. Federal pandemic relief programs have excluded publicly owned venues to date, despite the fact these venues were among the first to close and will be among the last to reopen. Stephens Auditorium, named Iowa’s building of the 20th century by the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is one of the crown jewels of Ames and absolutely deserves federal help during this unprecedented crisis. Publicly owned venues depend on ticket sales for their long-term operations, and the pandemic has crippled their business just as it has for privately owned venues.

Sen. Ernst and more than a dozen of her Senate colleagues signed a formal letter to Senate leadership asking that publicly owned venues become eligible under the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Often, publicly-owned venues are established by a political subdivision of a state or local government, but they fund their operations through event revenue like privately-owned venues,” the letter reads. “Moreover, they typically receive little to no funding from government sources because they are not included in state or local government budgets.”

This is a common-sense adjustment to an existing federal program designed to help Americans get through the financial strains of the pandemic and ought to become law.

So what can we do to support this effort? NIVA has a terrific “take action” resource on its website that allows you to send letters of support to your members of Congress. Beyond that, musicians and music fans should get active. Read up on the proposals, check in with your local music venues and let people know on social media this issue is important for the health of live music.

Virtually everyone, no matter their political affiliation, has enjoyed live music in their lives. Let’s work together to save our stages, save public venues and keep the music going!

NOTE:  This post was updated on Aug. 13 to note that Rep. Dave Loebsack has cosponsored the RESTART and Save Our Stages acts.


10 summertime live music events for Iowa music fans

Large_Outdoor_ConcertSummertime was made for live music. I believe this to be true without question.

So it’s high time we talked about all the killer live music happening in Iowa the next couple months. I’ve handpicked 10 shows, listed here by date, that cover a lot of musical ground. The list includes blues, country, rock and hip hop artists, some of whom have attained legendary status while others are promising up and comers.

But this list doesn’t come close to capturing every worthwhile musical experience Iowa has to offer this summer, nor was that the intention. Get out there and experience your own adventures in Iowa rock and roll, and let me know what you find!

July 11 – I’m With Her, Codfish Hollow Barnstormers in Maquoketa
As I’ve written before, Codfish Hollow is one of the coolest music venues you’ll ever experience. This Thursday, the dazzlingly talented trio I’m With Her take the stage in rural Maquoketa. Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan team up to spin enchanting songs with mostly acoustic instrumentation. Their music will scratch your bluegrass itch, but they push the boundaries beyond traditional bluegrass as well.

July 16 – Robert Earl Keen, Englert Theater in Iowa City
Keen’s songs of desperados and criminals on the run conjure a cinematic Texas landscape that feels so realized and romantic that I want to just dive in and live alongside the characters in songs like ‘Corpus Christi Bay’ and ‘The Road Goes on Forever.’ His shows are a little bit country, a little bit rock and a lot of Lonestar.

July 27 – Red Dirt Country Fest, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City
I honestly try not to be the guy constantly ragging on the country music mainstream, but this year’s country representation at the Iowa State Fair grandstand is going to smother a lot of brain cells. Toby Keith, Dan + Shay and Luke Bryan don’t do it for me, and if you’re reading my blog, you probably agree. (Zac Brown is ok, but just barely.)

If rugged, guitar-driven country is more your speed, skip the fair scene and hit up the Red Dirt Country Fest in Sioux City, with headliner Cody Jinks. Jinks is a fire-breathing reformed metalhead who has produced some of the hardest-hitting country albums of the last decade. Listen to ‘Holy Water’ from his most recent album Lifers if you don’t believe me.

Aug. 1 – Wu-Tang Clan, Stir Cove in Council Bluffs
They performed in Des Moines for the 2013 80/35 Music Festival, and Iowans will get another chance to enter the 36 chambers of Wu-Tang in August. We all miss Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but the legendary NYC hip-hop group still brings serious swagger to the stage. Legends in their own time.

Aug. 2-4 – Hinterland Music Festival in St. Charles, Iowa
Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves are fresh off Grammy-winning years, and they’re only a fraction of the talent worth taking in among this year’s staggeringly good Hinterland lineup. Jason Isbell, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Brent Cobb, Colter Wall and John Moreland all have produced thrilling work in recent years. And Hozier and Hippo Campus have you covered if you prefer pop and indie rock to Americana and roots.

My sleeper pick among this year’s field is The War and Treaty, a powerhouse vocal duo with a penchant for old-school soul. If you’re in need of an instantaneous energy transfusion, listen to the title track off their 2018 album Healing Tide.

Aug. 10 – Twins of Evil: Rob Zombie & Marilyn Manson, US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids
Dig through the ditches and burn through the witches on your way to the dope show. I’ll be pretty disappointed if this show doesn’t turn out to be the weirdest on this list.

Sept. 3 – Kiss End of the Road Tour, Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines
I usually shy away from arena shows, but Kiss – with all the pyrotechnics and theatricality – represent the pinnacle of the form. I remember when their Psycho Circus album came out in 1998. Rock 108, my local radio station of choice, played the hell out of it, and I thought it was pretty rad. I gather that rock critics didn’t regard it as highly as I did at the time, but maybe it’s due for a critical reevaluation. (Probably not.)

Sept. 10 – Social Distortion and Flogging Molly, Water Works Park in Des Moines
A couple of punk rock’s most stalwart acts will take the new Lauridsen Amphitheater stage at Water Works Park on Sept. 10. Flogging Molly mixes heavy doses of Irish folk music into its sound, while Social Distortion has leaned on rockabilly and country throughout its four-decade(!) history. This show should provide a satisfying one-two punch for rockers and punks who like their summertime jams cranked up loud.

Sept. 18 – Soccer Mommy, the Mill in Iowa City
One of the most exciting indie rock acts to emerge in the last few years, Soccer Mommy is the vision of singer-songwriter Sophie Allison. Soccer Mommy’s studio debut, 2018’s Clean, features a hazy, intoxicating mix of teenage vulnerability and pop melodies. Iowa City feels like a fitting stop for any Soccer Mommy tour.

Sept. 23 – Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters and Lillie Mae, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake
Technically, this show lands on the fall equinox, but how many people living on the planet right now can make an honest claim to be a bigger rock legend than Robert Plant? Like, maybe a half dozen? Maybe. Plant’s still making adventurous, thrilling music, and he’s playing one of Iowa’s most iconic rooms. This is a pretty big deal.

Also, don’t sleep on opener Lillie Mae, whose 2017 album Forever and Then Some released on Jack White’s Third Man Records. Lillie Mae is a combustible fiddle player with a voice capable of inflicting maximum emotional damage.

The end of music? DG’s Tap House goes silent

exteriorDG’s Tap House, the Main Street bar that became the best-known rock club in Ames for the last decade, went quiet last Saturday night.

A liquor license suspension, brought on by systemic management failures, spelled doom for DG’s, as well as two other Ames establishments under the same ownership. Stories in the Ames Tribune and Des Moines Register detail some of the management issues that got us here, but the truth is, predicting the demise of DG’s became something of a parlor game among Ames music enthusiasts for the last couple years.

Despite the difficult circumstances surrounding its closure, I’ll miss DG’s Tap House one hell of a lot.

I played my first show there around eight years ago. I’d just moved back to Ames after a stint in Washington, D.C. I didn’t know many people in the music scene anymore, but I got an opening slot at DG’s as a solo singer-songwriter. I brought my cutout Alvarez acoustic and a handful of original songs that I’d later record with the Colt Walkers. I took the stage at DG’s a handful of times every year thereafter. It was as close to a musical home as I ever had. I felt comfortable on that stage, and I developed a lot as a performer as a direct result of the experience I gained there.

The men’s room stall door at DG’s Tap House, exactly as a rock club bathroom should look

Perhaps even more importantly, I took in some incredible shows as a fan at DG’s. I remember practically swimming my way through the crowd to get a spot at the bar the night Meat Puppets played at DG’s for the 2013 Maximum Ames Music Festival. Nate Logsdon, the Max Ames mastermind who booked Meat Puppets, doubled as a booker and bartender at DG’s at the time. Nate manned the bar with unrelenting (and sleeveless) energy and positivity. I flagged him down to thank him for bringing the Meat Puppets to my favorite little rock club. He paused just long enough to grip my hand and shout “Rock and roll legends!” before moving on to the next customer.

A few years later, I dragged my wife along to see Wayne Hancock, the world’s finest purveyor of juke joint swing, at DG’s. When Liz and I arrived, Hancock and his band were standing on the sidewalk, at the foot of DG’s stairs, having a smoke. The show was far from a sellout. Liz and I sat at a table on the dance floor, and I remember fighting the nearly irresistible urge to get up and dance when Hancock’s band launched into his more energetic honky tonk tunes.

Katlyn and Vincent behind the bar at DG’s Tap House one last time.

And for every incredible show like the Meat Puppets or Wayne Hancock, there are maybe a dozen shows I remember with less clarity, most likely due to too much PBR and Ten High. But I cheered on old friends, met plenty of new ones and tried to buy merch from the touring acts whenever I had some extra cash in my wallet.

Wilderado, the final band to grace the stage at DG’s.

I went to the last show at DG’s on Saturday night. I’d never heard of Wilderado or Duncan Fellows, the two acts who played the last show. That didn’t matter all that much to me though. I just wanted to be there for the last song. Both bands, as it turned out, played good sets. Duncan Fellows did a really faithful version of “Don’t Let Me Down,” and the lead singer for Wilderado told the crowd he felt bad his band would be the last one to grace the DG’s stage, despite never having played there before. I appreciated that, and it turns out Wilderado is a tight indie band with a bright future ahead. For the record, the very last song they played was “Siren.” I confirmed the title with one of the band members when he went out to smoke after the set.

The show drew a respectable crowd but not an enormous one. The dance floor was full much of the evening, but plenty of tables and booths were available at various points. Sound guy Evan Taylor made sure both bands sounded good. He even asked me how I thought the show sounded at one point, which I found strangely touching.

Taylor, who ran sound at DG’s for over three years, said he learned a lot working at DG’s. He acknowledged “stupid decisions” made by the bar’s ownership, but he stressed most of the staff did their best to give Ames a quality music venue.

“It’s a really mixed bag,” Taylor said. “I’m happy to have been part of this experience but really bummed out because the place meant a lot to me.”

Evan Taylor behind the sound board during the last show

Bartenders Katlyn and Vincent kept the drinks coming as best they could. Plenty of the taps were empty and much of the space reserved for liquor was bare. After Wilderado’s final song, Katlyn stepped up to the mic to announce the availability of $1 pints until all the beer ran out.

I left feeling a touch disappointed there wasn’t more pomp and circumstance to mark what looks to be the last show ever at DG’s Tap House. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the music won’t stop in Ames just because one venue closed. Too many talented musicians and too many passionate music fans live here for the scene to wither away. But it certainly won’t be the same without DG’s.

Sing it with me now: Hey hey, my my…dgsheart

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.

Have you hugged your sound engineer today? A conversation with Adam Brimeyer

Adam Brimeyer, sound engineer extraordinaire

According to Adam Brimeyer’s best guess, he’s run sound for something like 2,000 live shows over a span of about a decade. Brimeyer has manned the board for rock legends, local heroes and just about everything in between. Most of those shows occurred at DG’s Tap House, a venerable rock club in downtown Ames, but he’s worked in outdoor and festival settings as well.

He’s also an accomplished guitarist in his own right, shredding for acts like Electric Jury and Drunk N Disorderly among others.

So if you’re looking for an expert on live sound, particularly as it pertains to Iowa rock music, Adam Brimeyer’s credentials are unimpeachable. I caught up with Adam for a beer and a chat recently at London Underground and picked his brain on live sound, his experiences in the music industry and how he wishes every band approached sound check.

Read on for a glimpse into the sound booth. Just don’t spill your beer on the board.

Origins of a sound engineer
Brimeyer grew up in Maquoketa, Iowa, where he cut his teeth on Black Sabbath and played guitar in garage bands before moving to Ames in 2002 to study physics at Iowa State University. Around then, Brimeyer joined a band that also included Dennis Haislip, owner of Alexander Recording Kompany, an Ames-based recording studio. Brimeyer picked up the basics of audio engineering from Haislip and started filling in both at DG’s and Headliner’s, a Campustown club that closed its doors years ago. DG’s offered Brimeyer a steady job in 2008, which he held until 2017. Nowadays, he does the booking and handles some of the live sound for Gas Lamp in Des Moines.

Brimeyer stressed the “wild west” nature of the live sound industry. He said there are few accepted standards or regulations in the profession, meaning young sound engineers should take every available opportunity to make connections and learn from more established engineers. Acts like Leftover Salmon and Railroad Earth would bring their own audio engineers on the road with them. When they’d play DG’s, Brimeyer said he jumped at the chance to watch them in action and ask questions.

The unpredictable nature of the live music industry also comes with some pitfalls, including a decided lack of security, he said.

“You’re only as good as the last show you ran,” he said.

To his credit, Brimeyer has run sound for some excellent shows. He points to Meat Puppets, who played at DG’s for the 2013 Maximum Ames Music Festival, as one of the highlights of his sound engineering career. The band, perhaps best known for appearing on Nirvana’s famed MTV Unplugged in New York release, has produced several decade’s worth of idiosyncratic rock that mixes alternative with roots and psychedelia. Brimeyer said he grew up listening to Meat Puppets and was delighted to learn the band members were gracious, down to Earth and easy to work with that magical night in September 2013.

“Imagine taking your heroes off the pedestal and just hanging out with them,” Brimeyer said.

But for every transcendent musical experience with someone like Meat Puppets, Brimeyer can tell just as many horror stories. He recounted the time a certain EDM artist played DG’s and required Brimeyer to show up at 9 a.m. to load in audio and lightning equipment and then stay until 5 a.m. the following morning to load everything out after the show. That might not have been so bad if the artist hadn’t pushed the volume to disastrous levels during the show. Brimeyer asked the tour manager to pass a note to the artist to get him to lower the volume, but the note went ignored.

“He starts playing and we’re running all of his stuff through DG’s board,” Brimeyer said. “And he just takes his DJ rig and cranks it all the way, and it just redlines the input channels 100 percent. Nothing we can do, and it sounds awful, just crunched.”

Brimeyer said the show wrecked every tweeter in DG’s PA system, and the artist didn’t even apologize. Instead, the artist spent the rest of the night avoiding Brimeyer at all cost.

(Author’s note: Brimeyer, without hesitation, named the EDM act in question here. We’ve decided to withhold the name out of an abundance of caution. If you ever see Adam, he’ll most likely be happy to tell you the name of the artist, along with several other choice words.)

The perfect soundcheck
The soundcheck is a critical component of any smoothly run rock show. Get it right, and everyone – from the audience to the performers to the sound engineer – enjoys the show. But, when done poorly, it can devolve into a frustrating mess, particularly if it’s happening while the audience is already seated and watching.

Brimeyer stressed the importance of punctuality and communication for a successful soundcheck. He urged bands to follow the schedule for loading in, setting up and loading out. Once a band is onstage and ready to soundcheck, he said musicians should follow the sound engineer’s instructions and resist the temptation to noodle away mindlessly on their instruments.

“You’re not there to play ‘Free Bird.’ You’re not there to jam out,” he said.

Once each musician has had a chance to check the levels on their instruments, Brimeyer recommended every band identify a single song as the go-to for soundchecks. The soundcheck song shouldn’t be something the band intends to play during their regular set, and it should be kept short, ideally less than a minute. Brimeyer said the soundcheck song simply allows the musicians to make sure everything is working and that they’re comfortable onstage. Once that’s settled, there’s no need to keep playing, no matter how righteous that new Fender Twin sounds.

And, if a musician discovers they’re not comfortable with something, soundcheck is the time to iron that out, Brimeyer said. If you don’t communicate your needs to the sound engineer, then the problem won’t get solved.

“The one pet peeve of every sound guy, and it’s probably universal, is when someone complains about not having enough of something in the monitor but they never told you once they wanted it,” Brimeyer said with an exasperated chuckle.

Bottom line, a good rock show usually needs some functional audio gear, and few people on this planet have the necessary skills to make the best use of that equipment. So here’s to Adam and sound engineers everywhere. You make rock ‘n’ roll work. And I’d like to extend a personal apology to every sound engineer I’ve ever worked with for all the times I interrupted soundcheck with my incessant guitar noodling.

Craft brews and Buddy Holly: A new frontier for Iowa musicians

Back in June 2018, I played a solo show at Fat Hill Brewing in downtown Mason City. I keep a fairly consistent set list for shows like that, which usually require several hours of music. Somewhere near the middle of my performance, I launched into “Well All Right,” a Buddy Holly classic that I first heard as a kid, without giving the song much thought ahead of time. It was simply the next entry on my set list.

And then a strange feeling hit me, right before the first chorus, as I realized I was playing a Buddy Holly number in Mason City, just a stone’s throw the last town Holly ever played before the tragic plane crash that ended his life at 22. It’s a famous story, and you probably know most of it, but here are the pertinent facts: Buddy Holly took part in the 1959 Winter Dance Party, a tour of the upper Midwest that also included a handful of other early rock ‘n’ roll performers. Following a Feb. 2 concert at Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom, a chartered airplane carrying Holly, Ritchie Vallens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed into a field near Clear Lake. None of the passengers survived, and the tragedy has taken on a mythic status as “The Day the Music Died.”

Fat Hill Brewing in Mason City, IA

And there I was, playing “Well All Right” in Mason City about 10 miles from where Holly’s last show took place nearly 60 years later. It left me feeling as if I were some kind of small link in a great chain connecting guitar-toting songwriters through the ages. It was certainly a highlight of my gigging schedule last year.

And I likely would not have gotten that opportunity were it not for Fat Hill Brewing and the growth of Iowa’s craft brewing industry in recent years. Locally brewed craft beer contributed $100 million to the state’s economy in 2014, according to a study from the Iowa Wine and Beer Promotion Board. The 2015 study, the most recent I could find, also predicted Iowa’s brewing industry to triple its production between 2014 and 2019. Those numbers are maybe out of date now, but they clearly show a rapidly growing industry. And the best part for DIY musicians like me is that many of these local breweries like to host live music in their taprooms. This has created something of a new frontier for Iowa music.

Because what goes together better than good beer and good music? I can’t think of many things.

Last year, I played Firetrucker Brewery in Ankeny and two shows at Shiny Top Brewing in Fort Dodge in addition to two gigs at Fat Hill. This year, I’ve got gigs lined up at Shiny Top and Fat Hill, as well as the Iowa Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids. These aren’t dedicated music venues; they’re breweries that decided, correctly, that live music enhances the enjoyment of their products. Accordingly, few of them own sound systems. That means the acts they book have to provide their own sound. That reality has taken a serious toll on my back, since I have to lug my two 15” main speakers out of the basement every time I play one of these shows. But the extra effort is worth it. I really enjoy getting out to explore new towns, taking in the local atmosphere and, of course, sampling some locally brewed beer.

The taproom at Fat Hill

Seeing these local businesses innovating and providing new spaces for Iowans to get together as communities really excites me. These breweries are igniting new economic and cultural opportunities in rural stretches of the state, and many are booking talented musicians who might not come to your town otherwise. It’s my sincere hope that everyone involved – from the brewery owners to the musicians to the local music fans – will continue to embrace that.

So here’s my modest request. To the brewery owners, keep booking live music, and, whenever possible, try to find local Iowa artists to feature alongside your local Iowa beer. To the musicians, get out there and try to play a new city or two in 2019. You can find new audiences and make connections in new communities. And to the customers who like hanging out in the local taproom, let the musicians know you appreciate their talent. Buy some merch the next time a musician plays your local brewery. Welcome them to your town, and tell them you enjoyed their music. It’s a lot of work loading up a bunch of gear, driving a couple hours and then putting on a quality show. Sometimes a word of encouragement makes all the difference.

Shiny Top Brewing in Fort Dodge, another area favorite of mine

Some of my favorite musical experiences in recent years, including that one last summer at Fat Hill Brewing, have occurred in local taprooms. There were 54 craft breweries operating in the state in 2014, according to that Iowa Wine and Beer Promotion Board study. Today, Iowa boasts more than 80 brewery locations. As a local musician and Buddy Holly fan, I hope that trend will not fade away any time soon.