Discover your New Favorite Band during the Maximum Ames Music Festival

Diego Danger plays at Morning Bell during the 2018 Maximum Ames Music Festival. That’s the author seated at right, realizing that Diego Danger had just become his New Favorite Band. Photo by James Dean.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Maximum Ames Music Festival is the high likelihood I’ll discover my New Favorite Band.

The festival, which runs from Thursday through Sunday at multiple venues all over downtown Ames, has featured a sweeping range of genres and artists throughout its existence. The festival has hosted rock hall of famers, grunge legends and country trailblazers. It’s drawn traditional folk troubadours and EDM experimenters. Virtuosos and beginners, nationally touring headliners and local heroes.

And this year’s lineup, the ninth iteration of the festival, follows suit. Indie rock. Americana. Power pop. Dance. Jazz. Blues. All that adventurous music can be yours for the cost of a $20 wristband. And, even if you can’t afford that, the festival slate includes a half dozen free and all-ages offerings. There’s really no excuse to stop you.

So here’s my challenge to all my fellow central Iowa music fans: Discover your New Favorite Band during the 2019 Maximum Ames Music Festival.

Last year, my New Favorite Band was Diego Danger, a swampy blues outfit currently from Omaha. They played at Morning Bell, a coffee shop on Main Street that needed a PA system brought in for the festival. I volunteered mine and loaded it in that evening without any knowledge of the acts that would be playing Morning Bell. I assumed, judging strictly by the name, that Diego Danger was a solo act, probably a singer-songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar. To my surprise, when it was time for Diego Danger’s set, a handful of guys set up drums, electric guitars and keys. Then they let loose with a groovy set of bluesy originals.

MAMF9 Program Full Color Blue-centerfold
The full schedule for the 2019 Maximum Ames Music Festival

The blues does this thing to me that no other musical form manages. A good blues band hijacks my brainwaves and makes it nearly impossible for me to pay attention to anything else happening around me. I think it probably has a lot to do with the shuffle rhythms so prominent in blues music. It’s just irresistible to me.

Diego Danger induced this blues-trance almost immediately. Long-time Maximum Ames photographer James Dean actually captured the moment in a couple shots that night. Diego Danger played a tight, polished set and wrapped up just as their allotted set time was about to expire. They clearly knew what they were doing, and I knew I’d discovered my New Favorite Band. So I bought a couple of their CDs and a sticker and told them I hoped they would return to Ames. And, as fortune would have it, Diego Danger is among the 50+ acts playing the Maximum Ames Music Festival this year. You can see them Friday night at Time Out, along with Equal Parts and Origami Animals.

But they can’t be my New Favorite Band two years in a row. That title will belong to a new act, probably one I know next to nothing about as I write this. And that excites me.

So come out to Maximum Ames this weekend with an open mind and take a chance on some artists you’ve never heard of. The odds are good you’ll discover your New Favorite Band.

I’ll see you on Main Street!


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

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!