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!


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 Science of Things: Uncertainty Fest 2019 kicks off on Thursday

The scientific process relies on experimentation to push beyond the limits of human knowledge and into the unknown. The organizers of this weekend’s Uncertainty Festival hope live music can perform a similar function.

The 2019 Uncertainty Festival includes nine events at three venues on Main Street in Ames beginning on Thursday and extending into Sunday. Each showcase features a different twist on a scientific theme, and attendees will be able to take in a sweeping range of musical styles. A “universal festival pass,” available through MIDWESTIX, costs $20.

uncertainty2019posterSingle-show passes are available as well, but you’ll get the most out of Uncertainty if you make an effort to take in some acts you haven’t heard before, said festival organizer Rachel Dudley.

“I hope that people go and have an opportunity to see musicians they ordinarily wouldn’t have checked out and get their minds blown,” Rachel Dudley said.

Rachel and her husband, Bryon, have spearheaded Uncertainty since the festival began in 2017. Rachel and Bryon described themselves as “nerds” who thought a science-themed music festival sounded like fun. Accordingly, each show associated with this year’s festival comes with name like “Cosmic Expansion,” “Planetary Motion” or “Particle.”

The names suggest an experimental quality to the festival, as if Bryon and Rachel are gathering data and testing their own theories on the periodic table of rock ‘n’ roll.

This year’s festival has grown considerably larger than the previous two iterations. Last year’s festival hosted three showcases, while this year’s festival will feature nine events, including a meet and greet for musicians and fans on Sunday afternoon. The expansion resulted from Bryon and Rachel working on last September’s Maximum Ames Music Festival and gaining confidence in their ability to organize a larger event, they said.

Uncertainty Festival doubles as a spotlight for acts that have released music on Nova Labs, the independent record label that Bryon and Rachel run out of their house. Nova Labs has helped dozens of Iowa musicians release music and find a larger audience, and Bryon said he takes that responsibility seriously. That means he makes sure everything about Uncertainty Festival, from the acts to the venues, reflects positively on Nova Labs.

“If this is something I’m going to put the Nova Labs name on, I want it to be something that I believe in very strongly,” he said.

That approach carries over to the all-local list of festival sponsors, including London Underground, Prints Copy Center, Smiles Food Carts, Alluvial Brewing Company and the Tom Russel Piano Service.

And once it’s over, Rachel and Bryon will head back to the lab again with a fresh set of data to analyze and new hypotheses to test.

Uncertainty Festival 2019 programming

April 18

Hypothesis: Piano
7 p.m., London Underground
Elizabeth Zimmerman, Holly Figueroa,
 Evelyn Davis &
 Lizzy Poppyseed

April 19

Particle Showcase
8 p.m., DG’s Tap House
, Matt Woods, Ducharme-Jones Band, Brother Trucker

Cosmic Expansion
8:30 p.m., The Angry Irishmen (formerly Deano’s 119)
Obsidian’s Dream
, Moonrabbit & 
Other Brothers

Hypothesis: Beat
7 p.m., London Underground
SLICE the Celestial Sorcerer & 

April 20

Wave Showcase
1 p.m., DG’s Tap House
Free The Snakes
, Bleujack, 
Fred Love & 
Dylan Boyle

Hypothesis: Dance
7 p.m., London Underground
Pink Kodiak
 & DJ Saturn Savant (aka Austin Robert)

Light Showcase
8 p.m., DG’s Tap House
Bitter Canyon
, Pink Neighbor
, Wiitch Tiit & 
Linear Symmetry

Planetary Motion
8:30 p.m., The Angry Irishmen
Great Caesar’s Goat, 
Mountain Eats Mountain
, Kickstart The Sun & Electric Jury

April 21

Hypothesis: Interaction (musician meet and greet)
1 p.m., London Underground
Starlight Therapy
, Tom and Will (Tom Russell and Will Pett), 
DJ Strooya (aka Zee Krizhan)

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!