Inexpensive Entertainment Is Kept Alive in Iowa City

Iowa City has been home to some of Iowa’s most beloved music venues for decades. It is a process to bring in artists to such a small town but the venues of Iowa City know what to do to keep the music scene thriving. This three part story looks into how inexpensive entertainment is still kept alive by how shows are set at different venues, how exactly the music scene in Iowa City is and profiles a bluegrass group that has kept coming back to provide inexpensive entertainment to the community.

BY: Lauren Drennan

Iowa City, Iowa, has been home to a rich music scene for decades. Pricing a show is always difficult but through the decades, it has maintained a diverse and lively music scene that is fairly inexpensive. The credit goes to talent buyers of the different music venues Iowa City has to offer.

“Fortunately, Iowa City is geographically located in between large music markets like Minneapolis and Chicago,” Chris Wiersema, talent buyer for The Mill, said. “We are a prime route destination spot and when I see tours of artists that cross paths with Iowa City, I hop on that opportunity to bring them in.”

Chris Wiersema has worked as the talent buyer for The Mill for over two years now. As a talent buyer, he believes one thing to be the key to reeling in artists to his venue: relationships. He builds relationships with agents who have a staple of artists, the agents will call him when a new record is released and tour dates are being planned. The artists must maintain a price but Wiersema ultimately determines the price of the tickets.

“We must first make sure the artists get enough money from their performance. We try to have a base cost of six dollars for most of our shows,” he said. “As a business, we rarely make money. We maintain our business by food and drink sales during performances.”

Brent Johnson, the talent buyer for Gabe’s as of this year, agrees with Wiersema that the artists come first and they must get enough money out of a show. He believes that the community is a huge deciding factor of what artists to bring in and how to price the shows accordingly, which can reap benefits in years to come.

“The way the show is put on can be a building block for both the venue and the artist,” he said. “However, if there are shows that are similar several days in a row, you are not going to make a dime because the community will lose interest and it is a missed opportunity for different artists to come in to show their talent.”

Scott Kading, owner and talent buyer for The Iowa City Yacht Club, has been in the profession for 11 years. When he books artists, he maintains a nice mix of bands they want to see versus what people in the community want to see. Kading also gets several requests from smaller bands to get stage time so he holds free shows on their downstairs stage to give them an opportunity. This opportunity in turn also provides an opportunity for his business because it brings in people to enjoy the free show while making a profit off the drinks the concertgoers buy.

“The booking process at the Yacht Club is an organic process,” he said. “We host all types of music, we host free shows to keep smaller band happy to get the performing time and that is what keeps us on our toes more. That is what being a talent buyer is truly about.”

Check out my live coverage of Lydia’s show at The Mill on Tuesday night. You can find it @cheapgigsic!


Iowa City is often seen solely as a bar scene and a weekend getaway. However, they provide just as much music entertainment during the week as they do on the weekend. The prices of shows can range from free to upwards of $25 dollars but the variety of music venues provide an eclectic choice of music events to attend weekly. Check out my Storify here to see get a taste of what the beginning of a week of entertainment in Iowa City has to offer.


The Burlington Street Bluegrass Band is local band that has members from Iowa City, as well as surrounding areas. The members are Joe Peterson (mandolin), Al Murphey (fiddle), Bob Black (banjo), Aleta Murphey (bass), Mike Finders (guitar), Dale Thomas (dobro) and often have a guest artist play with them. They play every second and forth Wednesday of each month at The Mill for a $5 admission. They play solely because they enjoy playing and charging such a cheap price for their shows allows people to keep coming back to enjoy their performances.


Mission Creek Reels In Artists From All Over North America

Map of a Complication of Artists That Performed at Mission Creek Festival 2013

The annual Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA brings in a vast variety of artists to perform for the community. The artists come from every corner of the United States, different parts of Canada and even some local artists get the opportunity to showcase their talent. The broad range of artists allows the community to see and hear artists that they would never hear otherwise.

The map includes a random handful of artists that performed at Mission Creek this year, where they are from, when the group was formed, their genre of music, their latest album release and also a link to give a taste of what their music is like.

The Best Things In Life Are Free: Mission Creek 2013

The Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA, is a week long festival that occurs every year. However, the amount of shows that are available can really take a toll on someone financially. There are some venues, such as retail stores Revival and Catherine’s, that provide free shows as a part of the Mission Creek Festival. The reason that they host these free events is because they believe it brings a sense of unity to the community and it allows people to experience a musician that they may have never heard of otherwise.

Soulful and Funky Local Band to Play for Mission Creek Festival

The funky soul band, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, comes from straight out of Iowa City, IA. The group was a side project of retro-rockers the Bent Scepters and originally formed in 1998. Dustin Connor (bassist), Doug Roberson (guitarist), and Jim Viner (drums) were all members of the Brent Scepters. They then added keyboardist Pat White. The last days of the Brent Scepters was in the year of 1999. The trio of Connor, Roberson, and Viner wanted to continue performing but under the name, the Diplomats of Solid Sound. Par White was replaced with Nate “Count” Basinger, though White occasionally guested on the band’s recordings. The groups first single, “Bullfrog Boogaloo,” was released in 2001, and they released their first album, Instrumental Action Soul, under their own label, Prescription Records. The prime garage rock label Estrus Records release the band’s second full-length release, Let’s Cool One, in 2002. Destination…Get Down! was their third album that was released in 2005 and was the first with new member David Basinger (alto/baritone sax). The Diplomats of Solid Sound has a few recordings featuring a group of women named the Diplomettes. These vocalists are Sarah Cram, Katherine Ruestow and Abbie Sawyer.

This show will be apart of the Mission Creek Festival, a week-long musical experience that takes over local venues in downtown Iowa City. The Diplomats of Solid Sound will play at The Mill tonight at 9 P.M. The tickets for the show are $10 in advance but will include seeing two other acts by The Miles Kean Project and Pressure Drop. Come on out tomorrow to show some local love to The Diplomats of Solid Sound!

Check out one of their tunes here, thanks to NPR radio.

Canadian Rock Group to Tear Up Local Stage

Canadian rock band, White Lung, will bring their talent al the way from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the stage at Gabe’s in Iowa City. The group was formed around the year 2006 because Mish Way, White Lung’s lead vocalist, was not happy in the band she was playing with her boyfriend she had at the time. The other members of White Lung are Anne-Marie Vassilou (drums), Grady Mackintosh (bassist). The real quartet was not formed until 2009 when Kenny William replaced the original guitarist they had. The group originally consisted of all girls, much like their inspiration, Hole, a group from the 1990’s that shared similar sounds to White Lung. The name of the group, White Lung, came about because they believed that is what accurately described them as a group; disgusting. It is a disgusting disease term that is used when bakers inhale too much flour, gets packed in their lungs and makes them sick. They have sort of a feminist approach because they believe it is important that three-fourths of the group is dominated by women. White Lung has toured both all over North America and Europe. They have released two albums under the record company, Deranged Records. Their first album was entitled It’s the Evil and their second one was titled Sorry. Their second album achieved acclaim in magazines such as Spin, Pitchfork, Exclaim! and Rolling Stone.

White Lung will bring their feminist, punk sound to Gabe’s on Wednesday, April 3rd. The show starts at 10 P.M. and will be $10 to get in. Get over the mid-week hump by checking out this talented group from across the border!

(Video credit: pitchforktv)

Local Roots Rocking, Indie Artist to Come to The Mill

David Zollo made his debut onto the local music scene in 1992 as a member of Iowa City’s band, High and Lonesome. However, his stint with High and Lonesome only lasted until 1994, when pre-cancerous tumors were found in his vocal cords. Zollo is a man of many talents. He is a singer/songwriter/keyboardist with his own band, as well as others. He plays alongside Todd Snider, William Elliot Whitmore, Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey and The Pines. Zollo is also the founder, owner and operator of the underground music label, Trailer Records, and is the producer for the bands The Pines and Brother Tucker. Trailer Records was formed to have a music-as-family sort of feel after his move to Nashville, relocation to his hometown of Iowa City and assemblage back with Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown. Zollo has released six records consisting of songs he has performed and written: Alackaday (1992);
Livefromgabes (1994); and For Sale or Rent with High and Lonesome, and
The Morning is a Long Way From Home (1995); Uneasy Street (1999); and
The Big Night (2002) all covered by his record label, Trailer Records. He is currently working on a new album titled For Hire. 

David Zollo and The Body Electric will be performing at The Mill tomorrow, Friday, March 29th. The show will begin at 9 PM so be sure to get there early to get  good seat. It will be $8 in advance but if you don’t get them early, the tickets will be $10 at the door. Come on out and enjoy the timeless sound of David Zollo and The Body Electric.

Interview with Dave Zollo:

(Video credit: Tack Fu)

The Main Squeeze Oozes Unique Funky Sound

A funk experience, The Main Squeeze, are Bloomington, Indiana natives but now call Chicago their home. The thrived in the young, fresh faced environment in the college town of Bloomington’s music scene but their move to Chicago was to pursue bigger goals that they had. They have achieved many of their goal by playing at some of the biggest music festivals in America and earning some pretty prestigious awards in the music world. The Main Squeeze has headlined at Bonnaroo, Summer Camp, Equifunk, Big Pig and Glowfest in the past. They have on several battle of the band contests around the world. They were also single handedly picked by Rolling Stone magazine to open for The Roots and Jane’s Addiction at the formal Superbowl XLVI tailgate party in Indianapolis. The members of The Main Squeeze are:

– Max Newman (lead guitar)

– Ben “Smiley” Silverstein (keyboard)

– Reuben Gingrich (drums)

– Willy Robinson (bass)

– Corey Frye (vocals)

Their music incorporates a unique sound of funk that blends with some old school hip-hop. They released their debut album in June 2012, a self-titled album, that take each member of the groups influence and blends them together to make an extremely unique, funky sound.

The Main Squeez will bring their soulful and funky sound the Iowa City Yacht Club on Thursday, March 28th. The event is 19 and over with a $5 charge to get into the show. Doors open at 8:30 PM and the show starts at 9 PM so be sure to get there early to get a close spot to the stage! You don’t want to miss this.

(Video credit: MainSqueezeMusic)

Rock n’ Roll and Hillbilly Soul

It is a roller coaster ride at one of The Hooten Hallers shows. Their take on music is to make it unexpected to the audience and for them to not know where the music is to turn next. The Hooten Haller’s tuns consist of a unique blend of modern rock n’ roll spiced up with blues, punk, country and the occasional gospel. The two members of the group are John Randall (guitar/vocals) and Andy Rehm (drums/vocals). The duo formed the group in 2006 in Columbia, MO. Their first gigs were located at house parties but then began to gain recognition which led them to play at some small festivals and led them on a few short tours. Rumor has it that Rehm still get nervous when playing, even after playing at shows across the nation, so he prefers to prefer to play in rural areas. The Hooten Hallers have released two full length studio albums, “We Have Friends” in 2008 and “The Epic Battle of Good and Evil” in 2009. There is so much power that comes from this group that crowds are often said to fall in love with the chilling rhythm and soul that Randall and Rehm take to the stage.

The Hooten Hallers will bring their unique blend of genres and high energy set to The Mill tomorrow, Friday, March 15th. The show will be 19 and over with a $6 admittance fee. Their performance is sure to be one that you will never forget so kick off your weekend right by stopping by The Mill tomorrow night!

Equilateral: Jazz Quartet of Iowa Natives With Rich History

Equilateral is a jazz group from Eastern Iowa that consists of  Chris Merz on the sax, Brent Sandy on the trumpet, Greg Mazunik on electric bass and Eric Thompson on drums, whom are all native Iowans. Some members of the group have played with some of the greats of music, such as Aretha Franklin and The Four Tops. Although they do not get the ideal amount of performance time, they are a common name to headline The Mill’s jazz night that occurs every Friday and are never let down to the crowd turnout during their performances. Chris Merz and Brent Sandy discuss what they have to do to survive as a group in Iowa, some of their strange encounters and how their music oscillates differently with audiences. 

LAUREN: Equilateral is an Eastern Iowa jazz quartet that is filled with all Iowa natives, including Chris Merz on the sax and Brent Sandy on the trumpet. Being from Iowa, they have had to incorporate a variety of styles and work to survive as a group.

CHRIS: For me, a successful gig is when I have played something I have never played before.

BRENT: Living in Iowa, we have to plan different projects.

CHRIS: And yeah, different kinds of things just to stay afloat.

BRENT: Yeah.

LAUREN: During their time together, they have played with some of music’s greats but have also had their fair share of odd run ins while playing.

CHRIS: We played with Aretha Franklin together.

BRENT: Yes we did.

CHRIS: One of the great highlights of my life.

BRENT: We played with The Temps (The Temptations) …

CHRIS: And The Four Tops but I think the the weirdest gig that I have ever played, and it was cool but weird, was when I was living in South Africa doing a Tom Waits cover show. Tom Waits was like the ultimate white guy …

BRENT: But he sings like a very black man. I mean, a weird one that I do is totally business, playing a telethon. Rehearse all afternoon and then basically play for two days.

LAUREN: The members of Equilateral play about once a month, which they all agree is not enough. The thing that makes their performances most interesting is seeing different dynamics from the audience.

CHRIS: We only ever play local. We play our music, you know, and it’s a communal thing and as long as these four guys show up there is going to be that thing. And what tunes that are going to resonate in a certain environment. It’s weird and sometimes things, a tune will play, and sometimes it has to do with the performance and I can feel it, we all can. Sometimes it is sort of like, really? You were into that? Okay, cool.

BRENT: Well, different strokes.

CHRIS: Yeah, yeah.

I would like to extend my appreciation to the members of Equilateral for giving me their time.

Midwest Reggae Rockers to Bring Their Talent to Gabe’s

Minneapolis based reggae-rock group, John Wayne and The Pain, was started up in 2005 and has been taking the nation by storm ever since. Being a part of the Minneapolis music scene helped them develop connections to play at more well-known venues and provided opportunities to play with bigger name artists. The groups frontman, John Wayne, has a story much like the late Bradley Nowell, Sublime’s former frontman, because Wayne is a recovering addict. Their songs often reflect on the struggles that Wayne had with addiction and how he dug his way out to see the light of redemption. However, their goal is to break free of the drug stereotype that is often associated with reggae music by solely promoting positive vibes to their audiences. The other two members of the group are Tito Miller (drummer) and Chuck Torgerson (bassist). Their sound is much like that of Sublime and Slightly Stoopid. The message they convey is something like Matisyahu or Wookiefoot would express in their songs. John Wayne and The Pain’s blend of electronic dub-style sounds with powerful lyrics is what sets them apart from other reggae-rock groups of today.

The sole reason for their reggae-rock style is to spread the love and unity that reggae music has to offer, to bring the audience together as one. They will be taking the stage tomorrow, Friday, March 8th, at Gabe’s. The show begins at 10 PM and will be available for ages 19 and over. It’ll be $7 to get in so be sure to not forget that. So if you’re either looking for some redemption or a good time, be sure to check out John Wayne and The Pain tomorrow at Gabe’s!

(Video credit: TheLizardKingAaron)