Inside Iowa City’s Local Music Venues

In Iowa City, there exists a plethora of live music venues. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed bar performance or a full-scale concert, Iowa City has a venue to suit your needs. Listen to my interviews with members of the Yacht Club and Englert Theatre management teams to get a better sense of what each venue has to offer. In addition, check out the slideshow for a more in-depth look at Gabe’s. If you’re willing to spend some time on the road, the interactive map will show you some great live music venues just outside Iowa City!

Iowa City is rich with art of all kinds. Several music venues offer a variety of genres, atmospheres, and experiences. Two of these venues, the Yacht Club and the Englert Theatre, have been around for quite some time. I talked to Pete McCarthy about the Yacht Club and what makes it unique.

McCarthy is the General Manager of the Yacht Club. He explained that the Yacht Club has been open for ten years. They are a full-service live music venue that is open six nights a week. They have comedy on Monday nights, dance parties with DJs on Tuesday nights, and jam sessions on Wednesday nights. The Yacht Club hosts live bands every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

As far as what makes the Yacht Club unique, McCarthy says they are the only place in Iowa City that has amateur stand-up comedy. In addition, they provide the instruments for their weekly jam sessions. “Any local musician or anybody in town who wants to play can get up on stage and play,” says McCarthy. The Yacht Club also has a live music exemption from the city, which allows people of all ages to attend their shows even though there is liquor on the premises.

The Englert Theatre is a 740-seat venue that serves both the Iowa City community and those who travel from surrounding states. Katie Roche, the Development Director at the Englert Theatre, says that the theatre represents all areas of the arts – they have a gallery for 2D and 3D art and a stage that can accommodate dance, film, orchestral music, and bands. They also have fly space, which allows large sets to be moved in and out for different productions.

Marissa Ripoli, a student at the University of Iowa, frequents both of these venues. One of her favorite aspects of the Yacht Club is the staff. She says that they are always very nice and that they bring in fun bands. Ripoli says her favorite thing about the Englert Theatre is the atmosphere. “It’s historic, it’s really pretty inside, and it’s clean,” she says.

Listen to Pete McCarthy explain the nuances of Gabe’s, another great music venue in Iowa City:

This interactive map will help you find your ideal music venue! Venues on the map are located in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and West Des Moines. Click on the markers to see upcoming shows, interesting facts, and more! Green markers indicate venues whose upcoming show is open to all ages, while red markers denote an age restriction.

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If you like Blink-182, then you’ll like MxPx

Blink-182 -

Blink-182 –

Blink-182 is a rock band made up of three members: Travis Barker, Tom DeLonge, and Mark Hoppus. The band formed in 1992 in California. While all of the members have side projects – some extremely successful ones, such as +44 and Angels & Airwaves – Blink-182 has been and will continue to be their most successful endeavor. The group broke up in 2005 after arguments about their future direction, but after Barker was severely injured in a plane crash the band came together again in 2008. The next year, they played a hugely successful reunion tour.

Their style ranges from a rough alternative rock sound to a more polished pop-punk sound – there is a clear progression from their first album to their most recent album. Blink-182’s first album since their reunion, “Neighborhoods”, peaked at number two on the Billboard charts. They just released an EP called “Dogs Eating Dogs” in December 2012.

MxPx -

MxPx –

MxPx sounds quite similar to Blink-182. They formed in Washington in 1992 and have released nine albums plus several EPs and singles. Their lineup, like Blink-182’s, consists of three members. The band’s sound is reminiscent of earlier Blink-182; they have maintained a grungier, punk rock style. Their songs are comparable to those heard on Blink-182’s albums “Cheshire Cat” and “Dude Ranch”. They sing about anti-conformity, challenging authority, and not wanting to grow up.

One thing that definitely separates MxPx from Blink-182 is that MxPx has called themselves a Christian band. While they say they are not trying to preach to anyone, subtle religious themes can be found in their music. The band’s latest album, “Plans Within Plans”, was released in April 2012.

Check out “Responsibility”:

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How To: Discover New Music

I’m taking a break from my usual routine to show you all some easy ways to discover new music! These tips are NOT, however, meant to replace your visits to this blog (which I very much appreciate).

Yes, discovering new music sounds like it should be easy. Actually, it is! Most people just have trouble getting started. They don’t know where to look. My first piece of advice is to utilize the internet. is a site that I use to help me write my blog posts each week. It has a radio function that is very similar to Pandora. More importantly, it is extremely helpful when trying to compare artists. Just type any artist that you like into the search bar – let’s use Mumford & Sons as an example. Then, under “More”, click “Similar Artists”. This will take you to a list of musicians who sound like Mumford & Sons. They range from “Super Similarity” to “Lower Similarity”.

In addition to, there’s Noisetrade is a service that allows you to browse and even download music for FREE! Artists can sign up to have their music featured on Noisetrade. It is a great way for those who are just starting in the business to get their name out there. You can search by keyword or by genre. To start discovering, just head to

While the internet is limitless and certainly helpful, there are other ways to discover new music. Check out the bulletin boards around your town. Here in Iowa City, they are everywhere! Each one is covered in flyers and posters advertising different shows – some free, some more expensive. Take a look at your local music venues as well. They often have signs advertising upcoming shows.

In Iowa City, one of our popular local music venues is called The Yacht Club. The Yacht Club is located on Linn Street and is housed in the basement of an old building. They typically hang posters in the windows and on the bulletin board outside in order to advertise their shows.

Blue Moose is another great music venue in Iowa City. Located on Iowa Avenue, Blue Moose has a large sign out front that lists upcoming shows. They usually host the big-name acts who come to our town. Tickets to their shows are easy to buy online or at the door.

However helpful these tips may have been, I can assure you that the most powerful resource you have when it comes to discovering new music is word of mouth. Talk to your music-loving friends and see who they’re listening to these days! When someone finds a great band, they’ll want to spread the word.

Of course, another resource I recommend you take advantage of is this blog, You Have to Hear This. We will have new artists for you every week!

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Festival season is upon us!

As we finally begin to enter the warmer months, tickets for music festivals everywhere are selling like mad! Not sure which festival to attend? Check out this interactive map that profiles ten different music festivals around the country. Whether you want to camp out for a weekend or attend just one show, there’s a festival out there for you. They can get pricey, but I promise the experience will be worth your money! Happy festival season!

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If you like Phoenix, then you’ll like Friendly Fires

Phoenix is an alternative rock band from France that, in recent years, has become wildly popular in the US. Their breakthrough album was “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”, released in May 2009. Their single from that album, “1901”, was featured in a Green Bay Packers montage during the Super Bowl the following year. This immediately launched the band to a new level of popularity.

Phoenix -

Phoenix –

While the band has many ties to traditional rock ‘n’ roll, Phoenix puts a unique twist on their music. Their style has become more defined and consistent with each album they have released. The latest, “Bankrupt!”, is set to be released later this month.

Similar to Phoenix is the band Friendly Fires. The band is based in England and released their debut album in 2009. “Pala”, their second album, came out in May 2011. Sadly, the band’s trumpet player passed away unexpectedly just a few months after “Pala” was released. Friendly Fires bounced back and played their biggest tour ever at the end of 2011.

Friendly Fires -

Friendly Fires –

While Phoenix and Friendly Fires have several similar characteristics (check out their web addresses!), Friendly Fires has a less consistent style. They range from traditional alternative rock to a dancier pop sound. However, the band has said that they do not intend to stick to the poppy style heard in “Pala”. Instead, singer Ed MacFarlane says they want to do something completely different. He has been quoted saying they are “still learning how to write music” and that the next album will likely contain “more drawn-out, psychedelic jams”.

Check out “Hurting”:

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If you like The Cure, then you’ll like The Chameleons

The Cure, an English rock band formed in 1976, was just announced as a headliner for this year’s Lollapalooza (see the full lineup here). Throughout the many years the band has existed, frontman Robert Smith has remained the only constant member. The Cure played a major role in the United Kingdom’s post-punk era and new wave movement. In the 1980s, they made contributions to the then-new gothic rock genre, and they grew to become one of the most popular alternative rock bands in the world.

The Cure -

The Cure –

“Friday I’m in Love”, “Lovesong”, and “Just Like Heaven” are perhaps the most recognizable songs by The Cure today. They incorporate dance rhythms and have a generally happy feel to them. A band that has successfully emulated this style that has prolonged The Cure’s fame is called The Chameleons. The Chameleons, also from England, began recording in 1981. They broke up after the sudden death of their manager in 1985, re-formed in 2000, and then disbanded once more in 2003.

The Chameleons -

The Chameleons –

The Chameleons have a dance-y, new wave sound much like that of The Cure. Since the bands were recording around the same time, it is clear that they were both influenced by the same post-punk and gothic rock fads. The Chameleons sometimes have a darker tone to their songs than The Cure does; the vocals are more somber and the guitar is subdued instead of upbeat and loud.

Percussion also plays a heavy role in both bands. Strong beats and echoing crashes are characteristic of the post-punk era, with the drums almost acting as sound effects instead of a supplemental music element.

Check out my favorite song by The Chameleons, “Up the Down Escalator”:

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If you like Arcade Fire, then you’ll like Beach House

Arcade Fire formed in Canada in 2003. The group is a unique blend of indie-rock and orchestral music. They garnered major attention in 2004 with the release of their debut album, “Funeral”, and have continued to gain popularity ever since. In addition, they are the only band to have won their first and only Grammy in the “Album of the Year” category.

Arcade Fire -

Arcade Fire –

With seven members, Arcade Fire is a large group. Their genius blend of instruments results in a very full, diverse sound. Violin, cello, and accordion are just some of the instruments featured alongside the traditional blend of guitar, bass, and drums. The band also has both female and male vocalists.

While Arcade Fire is certainly a unique venture, their sound has clearly inspired several groups. One of these groups is called Beach House. Beach House formed in 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike Arcade Fire, Beach House is composed of just two members, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. They have a style that is quite similar to that of Arcade Fire and has been characterized as “dream pop“.

Beach House -

Beach House –

The band attracted attention with its third album, “Teen Dream”. The album was released in 2010 and received great reviews. Stars such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé were even seen at one of the band’s shows. Like Arcade Fire, Beach House has both a female and male vocalist, although Victoria sings lead on most of their tracks. She also plays the organ, which gives the group a vaguely orchestral feel akin to that of Arcade Fire. The vocal style of both groups is echoing and almost haunting – the singers have a far-off feel to their voices that perfectly complements the full, smooth instrumental backing.

“Bloom”, Beach House’s latest album, was released in May 2012. Since then, the band has performed on various late night talk shows and at several music festivals.

Check out “Myth”, by Beach House:

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If you like Sufjan Stevens, then you’ll like Local Natives

Sufjan Stevens -

Sufjan Stevens –

Sufjan Stevens is an indie folk/rock artist from Michigan. He has been recording since 2000 and has released 11 albums thus far, including two Christmas albums. He often writes lyrics centered on his faith and beliefs, as well as traditional values such as family.

All of Sufjan’s albums have been released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label he cofounded with his stepfather. He wrote and recorded his first album, “A Sun Came”, while he was in college. Prior to this, Sufjan played in a band called Marzuki. He can play several instruments, including guitar, banjo, bass, and piano.

Akin to Sufjan’s full, mystic, sometimes instrument-heavy sound are the stylings of indie folk/rock band Local Natives. The Local Natives add unique elements of percussion to Sufjan’s signature sound, often relying on clapping and stomping. In addition, their vocal style is similar to that of Sufjan’s, though the Local Natives incorporate a distinctive howling in many of their songs.

Local Natives -

Local Natives –

The Los Angeles-based Local Natives released their first album, “Gorilla Manor”, in 2010. The album was named after the house the group shared in Orange County. Interestingly enough, everything the band releases to the public is a collaboration between its members; music, artwork, etc.

The band’s latest album, “Hummingbird”, was released in January of this year. It is a noticeably darker album – the songs are less wild and more somber, the instrumental parts have been thinned. However, it highlights another side of the band without compromising the success achieved with their first album.

This is my favorite Local Natives song:

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David Ramirez

David Ramirez is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas. He played a CAB-sponsored show at Iowa City’s The Mill last Thursday and I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with him.

Unlike many musicians, Ramirez did not discover his musical talents at a young age. He was an avid baseball player throughout his youth. However, when his family moved at the start of his senior year of high school, he decided he did not want to continue playing baseball at his new school. It was at this time that his new acquaintances convinced him to join the school choir and theater programs.

Ramirez picked up both guitar and songwriting that same year. He then went on to form several “awful bands”, as he calls them. While he has been touring full-time for only five or six years, Ramirez says he began to perform at various open mic nights at age 19.

As far as his goals go, David Ramirez says they have changed significantly over the course of his musical career. When he was first starting out as a performer he set concrete goals, such as making a certain amount of money, getting signed to a label, or winning a Grammy Award. Ramirez felt the quality of his music suffered because of these goals – he was too focused on getting recognized. His current goals are to continue writing things that he believes in, putting out great records, and playing great shows. “If those [other] things happen as a result, then that’s great,” Ramirez said. He continued, “I believe art has a big influence on people, and I want to be a part of that.”

At age 21, Ramirez was given a Ryan Adams album. Adams became his main source of inspiration; he “changed it all” for Ramirez. The influential Adams has played a large role in what Ramirez writes and why he writes it. Ramirez is compared to Adams quite often. “People compare me to him, and I think that’s probably inevitable,” Ramirez said. “I looked up to him a lot for several years and I still do. It’s kinda hard not to mimic some of his stuff.”

This was David Ramirez’s first time playing in Iowa City. Kudos to CAB for bringing him out! He is playing at the SXSW festival in his hometown of Austin, Texas this week.

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If you like The Black Keys, then you’ll like Alabama Shakes

The Black Keys is a rock duo comprised of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. They formed the band in 2001 in Ohio and have risen to international fame in the past three years. Their breakthrough album was “Brothers”, released in 2010. The album and its accompanying single, “Tighten Up”, won a combined three Grammy Awards. The band’s latest album, “El Camino”, won this year’s Grammy for “Best Rock Album”.

The Black Keys -

The Black Keys –

Fame came a little more quickly to Alabama Shakes, a rock band formed in Alabama in 2009. Alabama Shakes was nominated for the 2013 Grammy Award for “Best New Artist”. In 2012, the band played at the Newport Folk Festival as well as Bonnaroo. Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys have a similar sound, both vocally and instrumentally.

Alabama Shakes -

Alabama Shakes –

Both bands have a distinct and traditional rock sound, reminiscent of the many projects of Jack White. Both Auerbach and Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist for Alabama Shakes, have brooding, throaty voices. They both emulate the raspy quality that is so prevalent in the voices of many passionate rock singers. The one major difference between the two? Howard is a woman! Jon Pareles, a New York Times reporter, compared her unique and soulful voice to Janis Joplin’s.

Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys rely heavily on percussion, as many rock bands do. Their screaming electric guitars define each individual song. Since the release of their album “Boys & Girls”, Alabama Shakes has appeared on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Saturday Night Live, and even David Letterman’s birthday version of The Late Show with David Letterman.

Here is Alabama Shakes’ single, “Hold On”:

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