Category Archives: Live Music

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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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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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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Open Mic Night at The Mill in Iowa City

The Mill, an Iowa City staple, has been around for over 50 years. The restaurant doubles as a concert venue where live music can be heard almost any night of the week. Every Monday night, The Mill hosts a well-attended open mic night. I asked Joanne, a waitress at The Mill who works most Monday nights, about the acts she sees every week. “Well the sound guy is always the same and he opens and closes every week with his own set,” said Joanne. She added that there are usually four or five new artists in addition to the three or four performers who attend open mic night on a regular basis.

The “sound guy” Joanne is referring to is J. Knight, creator of open mic night at The Mill. I got to ask him about the origins of open mic night and what motivated him to create such an institution. “I started this open mic in 1981,” J. said proudly. He continued, “I was playing music as a singer-songwriter and I had come to Iowa City the year before. The Mill was the main place that I played in town and Monday was kind of a musician’s night off – they’d usually play on the weekends and be back for Monday. So I talked to the owner about doing an open mic on Monday nights.”

I then asked J. how often he plays his own set during open mic night. He replied, “Not always, but if there’s time!” J. explained that his open mic nights are usually fully booked two to three weeks in advance, but he is “always ready” to fill extra time or replace an act that fails to show up.

When I asked who his favorite artists are, J. had an interesting response. Chuckling, he said, “All the people who come and play at my open mic! Those are my favorites!” J. went on to say that as a musician, he does not listen to other musicians very often. Instead, he listens to National Public Radio. He then said that he plays a lot of Hoyt Axton and Johnny Cash songs. Sure enough, J. closed his set with a Johnny Cash number from the 1950’s.

If you are a musician, open mic night at The Mill is a great way to get your music heard. Open mic night is every Monday at 8pm, and admission is free for audience members.

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