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'We Are Here' Concert To Celebrate Two Years Of Collaboration By More Than 175 Iowa Artists

poster created by Shawn Dewey
The WE ARE HERE concert will be streamed Saturday night at 7 on Facebook and at IPR's website.

Iowa musicians hope to shed a light on diversity in the state's music scene with a livestream concert happening Saturday, May 29 from 7 to 10 p.m.

A special livestream concert is happening Saturday night, with the hopes of shining a light on the diversity among Iowa musicians.

“WE ARE HERE: A Celebration of Music'' will be held Saturday, May 29th at xBk in Des Moines. The concert is the brainchild of River Breitbach, a musician from Dubuque who writes and records music under the name River Glen. He comes from a musical family and has been performing for most of his life.

The concert has its roots in a period during which Breitbach wrote, recorded, and mixed his most ambitious album to date. He began working on the record immediately following his fellowship with the Iowa Arts Council, and he felt the record needed to be bigger than himself.

“One of my superpowers is sharing, whether it be the limelight, or creative control, or opportunity,” said Breitbach. “I felt a sense of responsibility to not just focus on myself, so I let my ‘guiding north star’ be this very simple statement: what if I tried to make the ‘most Iowa album ever?’ That’s what I started with.”

“I thought I could do this just by asking, and that’s how it came to be. I got to meet some lovely new people, but in large part, it’s folks I’ve known through being a hard-working, gigging musician in Iowa for over 25 years,” said Breitbach. “I just thought, ‘I’ll bring the community together, and let my music be the ‘sacrificial lamb.’ There’s some real honor in everyone trusting that my songwriting is strong enough to hold all these people.”

Brittany Rempe
Dubuque musician River Breitbach, who performs as River Glen.

Annie Savage, of the Iowa City bands The Savage Hearts and Awful Purdies, is one of the many musicians Breitbach recruited for the album. Savage had known the Breitbach family for many years and played on the album.

“We tracked this thing three years ago, and it was a really awesome session,” said Savage, who describes herself as a “freak-folk/old-time/bluegrass fiddle player.”

As it turns out, a couple of Savage’s bandmates in both of her bands were also booked to appear on the album. “There was kind of that incestuous, ‘hippy-grass’ community of people who were all on board,” said Savage.

One of Savage’s bandmates who appears on the album is Blake Shaw, a bassist and musician from Iowa City. He’s performed as part of Breitbach’s trio and is a member of many other bands, including The Savage Hearts.

“If you’re clicked into the Iowa music scene, you’re going to recognize people on the album,” said Shaw. “River didn’t just willy-nilly ask people to play on some songs. He thought deeply about who would sound best on what, and who would really contribute something new to the music.”

The result is the album “As Above, So Below,” which features more than 175 musicians, and will be released in the fall.

Upon completing the album, and then overseeing a two-year mixing and mastering process, Breitbach saw the Iowa Arts Council was moving in a direction that encouraged greater diversity in the Iowa arts scene. He decided he had to take the focus off of himself for a special concert.

Savage Hearts
SANDRA_L_DYAS, Sandra L. Dyas, Photography
The Savage Hearts, featuring Annie Savage on vocals and fiddle, will perform at the WE ARE HERE concert.

“With the craziness that is the pandemic, there’s been a lot of shakeup in grants and grant-writing,” said Breitbach. “I reached out to the Arts Council and specifically asked for permission to transform the grant I’d written into one that showcases a more diverse array of artists from around the state.”

The WE ARE HERE concert on Saturday night is free to all. In addition to River Glen, the Blake Shaw Trio, and the Savage Hearts, the livestream will feature performances from Iowa artists Lily DeTaeye, Sara Routh, ADE, and others.

Savage and Shaw are both very supportive of the inclusive nature of the event.

“Having lived it, as a woman, it’s jaw-dropping. The questions that weren’t being asked now that you look back, “said Savage. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a woman of color as well. That’s deep in the industry right now. Artists always lead the way, and the rest of the world tends to follow along. Booking agencies, and big festivals, will ask ‘are there any women, are there any people of color, are there any transgender band members?’ The art world tends to move in this direction, and you hope the rest of the world follows along. That’s where this project is so important.”

Blake Shaw
Alexander Duncan
Blake Shaw will perform at the WE ARE HERE concert with River Glen, The Savage Hearts, and his own trio.

“I’m a person of color, and I’m also queer. So I check those two boxes off,” said Shaw. “I was born in Iowa, and I’ve been here all my life. There are a lot of people that aren’t being encouraged to play out as much as they could. I’m on a couple of committees for music festivals here in Iowa, and a lot of people are afraid to step up and take charge, or they don’t know how. It’s nice that people like River are doing things like this to give them that hand and to start something at least.”

While the event Saturday night is free, Breitbach and Savage both want audiences to understand that livestreams are here to stay, and they won’t always be free.

“I’m going to give a very open acknowledgement that I wrote a grant in order to give this event away for free, but then there will be performances by artists whom they love that will be paid livestreams,” said Breitbach. “There’s this new way that musicians will be asking for support, and folks should be aware of that and be willing to pay for it.”

“I have very little to gain making $100 in some club somewhere,” said Savage. “I’m a big believer in education, and I don’t see it as separate from performance. The livestream gets my message out there. It allows me to specialize in bluegrass and old-time with an edge, which is kind of a small, freaky community of folks.”

The WE ARE HERE concert will be streamed Saturday night at 7 on Facebook, and also on Iowa Public Radio’s website. For more information about the livestream, please visit the concert’s Facebook page.