A Return To The Cedar Basin Music Festival Felt Grand To Me
For almost everyone I talked to, the 2021 Cedar Basin Music Festival felt like a new beginning of sorts. Musicians and audience members alike talked about how much they “needed” live music, and how they didn’t realize how much they missed it. A friend I spoke to described the weekend as “the beginning of the return to normal.”
Naturally, it also rained a lot.
In a normal year, the Cedar Basin Music Festival is held over the final full weekend in June in Cedar Falls. It’s also the same weekend as the Sturgis Falls Celebration, which commemorates the city’s founding. Originally called the Cedar Basin Jazz Festival, it’s been expanded in recent years to include other styles of music.
The last live music event I’d attended was on March 5, 2020, at xBk in Des Moines. IPR hosted the Ducharme-Jones Band on Studio One Underground, with my friend and colleague Cece Mitchell hosting. The next day, the annual South By Southwest conference and festival was canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus. The World Health Organization had not yet declared a pandemic. We all remember what happened next.
"Personally, I felt relieved by the whole experience. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back at a show or what the emotions would be like. I’d love to be able to tell you how overcome with joy I was at everything, but the truth is that it was just normal and good, and I think that’s actually even better."Tony Dehner
After seeing the lineup for this year’s Cedar Basin, I was pretty excited to check it out. I’m fully vaccinated, and as a completely outdoor event, it was the perfect “reentry” show for me.
I’m pretty comfortable going to shows by myself, especially in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area where I live, because I know I’m going to run into a whole bunch of people I know. That's what makes our favorite live music venues such great places, right? Anyway, that turned out to be true once again. I saw some folks I hadn’t seen in well over a year, including both musicians and audience members. Already, the weekend was a smashing success, and the music was only barely underway!
I made it in time on Friday night to catch sets by singer-songwriter Ben Rendall, and local favorites Brad & Kate. Rendall is no stranger to large, outdoor music events, having played as a member of the bands Twins and Stackhouse. His performance at Cedar Basin doubled as the release party for his excellent debut album, “The Self-Help Songbook.”
Brad & Kate have developed a strong following in the area. Their set consisted of some cleverly-chosen covers, along with a strong set of songs from their own upcoming debut album, tentatively scheduled to be released sometime this year. In addition to being the band’s main vocalist, Kate is also the band’s unofficial stage announcer, and she repeatedly expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to play the band’s original songs.
On Saturday, I caught Jordan Sellergren for the first time. The Iowa City-based singer-songwriter released an album last spring, but she is only now getting to play it live. She played a strong set that included some new songs written during quarantine, and she also got very real in between songs about her personal experience with COVID-19. In a highly relatable moment, she also updated us on texts she was receiving from her teenage son, who forgot she was playing a show.
The rain held off during Sellergren’s set, but Anthony Worden & The Illiterati weren’t as lucky. Just as they were almost ready to begin, the rain began, delaying the start of their set by about half an hour. Once they got underway, though, they were worth the wait. Not only are they all highly skilled musicians, but they’re natural performers. If they were feeling rusty after 16 months off, it didn’t seem like it.
I closed out my weekend by catching a band I’ve had the pleasure of hearing many times: The Host Country, from Des Moines. They got their start in Cedar Falls, and had a lot of friends and family in attendance, including vocalist/keyboardist Diana Weishaar’s mother, who was celebrating her birthday. Like Sellergren, The Host Country released an album last spring that they were performing for the first time, and they even knew exactly how long it had been since they last played a full band show: 470 days.
For almost every artist, it was their first show in over a year or one of their first. It was also the first live music outing for many in the crowd, and I spoke to several friends who said this would probably be their only event of the summer. 80/35 isn’t happening this year, and not everyone is mentally prepared for an event the size of Hinterland. The pandemic, after all, isn't over yet.
Personally, I felt relieved by the whole experience. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back at a show or what the emotions would be like. But once I was sitting in my lawn chair, with a beer in my hand and a food truck sandwich on my lap, listening to Ben Rendall and Your Favorite Band, it all felt very familiar. It was almost like the past year and a half hadn’t even happened. I’d love to be able to tell you how overcome with joy I was at everything, but the truth is that it was just normal and good, and I think that’s actually even better.
Hope to see you at Hinterland!