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The spirit of STEBS lives on in Cedar Falls

Ralph Bryant, Dave Deibler and Barb Deibler work to hang the STEBS murals inside Sidecar Coffee in Cedar Falls.
Dave Deibler
Ralph Bryant and Dave Deibler work to hang the STEBS murals inside Sidecar Coffee in Cedar Falls.

The legendary STEBS was a home for live music and "weirdos" in Cedar Falls, and now its legacy survives with a display of its artwork.

One of the Cedar Valley’s most iconic locations for live music has been gone for more than 20 years, but some dedicated fans have kept its memory close to their hearts. Now some of the mural art that once adorned all the walls and all the ceiling panels of the club are on display at Sidecar Coffee in Cedar Falls.

STEBS Amusement was a bar located in the College Hill neighborhood in Cedar Falls. It was known for live music, and hosted many local and regional bands, and even some nationally touring acts. The club was also known for its colorful mural art on the ceiling, painted by STEBS regular Steven Richard Turner, who passed away in August of 2021. Turner was also a musician and songwriter, who performed under the name SR Turner.

“When I was 23 years old and wandered into STEBS as a kid, (Steven) was a freaky kind of Picasso, psychedelic style guy who made the very memorable inside and outside of STEBS,” recalls Dave Deibler, owner of Octopus College Hill in Cedar Falls, and a longtime friend of Turner’s. “But then I very quickly learned that he was a musician, and a super talented singer, songwriter, and guitar player. And lastly, just a friend, somebody who was capable of really good conversation.”

“Was he a weirdo? Absolutely a weirdo,” said Deibler. “STEBS was home for weirdos.”

Mural art painted by Steven Turner hangs on the walls at Sidecar Coffee in Cedar Falls.
Dave Deibler
Mural art painted by Steven Turner hangs on the walls at Sidecar Coffee in Cedar Falls.

Deibler estimates that about “90 percent” of the characters depicted in the murals are based on real people. The murals also contain lots of Celtic mythology and southeast Asian imagery, inspired by Turner’s time in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era.

“The word ‘psychedelic,’ I think, really fits because he's just throwing in all of his belief systems, and people he knows, musicians he admires, and different mythologies into these paintings,” said Deibler.

The owners of STEBS sold the bar in 2000, and it was torn down shortly thereafter. But the memory of STEBS still holds a special place for those who spent time there.

“When the building was torn down, a bunch of stuff was scavenged out of it, not officially, but people who wanted to take home a piece of STEBS. I didn't know this until we took possession of the panels, but they were stored about two blocks away from here for 21 years in a storage space.”

“We're on 23rd and College right now, and they were on 21st, which kind of made me laugh. Like, holy shit, they were like 900 feet away,” said Deibler. “Because within the STEBS community, people had said, ‘oh, you know, they've been burned. They've been destroyed, they've been lost.’ So for those of us who care about STEBS and the Cedar Valley and College Hill music scene, this was a real find.”

The murals came to the attention of Andy Fuchtman, general manager of Sidecar Coffee, which is located where STEBS used to be on College Hill. He was interested in displaying the murals inside Sidecar.

“Where we’re sitting right now would be outside behind STEBS, or maybe in the women's bathroom. So we're on the site of where STEBS used to be, so it just made sense to want to do it here. They've a sense, come home.”

Aside from their obvious historical value, everyone who comes into Sidecar and sees the murals agrees they stand just as well on their own as pieces of art.

“I don't think you even really need to know the story. To me, it looks like they were born to be here,” said Deibler.

The murals on the walls of Sidecar are just one way the College Hill area is preserving the memory of STEBS. Octopus College Hill, owned by Deibler, occasionally hosts chicken wing happy hours on Fridays, a tradition that began at STEBS, and also hosts a potluck in December in honor of the bar and its regulars.

Recently, Deibler organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a Steve Turner memorial bench and plaque. The goal is to raise enough money for two benches outside of Sidecar, in front of where STEBS used to be.

“If Steve had a ghost, he would sit out there and play guitar. So it just made sense to me,” said Deibler. “It's a natural place that would be good to sit.”

In addition to honoring the memories of Turner and STEBS, Deibler hopes the murals and benches will serve as a reminder of the College Hill area’s importance in the Cedar Valley music scene.

“College Hill is the most important spot for live music in the Cedar Valley in the last 50 years,” said Deibler. “This is where local and regional bands could play, and even national bands played STEBS.”

“You know, The Flaming Lips played 20 yards from over from where we're sitting right now, although we wouldn't be able to see each other because of the smoke,” said Deibler with a laugh. “To me and a lot of other people, that's a really important thing. If we don't do something to remember Steve, to remember STEBS, to remember that scene, then it just disappears.”

Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host