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James Tutson takes nothing for granted

After two full years of the pandemic, and everything that’s come with it, Iowa City musician James Tutson is more than ready to make up for lost time.

Tutson and his band, The Rollback, came to the attention of many Iowa Public Radio listeners when they performed as part of Juneteenth: The Movement last summer, with the backing of the Bridges2Harmony gospel choir. The concert was a joint presentation between xBk, IPR, and Iowa PBS in Des Moines. Tutson said he and the band fondly recall the evening as “a game changing show.”

“I heard the idea and got the invite for it, but nothing really prepared me for what it actually was,” said Tutston. “I can't remember another time and something like this has happened, where we’ve gotten black performers from across the state, collaborating on an event that is of such high quality, with high quality artists, and cool people to meet. And I’d never gotten to perform with a choir before, and so I was thrilled about that.”

Iowa City Songwriters Collective

Also in 2021, Tutson had a hand in launching the Iowa City Songwriters Collective, a group for Iowa City-based musicians to share music they’re working on that meets at Elray’s Live&Dive in Iowa City every Monday. The Collective features both experienced artists, and less established artists who are still learning songwriting, or just getting into the craft.

“A lot of those are students that just come in and work on material,” said Tutson. “They get a 20 minute set to play things that they’re writing and get feedback from other experienced artists. Everybody's on the same level as far as commenting on each other's work, and hopefully making each other better.”

“I get to sit down with pretty much all the artists in one, you know, form or another just to talk about their work and where they're headed,” said Tutson. “So that's been cool for me to get to know a lot of different artists. It's something I would have killed for when I was an artist that was just starting out, and even now.”

One of the most memorable nights for the Songwriters Collective was the group’s very first gathering, when Tutson invited veteran Iowa City blues musician Kevin Burt to make an appearance.

“I foolishly slotted out this 30-minute segment for him. It ended up being like an hour, and nobody cared. It was incredible,” said Tutson. “But he stopped in the middle of the set, and he looked at all the artists that were out there and he said ‘This is a sacred space. This is the space that we need in our community.’ He said ‘No one is looking in Iowa for the next great artist. It's all about us building each other up, and this is the space to do it. So support your fellow artists and come back here.’”

“He just really made it clear that what we are going to do in this collective is really special, if we commit to making it special.”

James Tutson and The Rollback will be returning to xBk on March 3rd, for the first show in IPR’s new All Access Live series. They will once again be performing with the Bridges2Harmony gospel choir. Tutson is “excited” and “thrilled” about what will be the band’s third performance at the Des Moines venue.

“So many things have stopped in the world, that every time I get to be a part of something special like this, I don't take it for granted,” said Tutson. “We all lost that chance to play music, and we wanted to for a really long time, so I'm excited to showcase some new things, and we hope to put a really good show and get it started off on the right foot.”

Happy - a new album coming this spring

Tutson has also begun work on a new project called “Happy.” “It’s kind of about the turmoil that we all experience in the pandemic, whether it's political or otherwise,” said Tutson. “I don't want the world to be a place that's just happy and ignoring the troubles of various groups in our society. At the same time, it's really hard to struggle through those things. And so the album is just kind of about, ‘what is health and happiness, and how do we find that?.’ And we'll be putting that out later this spring.”

James Tutson and The Rollback are IPR’s Artists of the Month for February. His EP, “Still,” is available on Bandcamp and all major streaming services. Tickets for All Access Live on March 3rd are available from xBk. Click here to learn more about IPR's Artist of the Month series.

Music News Iowa Artist of the Month
Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host