Iowa songwriters headline Monday Night Live!
Two time Blues Music Award winner Scot Sutherland hosts a weekly concert series at xBk with his band. Each week, they learn a new artist's music and back them for a live concert.
Turn onto 24th Street in the Drake Neighborhood in Des Moines, and you'll find a nondescript black and grey two-story building nestled between VoteSmart and a pizza place. Beyond the door, you’ll find a listening room-style venue with brick walls, a mezzanine and a sound system that even the snobbiest audiophiles should appreciate.
You need to visit it on a Monday night. xBk (@xBKlive on social media), a new venue in Des Moines, hosts one of the most musically interesting concert series I’ve attended in Iowa. For J. Jeffery Messerole, who played a show with the Monday Night Live! house band earlier this month, it’s one of the most distinctive shows he’s been invited to be part of.
“I sent them [the house band] a Google Drive folder with all the songs I was going to play. We came together four or five days after that, and they were already on top of it at the rehearsal,” Messerole said. “It’s an incredible feat that they learn my songs in a week, but the week before they had to learn someone else’s songs, and then the week after they learn someone else’s songs. That really, really is pretty incredible when you think about doing it on a consistent, weekly basis. Especially because all those guys are performing artists that have their own band.”
About Monday Night Live!
Cue Scot Sutherland, Russ Tomlinson, and Dave and Anne Ducharme-Jones. Each week, this group of well-seasoned performers and phenomenal players learn 20 original songs by another singer-songwriter from Iowa and then perform them live. Before the second set, Anne interviews the guest artist about their music. They call their project Monday Night Live!
Sutherland has curated the series since its inception, which started as a jazz night at the Greenwood Lounge on Ingersoll in Des Moines five years ago. He's a legendary bass player in his own right and makes his living touring internationally, playing guitar. As he’s relaunched the series post-pandemic, he’s decided to focus on working with singer-songwriters from Iowa.
“I just realize how many amazing singer-songwriters there are in our state, and many of them don’t play regularly with their own band,” Sutherland explained.
“It’s different when you hear your music with a band behind you,” Dave Ducharme-Jones added during an interview before a show in Scot's living room.
If you don’t play guitar or don't closely follow the musicians in the state, these names might not mean a lot to you. Come see them play, or sit at home on your couch and tune into the livestream. You'll understand my headline.
“I’ve done this for 10 years now, but don’t have a lot of experience on high production stages or with artists of that skill level,” said Messerole. “Scot tours the world, and Dave was also on a label and toured in Europe. Russ has been playing with bands in multiple genres. It was a little overwhelming to meet those guys and say ‘this is what I’ve been messing around with.’ From the moment we met, they were really respective and it made me comfortable and made the whole thing a lot more fun.”
Messerole performed his new single “Small Engine Repair” with the band, which is being released on his upcoming album, due out this summer.
“Since I wrote it, I had a very bare bones arrangement in mind,” he said. “But when we got together and performed, the way that they built on top of each other to make a really incredible and cohesive sound that was still stripped down, but full in terms of instrumentation — it just really blew me away.”
Dave recently talked about the musical preparation he does. It's a pretty incredible amount of work to learn 20 original songs every week.
"With the artist we’re featuring, we ask them to supply us with a set list of what they want to play. If they're recorded, they'll send us playlists or they’ll do a demo of the songs," he explained. "So we just take that, chart however you need to, to ya know, be able to perform the song. I can’t memorize all those songs week to week. We all have our little cheat sheets - our little road map."
Ultimately, a lot depends on the artist and their music. Dave and Anne also host a rehearsal the Sunday before the show in the recording studio they've got set up in their home.
"Last week, Jordan came in with great songs that could be taken all kinds of different directions, and he let us do what we did," Dave said. "We did a show a few months ago with Alex Ramsey, and he’s a very interesting artist. His songs aren’t intuitive. And we had to zero in and make some really detailed notations because you couldn’t just let them fly by. They had a little quirkiness to them that was interesting. So, that set of tunes took a little longer. Most artists are really helpful and have chord charts."
These shows are full of the kind of energy that you can find only among people who view their creative collaborators like family and bring an infectious love of their art to the stage.
"Ya know, it's fun for us to get to meet new artists and play their music," Anne said. "We're also really trying to make this a community of music fans, music lovers and people who support local music. It's been a hard couple of years for music fans and musicians. It's time to come together."
There's no cover. The band just asks you to tip what you can, come with a good attitude and be ready to “shut up and listen,” in the words of a recent attendee.
If you’re not in Des Moines or don’t feel comfortable going to a crowded venue, Monday Night Live! offers a livestream of the concert from anywhere for $12. Purchase a watch passthrough xBk’s website.