Eight Artists We Loved At Mission Creek 2022
Friday afternoon to a crowd of bobbing heads at Mission Creek Festival, Ahzia got to his hook which might encapsulate the true ethos behind Mission Creek. “Tell them where you came from,” he repeated. “Tell them where you came from.”
Despite being Iowa’s first capital city, Iowa City has a chip on its shoulders, a complex related to not quite being at the center. With its university and its history, the town, maybe understandably, doesn’t like to imagine itself as a satellite of Des Moines. This comes through in the planning and programming each year for Mission Creek Music Festival. The resiliency of the local music community to keep building, growing and making art through the pandemic was on full display in early April in Iowa City.
Friday afternoon to a crowd of bobbing heads at Mission Creek, Ahzia got to his hook which might just encapsulate the true ethos behind the festival. “Tell them where you came from,” he repeated. “Tell them where you came from.”
This is the trick of Iowa City and maybe any community trying to make something. It’s excited to raise up its own and allow them space alongside a big name. Putting them in the conversation. Asking questions. Drawing connections. And revealing the sinew that helps us tell them where we come from.
Over a long three-day festival, Iowa City's Anthony Worden and I ran around trying to soak in as many different acts as possible. Maybe the speed of it all was easy for a more athletic attendee. But for us, it was decidedly tough to keep pace. If anything kept us on the trail it was the artists we kept finding. Whether an energetic performer or a challenging sound — some had both — there was something to plug into, something that kept us going.
Here are eight acts that I can't get out of mind even two weeks out.
Starting the weekend on the biggest stage is a tough spot to fill, but not one that Iowa artist Alyx Rush had any issue with. His is a high-energy and heartfelt R&B that spotlights his tight vocal work.
Of course, if you're looking for some music to start with, I'll heartily recommend his newest release "Body Rock" (2021). It's got the kind of cool, sweet sex appeal of a Frank Ocean track. It's a great place to start.
But don't sleep on seeing Rush live. He's playing with bassist Blake Shaw and guitarist Dan Padley, a real Iowa City Wrecking Crew. If you see the band on a lineup, make sure you make it out. Hint: Rush is playing 80/35 this summer in Des Moines.
The most hypnotic performance from the weekend was from Ohmme at Trumpet Blossom. Chicago-based singer-guitarists Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham layer powerful harmonies over some fuzzy, at-times shoe-gazey guitar. This back-and-forth could have carried the performance for another hour.
The A-side of their 2020 single "Mine" shows off this interplay between the singers and is a good start. If you like that, work your way through their 2020 album "Fantasize Your Ghost" to the song "The Limit." You won't regret it.
The stairwell outback at Gabe's was made for the muffled sounds of slinky synth-pop. Inside that Friday night, Tempers' Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper danced on stage voicing songs dripping in reverb, driven by drum machines.
Yet another night proving one of Iowa City's immutable rules: Thursdays are for dancing.
I can't say I knew this group prior to seeing them live. But I'm stuck on their album "New Meaning." It's full of darkwave sounds a la the Cocteau Twins and will be my getting-ready soundtrack for weeks to come.
GOOD MORNING MIDNIGHT
Making room for Iowa City musical excellence like Good Morning Midnight is certainly expected at Mission Creek. It’s also appreciated by me specifically.
The band’s singer, Charlie Cacciatore, has been the band leader for this act since 2016, and in that time, the band has leaned into a kind of midwestern edge. They bring a lyrical seriousness that’s in distress; they present problems that the songs want to sit with.
For those looking to dive into Good Morning Midnight's music, Caccitore suggested starting with “Holy Ghost" from their newest album Songs of Violence (2021).
There's nothing I can write about Trè Burt that'd be prettier or more accessible than his music. He's funny when he wants to be. He'll ruin you when you're not ready.
His 2022 single "Know Your Demons" — maybe a good starting point for you if you're new to his music — comes complete with an R&B chorus and some fuzzy rock and roll bass on the record. But he kept things simple on stage. Just him wrapped around a small guitar.
On stage at the newly opened Riverside Theatre, he sang his 2020 song "Under the Devil's Knee." Reminiscent of documentary songwriting like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," it chronicles the lives and killings of George Floyd, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
It wasn't that long ago when the racial justice protests of 2020 filled the pedestrian mall. If you're looking for it in town, you'll still spot some of the spray paint, though much of it has been power washed away. The room was dead quiet, caught in Burt's voice.
Des Moines-based Ramona and The Sometimes, led by Ramona Muse Lambert, came to the Riverside stage with cloth flowers blooming from their shoulders and sides. Whether dancing across the front of the stage or from her stool, Lambert's good humor and earnestness were infectious. Her lyricism drifts towards a want to experience intimacy despite often bleak realities.
Take the 2022 single "Station Wagon." Lambert presents images of the everyday: folded laundry or cereal boxes or making out in the back of a car — images that let us forget the climate disaster, "Like the world's not burning, but it's burning."
Not enough is said about live music’s head nods. Airy bops or thrash shakes: they’re a dance, something specific to the music and the body.
On Thursday night, Fennesz's set pulsed with cinematic, arresting synth-scapes. And all around the stage, heads bowed familiarly, locked — though maybe unsure of the time signature.
Hearing something challenging could be alienating. But falling into a wave of nods, it makes the strange familiar.
This is music about a breakup. Or maybe a crush. Pop—even pop-punk—deals in drawing connections between the specific. Experiences of pain, love and moving on become recognizable, understandable and even shared.
This is the yearning energy Beach Bunny brought to the Englert Friday night. Though they were down the band’s guitarist, singer Lili Trifilio was undaunted: “You probably can’t do a lot of things because this is a seated venue, but we’re gonna try to have some fun.”
As the first song began, young crowd members rushed up the aisles to scream and jump with Trifilo, who led a set about hurt and self-worth.
While Hurt is specific, music abstracts it. Music makes it understandable, shared and damn fun to dance to.
"Fire Escapes" is a song I haven't been able to get out of my daily playlist since it came out this year. But the band's 2018 EP "Prom Queen" is a delight.