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"Last Night at The Mill" features memories of "an Iowa City institution"

Musicians who appear in the documentary "Last Night At The Mill" stand on stage at the now closed Iowa City music venue.
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Last Night At The Mill
Musicians who appear in the "Last Night At The Mill" documentary.

On Friday, September 23, filmmaker Dave Olive premiered the updated, remastered version of his film “Last Night at The Mill” at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. The film features a local star-studded performance from Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Rick Cicalo, Steve Hayes, Dave Zollo and others, recorded in 2003 at the esteemed former Mill Restaurant in Iowa City.

“Anybody who’s familiar with Iowa musicians and particularly folk musicians that these guys are gold. They’re all wonderful, wonderful players, so the opportunity to see them at any time, at any venue would be great,” Olive said. “Greg [Brown] called me up and said ‘Hey, this is going on, Keith is gonna retire. You wanna try to do a video?”

The performance featured in this film celebrated the late Keith Dempster, then retiring after forty years of owning and operating The Mill. Olive recalled fond memories of the venue, which closed in 2020.

“That was a place that artists and musicians of any ilk could come and work out their stuff. They had old time music. Greg [Brown] worked out a number of his songs there; I’m sure Bo [Ramsey] did. And the lineup was oriented towards fostering music and fostering an atmosphere that music and activities could gestate themselves into new things,” Olive said.

The September 23 screening of “Last Night at The Mill” began with University of Iowa students Daniel McGregor Huyer and Grace Kreber’s “Remembering The Mill” short film. McGregor Huyer described the contents of the film: “After a downtown Iowa City music venue and restaurant, The Mill, closed in 2020 and was subsequently demolished in 2022, Iowa City artists Pieta Brown, Sam Rae, Dave Zollo, and historian Mary Bennett reflect on the restaurant's history and impact on the arts and culture in Iowa City.”

In a description of the music featured in “Last Night at the Mill,” Olive wrote, “The film captures great renditions of Greg [Brown]'s original songs including: ‘Down at the Mill,’ ‘Small Dark Movie,’ ‘If I Had Known,’ ‘Poor Back Slider,’ ‘Fooled Me Once,’ ‘One Wrong Turn,’ ‘China,’ ‘That's Enough,’ ‘Your Town Now,’ ‘Hacklebarney Tune’, and ‘Almost Outa Gas.’ The band also covers Joe Price's ‘Suitcase Boogie,’ and the famous Jimmy Reed tune: ‘You Got Me Dizzy.’”

With this film, Olive aimed to capture “the actual excitement and enthusiasm about being there,” he said. “It was a place where you could go in for a Jack, a joke and a bite, I would say. It’s an Iowa City institution.”

Olive has created multiple other film projects, his latest being a documentary about Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His YouTube channel, Dave Olive, features examples of his other music and documentary work, as well as original version of "Last Night at the Mill."

Cece Mitchell is a Music Producer for IPR