By Girindra Selleck and Tessa Solomon
Girindraemail@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
This year’s Mission Creek Festival, held April 5-10, saw hip-hoppers, krautrockers, proto-punks, slam poets, and iconoclasts descend on Iowa City’s downtown. Now that the festivities have wound down, The Daily Iowan is revisiting some of the week’s noteworthy events.
Although Iowa City’s literary scene is never far from spectacular, this festival saw an especially impressive increase in the number of authors who either read from their works or gave lectures about their processes as artists.
Alison Bechdel’s performance on April 5 contained a quiet, meditative energy that was none the less impressive. She ushered in the Mission Creek Festival with an informal Q&A at the Englert’s Theatre. Not loudly advertised, the stage was filled by fervent fans, students, faculty, and community members. Among the topics explored was mainstream queer culture, her creative process, and the familial tensions that arose from her memoirs. In her official lecture later that night, she led the packed the Englert through a narrative that explored the importance and place of writing for her family and in her personal struggles.
Listen to an excerpt of Alison Bechdel’s Q&A session.
University of Iowa communications professor and performance artist Kembrew McLeod kicked things off Thursday at FilmScene with a reading from his new book Blondie’s Parallel Lines (33 1/3) before famed photographer, actress and proto-punk Lisa Jane Persky joined him to read an essay on the early days of the CBGB club in New York while a slideshow of her photographs played in the background.
The train kept rolling as UI creative writing professor Robyn Schiff read from her remarkable new poetry collection A Woman of Property and fellow poetry professor Mark Levine read from his own collection Travels of Marco.
Saturday saw an all-star lineup of the University’s English and Writer’s Workshop faculty appear at Prairie Lights, as Richard Preston, Kerry Howley, Charles D’Ambrosio and Inara Verzemnieks joined head of the Nonfiction Writing Program John D’Agata to read a selection of essay’s from D’Agata’s revered essay anthologies.
Later in the day, slam poet and modern-day renaissance man Saul Williams held a Q&A before his performance at the Mill later that evening.
Williams’s show at the Mill swung between explosions of spoken word pieces, quiet contemplations on human nature, and a cappella songs that were a mix between both. During his performance the crowd barely breathed, so transfixed by his visual and oral intensity, a striking figure of wild hands and wide eyes. In the breaks between he laughed and mused with the audience, even indulging in a spontaneous Q&A.
Another noticeably improved area of the festival was its cinema lineup, which saw FilmScene host an evening with critically acclaimed filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, and Kevin Smith appear at the Englert for a record-breaking five-hour-long lecture and Q&A.
The music scene was no less impressive, as the festival welcomed a wide variety of performers to the city’s many concert venues. Among the most memorable were pioneering krautrock band Faust, whose performance at Gabe’s on Wednesday night was a mind-melting surrealist trip that saw one of the bandmembers bring out a jackhammer to use as an instrument.
Brooklyn-based Son Lux was another highlight. The band’s performance, also at Gabe’s, was a genre-bending tour-de-force in which the performers flawlessly adapted their studio albums for the stage.
Thursday night indie soul-pop group Phox commanded the Mill’s stage, a performance carried by frontwoman Monica Martin’s deep, confident vocals. A sold-out show, the back room was tight with fans whose applause rang loud and long after the last song.
Performing that same night at the Englert, The Joy Formidable brought a punk rock feel to their pop tunes. They brought more sound and sass than three people should have been able to.
Pure Bathing Culture had a strong showing at Yacht Club on Friday, ending their months-long tour with Pillars Point. The basement bar was crowded, sweaty fans pushing their way to the front to dance before the band.
Indie-rocker Kurt Vile closed the star-studded festival with his performance at the Englert on Sunday night.
At 14, Philadelphia native Vile was presented with a banjo by his bluegrass loving father. The motivation was to incite creativity, but from there Vile plunged himself into the instrument. He embarked on a prolific trek into the music scene, churning out cassettes of lo fi home recordings by 17.
Though a founder of War on Drugs, Vile pursued a solo songwriter career with quiet intensity. He self-released released Constant Hitmaker in 2008, and God is Saying this to You in 2009.
Childish Prodigy later that year began a steady collaborating with backing band The Violators. They would accompany Vile through his next studio albums, Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011), Walkin on a Pretty Daze (2013), and last year’s b’lieve I’m goin down….
Vile’s performance at the Englert on Sunday night drew what was likely the festival’s biggest crowd, seeing both floors of the theatre nearly at capacity. In an interview with The Daily Iowan Vile claimed he and his band were in better form than they had ever been, and judging from their performance at the Englert, he wasn’t far off.
Their impressive technical prowess aside, the band—and it’s frontman in particular—possessed a vintage air of cool noticeably absent from many of today’s top performers. Whether it’s the flowing mane of hair that extends to the bottom of Vile’s torso, which he adjusted every few bars to maintain access to the mic stand, or the effortless cohesion that allowed the three guitarists to play off one another, the band created an environment in the Englert that could’ve easily been mistaken for a scene from the honeymoon phase of rock and roll’s affair with psychadelia.
Click here to check out a photo slideshow of Mission Creek.