By Troy Aldrich
Mission Creek festival calls the Englert its primary home, and the 106-year-old building continually accepts diverse acts embodying the festival itself in an attempt to spread taste in music and literature through the community.
The six-day festival brought in local, national, and international acts to perform music and readings. This year’s festival continued growth in terms of diversity and popularity.
Popularity is a relative term, but 2018’s music headliners raised the bar, with artists including Julien Baker, Margaret Glaspy, Jamila Woods, the Weepies, and Dessa. Iowa City as a whole has built a music scene of local artists while bringing national touring artists to the table.
“We are here to serve the community with national artists, while feeding interest with what’s happening locally,” said Andre Perry, the talent buyer for the Englert and Mission Creek, in a previous interview with The Daily Iowan.
This idea was visible during the 2018 edition of the festival, as local act Karen Meat opened for Julien Baker, Elizabeth Moen opened for the Weepies, and Ancient Posse opened for Psalm One and Woods.
“We pair artists together that might not normally play together rather than pairing artists that would flow together,” said Jessica Egli, a Mission Creek staff member, said about the Weepies show at the Englert.
Events at the Englert and afar featured primarily triple-bill performances. This allowed the festival to book a wider range of acts in one evening, further broadening viewers exposure to a wider range of acts.
For the April 5 set, the Englert hosted co-headliners in Glaspy and Wye Oak. The two groups contrast greatly; Glaspy brought Julian Lage with her to perform an intimate singer/songwriter duo.
Following the duo’s seated performance, Wye Oak came out in full force, displaying a wide range of instrumentation and use of technology. The folk-inspired group brought together hard-hitting beats with soaring vocals performed by Jenn Wasner.
The evening was introduced by a band from Rock Island whose guitar-drum duo provided a fresh take on West Coast rock.
Sister Wife is no stranger to eastern Iowa, but the large stage and balcony at the Englert was foreign territory as the members spoke little to the audience and remained hidden behind ball caps during the entirety of their set.
The contrast in musicianship, confidence, and genre, from opener to headliner, gave the Mission Creek fans a wide selection of new and familiar music to take home.
During the April 6 show at the theater, Karen Meat’s provocative opening performance left viewers questioning their place of viewership, preceding more traditional acts native to the Englert.
However, the not-so-subtle opener was well-received by a traditional Englert audience, primed for Baker’s intimate show.
The local band was followed by Squirrel Flower, a Grinnell, Iowa, band that gave a more deserving passage to the main act, Baker. Led by Ella Williams, the group performed simple rock tunes that featured William’s voice above instrumentation.
The transition to Baker’s set proved seamless, as the young singer/songwriter came out with vocals that needed no introduction. Baker performed tracks from her critically acclaimed album Turn Out the Lights.
The Mission Creek staff have also continued to bring in artists that support their mission. This year’s edition of this overwhelmingly belonged to Jamila Woods.
The rapper, writer, poet, you-name-it, brought readings and rhymes to the Englert during the last day of the festival.
“Poetry was always a big part of my imagination, and my music [and poetry] feed into each other,” Woods said.
The artist read original poems including “Blk Girl Act” over her band’s subtle beats. This was in contrast to covers of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Say My Name,” by Destiny’s Child.
This type of creativity in a music- and literature-based platform gave Woods the headlining spot to display the diversity in her entire body of work.