Summer in (Iowa) City !

This post is from May 12th, 2012. Looking back on all the crazy-hot day’s we’ve had since then, I considered renaming this post “Simmer in the (Iowa) City. It’s 97 degrees at 8pm, as I sit here and type this. Simmer, indeed.

Another Finals week has come to a close, and there was no better evidence than the droves of drunken students/graduates flocking in the streets of downtown Iowa City last night. It’s a spectacle to see – as are many warm nights in this college town.  My cynical eyes beheld stretch SUV limo monstrosities, mini-dresses paired with perilous high heels, middle aged parents of graduates looking very out of place, but happy, as they bar hop –  and townies, trying to find a chill bar without being high-fived by multiple drunken strangers on the sidewalk.  I get the whole symbiotic relationship this town has with the University and I don’t wish it away. But as a long-time resident of this fair city (and as someone who has never played sandbags or been to a football game), I revel in the glory that is an Iowa City summer. So I am dedicating this post to my love affair with hot days and nights in this, the cultural capitol of Iowa.

The completely incomplete list of things I love about summers in Iowa City.

1. Free live music in the Ped Mall on Friday and Saturday nights. Even if you’re not into the band playing, there’s something about being downtown with the fountain splashing, eating street food, running into people you like but don’t see often enough, and feeling that there really is a huge community here that doesn’t involve thousands of transplanted students.

2. Laying in the sun in College Green Park, watching slackliners, listening to the swings creaking and basketballs rhythmically slapping the pavement. (I am interested in getting in on the yoga in the park that I’ve seen photos of on facebook. If someone reading is in on this, let me know when and i’ll be there.)

3. Summer affords all us car-drivers ample street parking downtown.

4. You can walk up to any bar in town, sit down, and order a drink without having to scream. Then you can drink it without a bunch of drunk 21-year olds slamming into you like it’s the Night at the Roxbury.

5. Barbeques, bonfires, and hanging out on porches. This sounds boring and midwestern, but with the right combination of people and intoxicants, this can lead to some of the greatest conversations of your life.
Grill Masters

6. Farmers markets. Saturday mornings, Wednesday evenings. I love me some Amish-made baked goods. I could eat tomatoes like apples. And please, please, bring on the Iowa sweet corn.

7. Being a short drive from the honest-to-God country. So when you get sick of being a city slicker, you can hop in somebody’s car and find yourself playing frisbee golf in the woods, swimming in some part of the lake, hiking some gorgeous trail or doing other things-that-shall-not-be-named under a pine tree.

8. Hiking in Hickory Hill park. I love that I can feel lost in the woods while in town.
Hickory Hill Park

9. Baseball at City Park. I ache like an old woman the next day, but it’s a good hurt.

10. Parties on farms at the edge of town. I need to find more of those to go to, now that I think about it.

11. Biking along the river.

12. Staying up all night and going for a walk at sunrise.

I’m sure if you’re one of the three people reading this, you’re likely also celebrating a bunch of these things. If you’re planning on doing any of the above mentioned activities, gimme a holler because I’d sure love to tag along.

Now it’s your turn. Leave me some comments. What tickles your fancy about summer in this metropolis?

Mini-Road Trip to See the Growlers

This post is from March 23rd, 2012. It is also my only blog post to have gotten any decent amount of traffic on the web, but I think it’s because people love Brooks Nielsen, not me.


This week I got to go on a super-mini road trip (115 miles to Des Moines) to see the Growlers Play at the House of Bricks. It’s always nice to get out of town for a minute and see something new, even if it’s less than 2 hours away from home. It reinforces my love for Iowa City. So me, my fella and a fabulous friend piled into the car a couple hours before the show, thinking we could get there on time – and we almost did, but I slowed the train down by first forgetting my wallet at the apartment and then ripping my skirt seam, like, 4 inches as we tried to leave a second time. (Maybe I should start keeping a spare outfit in the car?)

Now the car ride is half the fun of going anywhere. Some people hate it, but I love the idea of being stuck in a giant capsule with 1 or more people I enjoy while listening to music, eating snacks, and laughing about shit, all while going 70mph. It was a chatty ride, making the time spent in the car feel like a half hour, and not the actual two hours from Iowa City to downtown Des Moines.

Halfway through the 1st band’s set, we arrived to a sparsely populated bar and a bored-looking bartender. The place was plain, seemed to be under renovation. I am guessing they had a Mario Bros. themed something-or-other recently due to the random cardboard star and gold coin hanging from the ceiling over the stage. Even though I really liked the crappy Nintendo themed decor remnants, I think this is the only shot I took of the star and I didn’t get one of the coin.

The turnout was ‘meh’. I sat at the bar for a bit and just surveyed the crowd. There was a girl I recognized who works at a food establishment in downtown Iowa City, some DSMhipsters, a couple of guys who looked like they were on a first date and really uncomfortable, and the usual group of semi-drunk girls who laugh and dance with abandon directly at center stage during every set. When I wasn’t sociologically observing the 50 or so people that actually came out, I was being entertained by a tv monitor that cycled through funny pictures and promos for upcoming shows. The ones that made my friend JoAnn and I laugh the most were “The Farmer Tan Funk Band” and Walter Trout(…you had to be there.) OH! There was also a hip-hop (?) band called Bunny Bear or something…and it was two dudes in jogging suits wearing plastic cartoon masks – one a bunny, the other a bear, as you may have guessed.  Overall the bar was unremarkable, but not bad. The stage lights were decent, the sound was good and nobody bumped into me or spilled beer on me or my companions.

The House of Bricks was on the corner of Grand and East 6th Streets, both of which were shiny and rainbow stained from the rainy weather that rolled in.  The drizzle forced smokers to cram into the tiny covered space at the corner entrance, causing uncomfortable, light chatter among strangers puffing away, shoulder to shoulder. During one smoke break in which JoAnn ran back to the car, a girl exclaimed at her as she returned… “Girl, you look good.” And then the stranger looked at Doug and I as JoAnn joined us under the cover and said “You all look too good to be from Des Moines.” (cue awkward laughter). Yet another reason it’s good to get out of town for a minute.

I didn’t photograph either of the two openers, even though the second band was pretty killer punk-infused garage rock. Their drummer was fun to watch. Skinny arms, long hair, ferocious chops and the ability to make beating on drums look like “arm dancing”. With their overall sound and the lead vocals, I got a strong sense of King Khan & the BBQ Show, but sludgier. At one point the band said it was their first time in Iowa and my IC pride made me wish they had come to Gabe’s instead.

The Growlers played for a nice, long time, but not so long that I got tired and turned into a cranky baby in the audience. I was totally into what they were doing, but also aware of the 2 hour drive home for which I remained stone sober. I confess I wasn’t familiar with the Growlers before JoAnn suggested this whole crazy night, and had only listened to limited amounts of their music before the show, so I was pleasantly surprised to find they are a mix of the best part of a bunch of genres. I was picking out bits of country, reggae, surf rock, 1950s pop and I swear in that venue the lead singer sounded like he was channeling the late Davey Jones. He wore that big heavy coat for all but the last few songs. The coat was large and bell shaped and made him look like a Mod version of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s lovechild.


Brooks Nielsen

Kidding aside, they were great. They were relatively motionless,except for the necessary actions of playing music, but they still were really interesting to watch. They played a bunch of new stuff, but the joke was on them because the songs are ALL new to me. I’ll call myself a fan now. But I’ll fully declare JoAnn as the real fan. Thanks to her for turning me on to this band and for instigating this little adventure . Also earning JoAnn superfan status – she got 2 t-shirts, 2 CDs, a button, a sticker and she chatted up the Growlers drummer who said he thinks they’ll be hitting Iowa City sometime in May (maybe). If the Growlers come to town, I am going to be there. And I think everyone else should be, too. Maybe nobody reads this shit, but if you’re reading this – Growlers. May. Go.

And then I drove home in rain that I will refer to as “spit” because that’s what it looked like on the windshield. I am a good, bad-weather driver, but I much prefer to be the passenger on these little jaunts.
So that’s a long story about a short night out of town. Find my photos on flickr.

Live Music at Pizza on Dubuque

Here’s another old post that I am dragging over from my blogger account.

March 13th, 2012

Folk Night at Pizza On Dubuque in Iowa City

Pizza on Dubuque has recently started hosting free folk nights in their upstairs seating area, a very nice, very underutilized space. I’m not quite sure if these events are hosted on a particular day of the week, but it’s a good idea t peek in next time you’re hanging out downtown. There are usually well-drawn fliers in the window announcing the next event. These shows are low-key, BYOB and have so far featured both well-established musicians like Pete Balestrieri and some artists new to the local scene like Rachael Marie, shown in the photos below. Rachael may look small and unassuming, but she has a powerful voice and a special ability to write songs that tell a story.  In the last photo, you’ll see her singing into the body of her banjo, which caused a haunting echo to consume her voice. Keep lookout, as I am sure you’ll have a chance to hear her play again soon.


Make it up as I go….

Being a novice photographer, I am still kind of surprised when I get exactly the shot I intend. Don’t think I am tooting my own horn- there are plenty of ‘happy accidents’ where I am shooting into a dark warehouse and capture a great milisecond of a show. There are even more shots I disposed of upon first review because I didn’t set my camera right, or bumped the dial on the back while clapping. I know I still have a long way to go. Still I can’t help but get excited when I feel like I got some good shots and it wasn’t coincidence and it wasn’t the camera doing the thinking. And I am very glad at least a few people have noticed.

I strut like a peacock when I say that I am a ‘contributing blogger’, if that’s the right term, for the Little Village Magazine online….the go-to, free publication for Iowa City entertainment talk. I’ve read it for years. I even have a pile of old ones sitting under a chair somewhere. So needles to say, I am geeking out a little bit. It happens anytime I get to play with my camera, only now I get to show my photos to a bunch of strangers instead of forcing all my friends to look at them.  Check  out the Little Village,  if you’re not already a faithful reader.

The August issue is all over Iowa City right now. Pick them up in the doorway of your favorite downtown business or the rack of free publications at Hy-Vee.

Now that I’ve bragged, back to the photos. On 7/29, I saw Cheyenne Marie Mize at the Mill. and was happy I didn’t stay home on a Monday night. She played a long set, switched up instruments a bunch of times and ended strong with some pretty powerful folk-queen vocals and guitar playing. It was a true shame that there was hardly anyone back there listening. Shame on all of you responsible folks that have jobs to wake up early for….this was a good show. Cheyenne was joined onstage by Joan Shelley, making up two-thirds of their other musical endeavor, the Louisville trio, Maiden Radio.  Cheyenne was followed by Portland band, Archeology. They were energetic, melodic and gave us a good set. I think a band does well to start a set with an a cappella song — it grabs the audience and soothes them into submission. My only complaint is that the high-energy of Archeology makes them harder to photograph in the red lights of the Mill stage. haha. You decide how I did.

p.s. I LOVE getting comments and feedback on my photos. head over to flickr and blabber to me.

I should go to bed soon instead of sitting in front of the computer wondering if I am going to wake up with the Iowa River flooding in my front door.  Anybody got a boat to lend me?


New Virtual Beginning

This is my official changeover to wordpress, and so far I am happy with my decision. But what do I do about all this empty space I now have allotted for me…..recap the month of July, which I can’t believe is nearly over. I need to tighten my grip on summer. Let’s start from the top…

On the 3rd, I took a mini road trip with my favorite people to the 80-35 Music Fest in Des Moines. While I am sure there were likely many great acts that I overlooked, I was there to see William Elliott Whitmore and Holly Golightly.  They both played in the same afternoon, back-to-back on the free stage. So not only did I get to see them both perform, but I didn’t have to pay listen. Whitmore was amazing, as always, conversing with the crowd more than any performer I’ve ever seen, yet still being right on the mark with his songs. Holly Golightly’s set was lovely, though I am disappointed that the fellow that played with her outsang her a little bit. Maybe it was the sound man’s fault. Just the same, I’d have liked to hear more of her. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. All around, it was worth it to go to a festival  and deal with the heat and the crowds of Des Moines just to see these two.

That night we zipped over to the Vaudeville Mews to catch another great performance by Iowa City’s Lonelyhearts, full band in tow. The Mews is such a great venue and though much of the crowd potential was still down at the festival, the Lonelyhearts pulled off a great, high-energy show that kept the crowd moving. I’d head out of town to see these folks play anytime.

Three days later, the Lonelyhearts took the stage at The Mill in Iowa City and, of course, I was there. John claimed they were doing a set that was a virtual carbon-copy of their Mews show, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was not. They mixed up their setlist a bit, performed a new song and packed the Mill in the process.

But, wait, I can’t fail to mention the openers from that night, Emotron and Larry Sievers. They were both sights to be seen. When I first got to the Mill, Larry had already taken the stage with his series of burning candles and sudden, sporadic shots from his smoke machine as he sang along with his impressive keyboarding. I am a big fan of the feather in his hat, too.  Emotron was one of those acts that I don’t quite understand, but oddly enjoyed. His wall of tvs behind his fenced in kennel-like setup and crazy ‘wardrobe’ initially distracted me from the quality of his music — which was actually a very good combination of electronic melodies and his interesting voice. He even touched my heart with an Oasis cover that sounded nothing like the original except for the lyrics. Definately a sight to behold.

Three days after THAT show, I was a proud attendee of the Sam Locke Ward release party for his album Barely Regal Beagles. My sweetheart, Douglas Kramer Nye, opened with his powerful, sometimes catchy repertoire of sad bastard music. He was followed by the great Ed Gray, who performed my favorite of his songs, I Can Chew a Bone. Sam wrapped it all up with his usual style of witty lyrics and all-over-the-place, yet amazing, guitar abuse. Three of my favorite local sad bastards, all on one stage in one night. ❤

During the above show, I snuck out to get a few shots of Euforquestra, who was playing in the Ped Mall, and somehow ended up on a co-worker’s roof. Consequently, I missed Alex Body’s set, which was right after Ed’s. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t left the Mill and missed Alex and his newly chopped locks.

Here are the Euforquestra shots from the Friday Night Concert Series in the Pedestrian Mall.

On the 10th, I raced down to the Ped Mall again, this time to catch Cirque Stupendo and Dr. Eli Calico’s Medicine show. I was delighted to have some time in the setting sun watching them juggle,  belly dance, roller skate, and play tons of instruments while singing through victrola horns like megaphones.I had a dinner date, though, and was super bummed that I missed the firedancing that happened after the sun went down.

On the 18th, I stepped into a crowded Prairie Lights bookstore for the first annual roast of Iowa City. It was funny, with speakers poking fun of all the standard things people think are ridiculous about this City of Literature….newly adopted city ordinances on busking and smoking, binge drinking college students, the over-education, or rather lack of employment for those with degrees, etc… Funny, nothing unexpected, but overall a great event to initiate in our fair city of literature.

Last Saturday, the 24th, Downtown Saturday Night Concert Series featured Will Whitmore. Let’s just say the Ped Mall was packed, his show was amazing and the pink sunset was the perfect cherry on top.

And, finally, for now, Saturday Night at the White Lightning Warehouse was shocking and delightful. Old Scratch Revival Singers performed, complete with painted faces and green lighting, with every member plugged into an amp….what a fucking awesome show. They were followed up by Cirque Stupendo’s rated R show which can not be explained in a way that does it justice. The photos include juggling, (only this time in very little clothing), suspension, erotic dance, loud guitars and phallic imagry left and right. AGAIN I missed the firedance. And I left at 3am. Makes me wish I had stayed up til Sunday’s dawn to take it all in.

And the month has yet to be over….coming soon….

Cheyenne Marie Mize at the Mill……TOMORROW! Thursday, July 29th. Be there! I will.