By Shari Ellis Jaffri
The Mission Creek Festival continued in festive force on Friday, March 30th. Even as early on as 7 PM, Iowa City was thick with celebration in the air with a majority of its residents eagerly ushering in the weekend by choosing to bask in live music.
With a lineup of shows worth boasting about at The Mill by Alexis Stevens, The Lonelyhearts, Bowerbirds and Sharon Van Etten, the Mission Creek festival promised a delectable palate to all fortunate music-enthusiasts in town, particularly for lovers of folk music. If it’s any indication of success, The Mill itself was jam-packed way before the show had begun, with a long queue waiting to get in at 8:00 PM, an hour before the show was set to start.
The show’s openers, Iowa City singer Alexis Stevens and The Lonelyhearts, managed to whet the appetite of the audience. However, with about 6 songs apiece, the openers certainly did manage to take up a bulk of the first two hours. The tearing and setting down of sets in particular took up a lot of time and undoubtedly brewed a lot of restless energy within the stuffy ambiance of the overcrowded venue. Fortunately, many fans persevered as they clutched on to their lukewarm beers and it was obvious as evident favorite folk sweethearts the Bowerbirds got onstage that it was worth the wait.
Bowerbirds performed songs mainly from their recent album, The Clearing, which was just released in March of this year. The audience listened in awe as the band played, with bands members oftentimes making rounds effortlessly on stage to switch between instruments and vocals. To make it even more sentimental for the band, parents of front man Phil Moore was also present at the show. Clearly Iowa City shelves a special place in the heart for of this one-time University of Iowa Biology major.
“In the Yard”, “Stitch the Hem”, and “Brave World” roused energy and many cheers from the audience. Bowerbirds’ strength is in delivering picturesque, often raw imagery portrayed by their lyrics. However, their forte definitely also lies in their honesty in music. The production of ‘The Clearing’ itself received a lot of media coverage due to band member Beth Tacular’s near brush with death after contracting an illness. Her recent return to a romantic relationship with bandmate Phil Moore after last year’s breakup and their building a house together in the swampy woods of South Carolina also contributes heavily to album, made obvious with pretty yet personal lines like “The logs we peeled and stacked in a ring / and then we crowned it, our tiny house, with tin.” The performance was one that was presented with love and the crowd felt it.
Anticipation built as Sharon Van Etten prepared to go onstage. Coming onstage only at the very last minute, the crowd clapped and was excited by her mere presence. Always easy with a smile and infectious with her positive energy, the singer won many hearts even prior to performing any songs. Her voice blew the audience away as she opened her set with ‘Serpents’, a hit and favourite amongst many who attest the song as one of 2011’s finest. Sharon Van Etten was also a rabid favorite amongst males in the audience — “Holy wow. I’m like, going to melt in a puddle of goo,” uttered a breathless nearby audience member behind me after her first performance. The Mill housed many Van Etten and despite some technical difficulties, her performance and beautiful rang clear, leaving many fans impressed and with grins on their faces to see that their money had gone to full worth on a night of worthy music.