Joe Goes To Mission Creek
I, Joe McGuire, host of Joe Goes To College, Fridays 2 PM to 4 PM, have appointed myself the man who must write the one true dispatch from Mission Creek 2015. What follows is an ode, a teen-aged love letter, if you will, to the city of Iowa City and its inhabitants, the Mission Creek Festival, and all the good-natured fun we have. Here it is.
MISSION CREEK DAY 1: Amen Dunes, Delicate Steve, Bull Black Nova.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
FINALLY! Beer is coming. I can’t imagine a show at the Mill without beer. Apparently there’s no beer at the KRUI Pizza Party because it’s a university-sponsored event. It’s never fun being in denial; I mean the University of Iowa is, by some estimates, the premiere party school. The only booze the school pays for is served to the haughty people (i.e., donors) in Kinnick Stadium’s private boxes. Good for them. The university-sponsored event is over and so begins the opening salvos of the tenth Mission Creek festival.
A lot of the radio station folks are here tonight, and they look marvelous. As the rest of the Cool People in town shuffle in, the remnants of free pizza are carried away and out come the pints. This week is young and full of promise. My friend MJ, who is producing the show, assures me the bands are great. I’m excited, but I’ve not done any research. Not a single listen on Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud – nothing. What little research I have conducted concerns the Mill’s drink specials. Tomorrow is payday for all of us at the radio station, so if I spend my cash strategically, thirty dollars should be more than enough to cover my lavish taste in tallboys until midnight, but historical data suggests otherwise.
The gang and I move outside and sit on the porch by vines and under what little sunlight remains. Some people need to smoke, so they move to the alley. It’s beautiful out. The low sun’s heat reminds me how extraneous my super-sleek jacket is, but no matter, we’re young. This impractical jacket will, hopefully, be the only poor decision I make tonight. The Mill’s patrons look primed for glorious rock and roll and the sweaty, grotesque catharsis that follows.
It’s been a long year for everyone at KRUI: budget allocations, internal bickering, general jerks, hours upon hours of troubleshooting our automation, and not to mention the goddamned HVAC renovations that we blame for every strange noise heard on broadcast. On top of that, the majority of the directorial staff is graduating, so this post-spring break sprint to exodus and maturity is bringing out the rowdier tendencies of even the most reserved directors. This is the final Mission Creek for many of us. For me, it’s been many years of great acts I didn’t see: War On Drugs, Warpaint, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Guided By Voices, Magnetic Fields, Tig Notaro. Of course, I constantly question my taste if these are the acts I missed, but frankly, the acts I did see, like Divine Fits, Hannibal Burress, Jason Isbell, and many others I’m forgetting, were easily some of the best shows I’ve attended.
The gang and I walk back inside the Mill. A lot more people have sauntered in since the end of our super exclusive pizza party. We find a booth inside and more beer is poured. This night feels like a reunion but without a graduation or a few years in exile. Everyone acts out motions that, if time and circumstance allows us, will be repeated for years to come. A celebration, I guess.
As for my impending graduation, I would have to deliberately sabotage my incredible (let’s just call it a firm B average) academic record to stay in school. No one can touch me. I’m just coasting. I’m like David Letterman, except I’m broadcasting in my boxers, chomping on a cigar and flipping off the camera every night. That’s how these final days of my college career feel.
The springtime is so intoxicating that beers barely matter. Well, that’s not true. The beers do matter. Anyway, yeah, springtime is intoxicating, yeah, yeah, yeah; we can’t wait for to hear music. You can really feel it, the anticipation in the crowd. Maybe it’s more like a surprise party we’ve thrown for ourselves. Again, it’s been a long year. The first band, Bull Black Nova, could smash their instruments and tell us off and we would eat it up. We don’t care. Everyone is pumped. I’m shivering for some rock and roll. ROCK AND ROLL!
Bull Black Nova takes the stage. It’s a three piece of the classic bass, drums, and guitar variety. I’m still sitting in the booth with other KRUI directors, and it’s not perfect because we are on the right of the stage and the drums are deafening at this angle, absolutely deafening. Despite this, I can tell that these musicians know what they’re doing and they’re doing it quite well. I move to the center of the speaker stacks from my stoop in the wings, a ritual I’ll repeat two more times later tonight.
I do not regret my decision to move to the front. The guitar’s delay frames the tight rhythm section, and sometimes, the bassist steps on a pedal and cranks up the fuzz. Their first song concludes with a slow, ambient comedown that settles like slow-mo debris, except they start up again and I realize that the song has a reprise that elicits a second, albeit more assured, round of applause. The inaugural song of Mission Creek, and it’s a hit.
“Thank you very much. We’re Bull Black Nova from Cedar Rapids,” says the mustached, tweed-flat cap wearing bassist. He tunes his bass silently and says, “wait longer if you don’t like us.” Not a bad piece of stage banter.
Yes, moving to the front pays off. They begin another song. The guitarist’s vibrato vocalizations are charming. He’s got a nice Gibson SG. Cherry Red. He turns on the fuzz for a little, then turns it off and plays a plucked solo in echo while the bassist turns his fuzz on to support the guitar’s gentle lilting. As for the drums, the seemingly Nordic man behind the kit focuses mostly on the toms in a pseudo-military march, and somehow his drumming feels introspective. The vocals from the guitarist resume, and so does the song from the extended instrumental section. It’s impressive. The guitarist closes his eyes as plucks at the strings and coos into the microphone and the bassist grooves as his pointer and middle fingers pulse a steady stream of eighth notes, his legs stomping. The drummer keeps good posture and reach. What more do you need from a drummer? The bassist is clearly the banter man. Their sincerity is overwhelming and the crowd reciprocates jovially.
I sit back down at the booth after a few more of Bull Black Nova’s songs. I sip at a beer. I heard that when one is drinking Guinness, one must gaze to the horizon as you pour it down your throat. I wasn’t drinking Guinness, I was drinking the cheapest beer available, and I wasn’t gazing at the horizon, I was making eye contact with a lady whose face I cannot remember, and I promptly poured the beer intended for my mouth onto my shirt. No one notices. By the way, this is my fourth beer, which means I don’t need alcohol to be an idiot.
My eyes survey the crowd inside the Mill. As with any town, Iowa City comes with local staples; some you cherish, some you loathe. I loathe a few people here. I’ll condense them into one person: A self-righteous veteran Little Village writer who relishes on the glory days of their long gone youth, the great days when some shitty local band was at their shittiest and man, he was there! That ethnography covers a lot of assholes in town, but they don’t all work for Little Village. As a young person in this town, you pray, PRAY that you will someday leave this town of everlasting youth and forfeit your fate of wearing a fedora for the rest of your life and patronizing honest, sincere music fans.
Bull Black Nova’s bassist speaks into the microphone at the end of a song.
“Thanks to KRUI for – ”
“Wahhahahaiaha!!!” I scream from the wings.
Bull Black Nova exits the stage after a rousing love song I hear from the urinal. Well done, boys. I enter the main room again and so commences the changing-of-the-bands. The Bull Black Nova guys clear the stage, wrapping cables around their arms as audience members offer congratulations. The sound guy puts on the song Girl From Venus by Perrey and Kingsley, and no one notices how weird this music is. Seriously, check it out. More people crowd the stage, clearing away amps and guitars, making way for the next act, Delicate Steve. Plenty of ass crack from all parties with every bend and lift.
And after a very quick break, Delicate Steve takes the stage, checking their microphones. I move to the front again, sharing a tall table with a couple. Delicate Steve has a guy on synth, a guy on drums, a guy on bass, and a front man with an incredible pink hat, who walks on stage slightly later than everyone else and picks up a guitar. Unfortunately, he ditches the hat and whips out a slide for his guitar. So, this is the so-called “Delicate Steve.” Go for it, boys.
They rip into something catchy. The crowd shuts up. Drummer does that thing where one hand has a drumstick and the other has a maraca. Impressive. I imagine this is a drummer’s equivalent of rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. Titular Steve of Delicacy really rips at the guitar. It’s an instrumental that draws the crowd in, most of whom are ready to dance. Steve of most Delicate Handling handles his guitar like a magician and squeals some pitch-shifted leads. Bassist has yellow hat now. It’s quite impressive how far the band pushes a lead guitar lick into something tender then suddenly wild and mesmerizing.
Steve of the Most Delicate Nature removes his outer shell of flannel and reveals a tank top to show off his arms as he riffs more with the slide. What a hunk. I realize how skinny my arms are.
After a few songs, it is evident that their music is mostly instrumental. I respect that. Not easy to capture an audience purely on jamming, especially if they’re not all on drugs. I move back to the director’s table after a few more Delicate Steve songs and observe some of the characters in the room. AJ fights a romantic war of attrition for the sole proprietorship of a handsome gent’s arm and booth. TA and TH drink cheap beer. I see some guy picking up abandoned glasses and cans, draining what’s left into his mouth, as if he found a canteen in a desert. The smartest people here drink water; I mean, it is a Tuesday, after all. Some guy with a man-bun waltzes through with a stoicism I’ve only seen on Ken dolls and GI Joe’s. The optometrists and hair stylists seem to offer only these options to the women in this crowd: Rimmed glasses and bangs.
Delicate Steve shares the synthesizer with a Noel Gallagher lookalike. MJ comes by to check on his backpack. It’s all good. Delicate Steve takes to the microphone for some crowd work, and I cheer like an idiot from the wings. Their set ends and they exit the stage. They kicked some catchy prog ass, that’s for sure.
Amen Dunes begins their set. There are three of them. The main guy switches between an acoustic guitar and a white Gibson SG, and to his right is a longhaired man on the keys. Behind both of them is a slim, agile drummer. They check their mics and levels, and they jump off stage. The music on the PA system resumes. It’s Prince this time. When You Were Mine. What a great song. It’s really crowded now. I feel like I’m in someone’s way. Amen Dunes heads back to the stage and they adjust their levels more.
“We’re Amen Dunes all the way from New York City,” says the front man into the microphone and they play Lilac In Hand. His voice pierces the conversations of the crowd and somehow neither the song nor the crowd disrupts the other. Equilibrium. He sings with his eyes closed, uncaring if the crowd is even there.
The song finishes and people clap. Monitors are adjusted further. He plays an acoustic guitar through a Fender Twin Reverb and it sounds wonderful. The man on his right picks up a guitar and a slide and strums along with the man at the front. For this song, the singer’s gaze focuses above the crowd as he recites his lyrics. It’s great stuff, but the crowd carries on drinking and flirting. I stand at a tall table as a different couple than before makes out to my right. I take a moment to actually survey the crowd. Overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly, it’s white dudes, lots of beards and man-buns. Members from Bull Black Nova and Delicate Steve make small talk and man their merchandise tables. The good people in the crowd watch the band.
Amen Dunes’ set continues and they play well, but people only seem to pay attention to themselves in my section of the crowd. A shame. I heard from MJ that the singer went underground for ten years. Ten years! Forget about that. I can’t go ten minutes without attention. They play on to the dedicated group at the front. I join this group and sway with them. I’m going to listen to their record again when I get home. It’s always a good show when I’m driven to listen to their record after, and Mission Creek is full of shows like these.
The singer is lost in his own dance, which I prefer him to do than notice this self-obsessed crowd and their phones. Stoic man with man-bun from earlier appears next to me and sways along with the music. Maybe he’s OK. Amen Dunes plays their last song and the interplay between the two electric guitars is melancholic, beautiful. Not much to say about that. It’s good stuff. When the singer recites his lyrics, it’s almost as if he’s working through some stuff on stage. Maybe we’re all working through some stuff here. Maybe I’ve had a bit to drink. The girl in front of me struggling to dance the King Tut seems to.
Amen Dunes exits the stage and a great show ends. I make my exit. It’s a good start to the festival. Tomorrow, I’ll be back. Probably going to dial back the intake, however. The band is Ne-Hi. That should be fun. Looking forward to it. See you tomorrow.
Throughout the course of the night, I asked some of my companions to write in my notebook about whatever they want. Here are their unedited remarks.
“Delicate Steve is tolerable while we wait for Amen Dunes.” – TA
“Joe is projecting about the hunks because he can’t get over his own hunkiness.” – TH
“120 LBS. OF TWISTED STEEL AND SEX APPEAL. MISSION CREEK OR DIE! MISSION CREEK OR DIE! M.C. OR DIE.” – AB
“We are at Mission Creek and there’s a man wearing extremely blue pants. It’s gonna be a fantastic night/week. MC2K15, KRUI Edition. Hands claps have begun; that’s my cue!” – AR
I have had too many alcohols! I am also with a man that I like both physically and mentally. I love KRUI than my own body, which says a lot. Also, KRUI is the best thing to ever happen to me during my time at U of I. [a doodle of a heart] PEACE + BLESSIN’S” – AT
What does that mean to me, you ask? Well I say it means heart. You can have a trillion dollars or the hottest wife in the world but goddamn it heart is what matters. I’ve seen to many of my friends die face down in the goddamn mud for this radio station to go down fuck da man, fuck da poliz, fuck dem other fools. KRUI for life, Mission Creek or DIE.
Party on Brethren.” – IB