Rain or Shine, it’s 80/35

By Kaleb Warnock

Despite the ominous threat of torrential rain, The Workshy branded their 80/35 performance as a success and left with optimism and experience they hoped would help them break into opportunities in the future.

“I felt really great after the set. Everything went really well and we pulled it off without a hitch.” says said guitarist Danny Kratzer, junior in communication studies.

The band was happy with their performance and couldn’t complain of any major technical difficulties.  The guys were surprised at how comfortable they felt onstage and how easy it was to adjust to the new venue.  Of course, they were playing on the biggest stage at the festival and had never been on anything like that in their lives.

They said that for the most part, they had a good time and learned a lot from the experience. Many members of their fans followed them to the festival and it also gave them the opportunity to reach out to a broader, more diverse fan base.

“We learned a little bit about how much production goes because it was the first time we had to deal with stagehands. We’d dealt with sound guys and stuff, but we’d never really been a part of something like that before.” said bassist Jiho Han, senior in liberal arts and sciences.

Overall, 80/35 offered many smaller bands the opportunity to participate in a major venue and get the exposure they work hard for.  Other featured local bands with Ames roots were Omega Dog and Christopher the Conquered.

Music went on practically nonstop during the festival. At least one of the three stages was in performance the entire weekend, even if the other stages were in-between sets.  The Mediacom and Kum and Go stages were accessible to the general public and were included in the free area of the festival. The price of the ticked covered admission into the Wellmark stage, where the headlining bands were to perform.

Within the gates of the Wellmark stage, among the littered blankets across the broad green space, there were many more food vendors, a lengthy fountain canal to dip one’s feet, and an electronic billboard that would display text messages that had been sent to a designated number. (assuming they had been deemed appropriate)

The Des Moines Music Coalition put fourth effort to be green this summer. There were free 80/35 branded water bottles and refill stations that provided free, reusable hydration for attendees and even also provided a complimentary bike valet service.

Among the other attractions were a few nonprofit organizations like Avoid the Stork (who made an appearance on the main stage), local churches, and of course, merch stands.  Many of the other jewels of downtown Des Moines were available if one was in need of a break; the even was in the newly developed west side of downtown near the Des Moines Public Library, some coffee shops, and just a block away from the sculpture garden.

08/35 also offered other experiences for attendees that ranged from a plethora of foods, DIY crafts, and other booths that included lots of giveaways and even a Japanese Acupressure specialist.  Aside from the food, there was also a “do it yourself” alley that featured local artists and their handicrafts.

A downpour of rain graced the festival on Sunday afternoon and although it may have but a damper on attendance, it provided an experience unique to this festival.  Just as the forecast had promised Sunday concertgoers were greeted with a slight drizzle that began in the early afternoon and culminated during the performance by the Walkmen. Despite the weather, many people refused to be deterred by the rain, and instead braved the adverse weather conditions by unitizing everything from ponchos and garbage bags or even just plain standing out in the rain.

Sunday night closed after a soft and somber monologue of rolling thunder preceded the headlining performance by Modest Mouse.  As the intermittent rain sliced through the colored spotlights, the crammed bodies of the pit pushed closer and closer as the show charged through the night.  Almost everyone in the crowd was standing. It might have been a result of the waterlogged lawn, or maybe even because of ubiquitous sentiment that resulted from experiences shared by those at the festival.

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The Workshy: the Ames-based eclectic jam band

The Workshy
Jiho Han – Bass Guitar
Brant Williams – Guitar/Vocals
Danny Kratzer – Guitar
Evan Cokeley – Drums
Peter Neel – Keyboard/Vocals

“We just want to play the best show we can.” says guitarist Brant Williams when describing his aspirations for his band The Workshy and their performance at 80/35 this weekend.   The members of The Workshy, an Ames-based jam band, are pleasantly laid back individuals with a friendly, positive attitude akin to most college students their age.

Onstage, their lively, high-energy performance might evoke references to the Grateful Dead or Phish, but in person, they’re average guys who “just want to make music.” They come from many different majors and still hope to earn a degree eventually, but for now are just going with the flow that comes with being a college-aged musician.  Although Williams said the name of the band means lazy, they also hope to snag a tour or a contract one day.

“It might sound cheesy, but we’re playing it by ear. No pun intended.” says guitarist Danny Kratzer when describing their ambitions as an ensemble.

The group first began playing together in their junior high years as an alternative rock band with a repertoire that consisted primarily of Nirvana and Green Day covers.  They continued to make music into their high school years at Valley High school where they acquired their current drummer, Evan Cokeley. They hope to snag a tour or a contract one day, but for now are content with focusing primarily on their studies.  However, one may want to disregard their humility and take a look at their prolific history and performing schedule to fully appreciate their ambition as a band.

The band migrated to Iowa State, (except for keyboardist Peter Neel) and Danny and bassist Jiho Han continued to make music in the Maple Willow Larch music room.   After a long winter of practicing in the dorms, the group finally got their first gig at the Ames Progressive in the summer of 2008. They officially became a band after their next gig at the Bali Stay House. “The Workshy came from an old band name that Jiho was in.  We liked the sound of it and used it, it means lazy.” said Williams.

After officially becoming a band, they proceeded to book gigs like D.G’s Taphouse, Pappa’s Corner (now Headliners) and the Bali Stay House.  They soon expanded beyond the Ames circuit to Des Moines venues and the Iowa City circuit  .The Workshy booked many of their out-of-town shows through exchanging gigs with the friends they have made through shows they’ve played. The guys brighten up when they talk about the help they’ve received through the connections they have made.  “We’ve been making friends with bands…we might play with them in Des Moines or they came to Ames to play they might ask us to play with them in Iowa City, so it kind of helps to make connections and do a little gig swapping.” said Brent enthusiastically. The guys of the Workshy stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with other bands and helping one another out to form a community of supportive musicians.  One of the best benefits of this relationship is this occasional gig swapping.

They have also been establishing a following in the Ames and Des Moines area. They are very proud of their success and even threw in a plug for their sandwich that was once served at Planet Sub called The Workshy. It included a free demo CD with every sandwich order. The network of communication they broke into opened up many opportunities for the band. Their first big show with the Des Moines Music Coalition was Little Big Fest. This show exposed their talents and caught the attention of some of the influential members of the Coalition, which landed them one of the 5 recommended spots on the local band list for 80/35.

Inspiring a sandwich is not the only unique feature of the band. Perhaps one of the reasons that The Workshy stands out among local bands is their unique sound.  Each of the members allies with a different style of music and they work as an ensemble to create a unique amalgamation of influences.

Initially, when asked how to describe their sound, each member had their own opinion on the influences and direction of their music. It appeared as if each of them had a different contributors that ranged from the soulful funk of Earth Wind and Fire, jazz, blues, and even some driven marching percussion influences. Eventually, the general consensus that the group used to described their musical style rested on what Danny called an “eclectic jam band.”

The group works to incorporate all of the different styles and influences of each of the members and craft a distinct sound that carries relics from almost every mainstream musical style. The term “jam band” refers to the method of organization and composition of their music.  They focus primarily on improvisation over a specific musical form, rather than some of the more traditional methods of song structure. One of the most apparent features of the style is the length and development of instrumental solos. They are a far-cry from the shredders like Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen, and instead are more closely allied with the jazz masters who articulate extremely intricate chord progression and counterpoint. Overall, they are still a musically accessible group that “wants to make serious music” but not too serious.

Their set list for their 80/35 debut consists primarily of original tunes, but may include a cover song or two to spice things up. They even hinted at a surprise song along the lines of “something patriotic, we just don’t know yet.” as Jiho stated when probed about their set list.

80/35 will present the band with unprecedented exposure and organization that they would not be exposed to through most of the local shows. On top of being a part of a show produced on such a huge scale, they will be performing on the main stage along with the likes of the alternative giants, Modest Mouse and Spoon. Major shows like this one often help to catapult musicians into the mainstream and provide exposure and resume building experience that are few and far between. Although they hope to pursue a career as a band, they also have their degrees to fall back on, they often referred to jokingly.

80/35 is one of Iowa’s largest music festival and will take place this Saturday and Sunday at Western Gateway Park in Des Moines.  The Workshy is playing at the Wellmark Main Stage at 12:00pm Sunday July 4th.

After the festival this weekend, the Workshy will continue to perform throughout the summer and the fall with gigs that include the Uniphonix CD release concert, Camp Euphoria, and a tailgating performance at the Iowa game.

Michael Giles and his Central Iowa Jazz All-Stars

ISU faculty member Michael Giles has been stirring up the jazz scene in Ames this summer with his big band, the Central Iowa All-Stars.

“It takes someone to take initiative and get the ball rolling. [We] just get together and play.” says Giles in regards to his big band, the All-Stars.

He emphasized the importance of taking initiative to make things like the summer band happen. He hoped to be “the great facilitator” and inspire local musicians to take advantage of their resources and take initiative to do something great.

Musicians often have difficulties organizing ensembles in the summer time because of logistical and financial issues, both of which the performers of the summer big band don’t have to worry about. Giles’ familiarity with the local jazz community and his students enabled him to use his connections to bring to life something that is rarely present between semesters.

The Central Iowa Jazz All-Stars offers a cross section of musicians from both ISU bands and members of the community. Overall the intention behind the group is to offer students and alumni the opportunity to perform in a structured group and work with a wide variety of jazz music.

“It’s a nice opportunity because we can get some graduates, and people form Jazz 1 and 2. It’s fun to kinda mix it up and get some different players; which is more like in the real world. It’s good for the students to get that community.” says Giles.

The big band plays a variety of tunes that range from jazz standards to popular arrangements and other lesser-known pieces by great composers.  Everyone in the band gives input to the repertoire; the selection is based on three basic criteria; important charts or standards, charts by famous composers, and good arrangements.

Aside from helping decide the literature, Giles is the conductor, roadie, personnel manager, and chief organizer of the operation.  There is no money exchanged on behalf of the ensemble because Giles works with local organizations to coordinate performances.

The group rehearses weekly from 6pm to 7:30pm until the end of the summer and have even booked one “gig” so far. It’s more of a community group than a professional band, and therefore are no membership or studio fees.

The big band will be performing on Thursday evening, July 1st at 7:15 at Bandshell Park here in Ames. It will be a joint performance with the Ames Municipal Band, directed by Michael Golemo.

Giles is the director of Jazz Studies here at ISU and also conducts the Jazz 2 big band and leads the jazz combos at the Department of Music. He is also maintains the saxophone studio and teaches saxophone methods and literature classes.

Giles is often featured at the Maintenance Shop has multiple recordings and a few albums under his belt with his combo, the 3×5. He also teaches clinics and seminars in jazz saxophone and piano.

During the school year, the Iowa State Department of Music offers students numerous opportunities to perform in jazz ensembles. There are two big bands that rehearse weekly and perform concerts and contests throughout both the fall and spring semesters.

Iowa State hosts Iowa Music Teachers Association annual conference

Iowa State University Department of Music  hosted the Iowa Music Teacher’s Association State Conference last weekend. The conference is a three-day symposium that offers Iowa music teachers the opportunity to attend master classes, seminars and performances.

The Iowa Music Teacher’s Association is an affiliate of the National Music Teacher’s Association made up of more than 400 Iowa music educators. Nearly 100 Iowa music teachers were in attendance.

The IMTA State Conference has been active for more than 120 years, and has grown since its conception. Different music schools in the state host the conference each year, and the last time Iowa State hosted was 1999.

The conference brought in both local and national educators and performers that included ISU faculty and the featured artist, Brian Ganz, who appeared as the guest artist the last time Iowa State was host.

Ganz has performed with such notable symphony orchestras as the St. Louis Symphony and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. He has also established himself as an international champion in many prestigious piano competitions.

Ganz is also an established teacher, a member of the piano faculty and Peabody Conservatory and also the artist in residence at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Ganz taught a seminar on performing Chopin’s “Preludes,” and a master class for advanced students.

ISU faculty members Michael Giles and Mason Conklin led presentations that included new technology innovations and jazz piano techniques that can be incorporated into the classroom.

Conklin is an innovator in utilizing advanced classroom technology in his piano classes at Iowa State. Giles is an active clinician, educator and performer in central Iowa and is often featured at the Maintenance Shop with his combo, the 3×5.

The conference featured a performance of the IMTA State contest winners Deborah Austin, and ISU graduate Rachel McCoy. These performers were the winners of the annual IMTA state auditions.

There was also an evening recital featuring pianists William David and Mason Conklin, and percussionists Matthew Coley and Corey Hills, which featured a performance of a newly commissioned piece by Erin Gee and Bela Bartok’s famous “Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.”

This conference followed the National Music Teacher’s Association Conference in March, and the next one will be March 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Cultivating the blues tradition in Central Iowa

The concertgoer does not need to venture out of central Iowa to hear great blues music. Anyone from the experienced blues connoisseur to the casual listener would be completely floored by what they could have experienced last weekend at the Iowa Blues Championship hosted by the Central Iowa Blues Society.

The contest featured artists from across the state that competed for a spot in the state championship this summer. Each of the bands was judged based on several criteria that included originality, blues content, instrumental and vocal talent, interpretation of cover songs and overall presence. The bands were competing for a cash prize and the opportunity to compete at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

The bands chosen for the championship were Trouble No More, the Bob Pace Band featuring Steve E. George, Bella Soul Blues Revolution featuring Tina Haase Findlay, Stoney Ground and the Steady Rollin’ Blues Band.

Each of the five performing bands showcased its versatility by playing a variety of repertoire that included both blues standards and original tunes. Although they were all playing within the same genre, each band brought a distinct and unique sound to the competition.

They artfully incorporated styles that ranged from soul and spiritual music to funk and hard rock. Of course, the idiomatic boogie woogie and Delta Blues influences were heard as well. Such subtle references to diverse styles are unique to contemporary blues and suggest an interesting antithesis because, after all, the blues influenced American popular musical styles greatly.

The championship opened with the band Trouble No More, a Delta Blues band from Ames. Trouble No More allied itself with the Delta tradition more closely than the other bands because of its predominant use of the slide guitar and harmonica as lead instruments.

“It’s really cool to be a part of Central Iowa Blues Society. They do a lot about preserving the blues, and its just great to be a part of it,” said Greg Bruna, bass guitarist of Trouble No More.

Bands like these are essential to the survival of local and regional exposure to the music that exists below the radar of mainstream listeners.

Not all of the groups present played Texas blues with organ and over-driven guitars, or the Delta style with the harmonicas and slide guitar. However, they did embrace the subtle nuances of the blues.

Bella Soul Blues Revolution featuring Tina Haase Findlay took the stage and introduced an artistry that incorporated rarely seen dramatic vocal and instrumental interaction into its original compositions.

The Blues Challenge provided an atmosphere of kinship among the performers.

“Just seeing everyone is great,” said Findlay, lead vocalist of Bella Soul Blues Revolution. “To be in a room with everyone is like a big family reunion.”

The Steady Rollin’ Blues Band was ultimately chosen as the winner of the contest.  It will receive $500, eight hours of studio time with Junior’s Motel and will perform at the International Blues Challenge.

The band will also be presented with numerous performing opportunities that include the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport and BBQ’Loo and Blues Too in Waterloo 2011.

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