CEDAR RAPIDS — The flood line on the Alliant Tower in downtown Cedar Rapids was all but out of sight for passers-by Saturday.
Instead, the front of Cedar Rapids’ tallest building was blocked by a massive stage, a maze of wires, and hulking speakers. Popular country musicians like Phil Vassar and Craig Campbell bopped around the stage, playing to the crowd of several thousand sun-kissed Cedar Rapids residents who patiently waited for the headliner of KHAK’s 50th Birthday Bash, Grammy Award-winning artist Alan Jackson.
Behind the cramped crowd, the eternal flame atop the Veterans Memorial Building glistened in the cloudless sky. The smell of barbecue, fried food, and sunscreen filled the air, complimenting the twanging of electric guitars and the audience’s chatter. Virtually every person donned a cowboy or baseball hat and many clicked around in cowboy boots.
The concert brought a buzz to downtown Cedar Rapids and many who attended saw the event as more evidence of the area’s resurgence since the 2008 flood.
Bob James, KHAK’s program director, said the concert shows the city’s progress.
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“It’s amazing what we went through and how far we’ve come,” he said, looking out onto the crowd. “People and businesses were literally out on the street. The recovery is incredible.”
Several attendees echoed James’ sentiment, including former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler Mark Ironside, who grew up in Cedar Rapids and lives in Swisher. Ironside, standing at the back of the crowd, said anything that brings people together is important for the community. The area’s recovery from the flood is what “blue collar cities like Cedar Rapids are about — fighting back,” he said.
Tina MacNaughton, 39, of Cedar Rapids, said the concert wasn’t “too bad” and it helps the city.
“Anything to bring people back downtown is a good idea,” she said.
Even the artists seemed to recognize the importance of events like Saturday’s concert. Craig Campbell, an award-winning country singer and guitarist from Georgia, said Nashville experienced a disaster like Cedar Rapids’ flood when he was living there.
“It was similar with the town coming together,” Campbell said after his set. “It shows a lot of character for the city.”
But beyond the commotion by the river, the concert seemed to bring support to area businesses as well.
Robert “Odie” Odekirk, a manager at Hazzard County American Saloon, 329 Second Ave. SE, said the bar isn’t usually open during the day on Saturdays, but the doors were open for the concert and he saw a steady stream of people all day.
“It’s good to bring downtown back, get the draw back” Odekirk said. “(Business) is getting a lot better, back to what it used to be.”
- Sam Lane