You don’t have to look hard for evidence of Cedar Rapids’ thriving music community. From packed houses at the renovated Paramount Theatre and CSPS Hall to dynamic shows at area bars and clubs, it’s clear that live music is alive and well in Cedar Rapids. But perhaps the best proof of the city’s vibrant musical tradition lies in a small shop in Czech Village where the music is served up on the quieter side, along with smoked meat and homemade sausages.
The Village Meat Market and Café, which opened in March 2012, offers live acoustic music every Saturday and Sunday during lunch. The weekly performances feature a rotation of some of the area’s best veteran musicians and promising young artists. The music is a tribute to a man who left his own imprint on Cedar Rapids’ musical heritage.
Bob Oettinger was a musician and longtime owner of Oettinger Music. Lou Thompson, owner and general manager of the Village Meat Market and Café, is his daughter. She says the music is in honor of his memory.
“We did it on grand opening day and every Saturday since,” Thompson says of the musical performances. “It will always be that way.”
Thompson left Cedar Rapids as a young woman. She relocated to New Orleans and then to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where she worked in the casino industry and honed her culinary skills. She returned to Cedar Rapids in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, bringing with her Oettinger’s old upright bass. The bass had sustained significant damage in the hurricane.
Today the restored instrument is a prominent feature among the memorabilia and antiques on display in the cafe. Talking about it brings tears to Thompson’s eyes.
“Daddy’s bass fell apart in Katrina, and Daddy-O put it back together again,” she says, referring to local musician Dennis “Daddy-O” McMurrin, a frequent Saturday performer.
Dan “DJ” Johnson, who schedules the music and performs most weekends with other local musicians, says Oettinger’s upright bass made its way into at least one performance.
“Last summer we took that old bass down and played out in the street,” he says.
- Dan “DJ” Johnson and Company
- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 2 p.m. Sundays
- Village Meat Market and Cafe, 92 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
Before she opened the meat market and cafe, Thompson knew she wanted to showcase the music of local all-stars performing in small, acoustic ensembles.
“We use Cedar Rapids music legends and I’m very proud of that,” Thompson says.
The rotation of musicians who play weekly with Johnson include several inductees in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll and Blues Halls of Fame and other local luminaries. Those appearing have included McMurrin, Craig Erickson, Kevin “BF Burt, Jason Leroy, Gayla Drake, Bryce Janey, Doug Ducey and Brook Hoover.
Several Saturday shows have been live-streamed over the Internet by KNBO, New Bo Neighborhood Radio, to a worldwide audience. The broadcasts have been well-received.
“We’ve received messages and email requests from people all over the world,” Johnson says.
The Sunday afternoon performances are a recent addition. In another tribute to her father, whose work helped cultivate generations of area musicians, Thompson plans to feature talented music students to give them experience performing in public.
“We want to give them some face time,” she says.
Johnson knows just where to find these promising young musicians.
“Most of the guys who play here also teach,” he says. “It’s the next logical step.”
Johnson, who is a Czech Village resident, describes the meat market and its musical offerings as an important piece of the puzzle for the neighborhood. He’s happy to spend his weekends playing there.
“We just have a good time and the food is great.”
Just across the river from the Village Meat Market in the NewBo neighborhood is another opportunity for free live music on Sundays. Parlor City Pub brings in funk, jazz and other groups to the bar/eatery each Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. There is no cover. This Sunday features the Twin Cities energetic fusion of jazz, funk and soul group New Sound Underground (formerly PB and the Jam). This genre-defying ensemble is influenced by instrumental music heavyweights such as Soulive, The RH Factor and Snarky Puppy.
For more music, go to HooplaNow.com/music