Parker Millsap (center) and his bandmates, bass player Michael Rose (left) and fiddler Daniel Foulks (right), electrified their audience at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 11, 2013. (Parker Millsap photo)
Make a note now: You don’t want to miss Parker Millsap next time he comes around. The folks lucky enough to catch the young Oklahoman’s show on Monday (11/11/13) at CSPS would no doubt tell you that he can’t come back soon enough.
Millsap and his mates — Michael Rose on bass and Daniel Foulks on fiddle — turned in an electrifying acoustic (but amplified) set in their Iowa debut.
Millsap is a strong guitar player and blows a mean harmonica, but what sets him apart from other artists is his voice. Tinged with gravel and a growl, it can be sweet or hot and covers an impressive range. Millsap perfectly employs the various textures and tones available to him.
From song to song — and sometimes within the confines of a single song — he can change the tone by throttling up or down. His ability to show restraint adds power to the moment when he truly opens up.
Millsap’s songs are soaked in issues of faith and sin, hope and redemption. He is a master of the gospel blues, but the set also was spiced with western swing, some countrified Motown and more. Throughout the set, Rose provided a solid and engaging bass line while Foulks’ warm, smooth fiddle tones struck a perfect balance with Millsap’s gritty voice.
Highlights of the set included “Quite Contrary,” a devilishly clever blues featuring nursery rhyme characters reimagined as though they resided in southeastern Oklahoma, an area rife with poverty and drugs; “Old Time Religion,” a song of, as Millsap put it, “religious fanaticism” that called to mind “John the Revelator”; and “Palisade,” the title track from his 2012 album.
“When I Leave,” a song that felt emblematic of many of Millsap’s lyrical concerns, suggested the conflicts and contradictions that underlie faith when it suggests, “say your prayers and keep your fingers crossed.”
That might be an appropriate approach to take toward hastening Millsap’s return to the area.
Abby Brown, a Cedar Rapids native and recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, opened the show, telling the audience she was accomplishing a longtime goal by performing on the CSPS stage.
Her brief set established her strengths as a songwriter. While she acknowledged that she has penned a number of bitter break-up songs, the highlight of the set was “Angeline,” which she suggested is the only love song she’s written. The song includes the wonderful line, “I can’t believe that everywhere we go, you’re the sight to see.”
Clear the cobwebs out of your pipes and get ready to sing along with Suzy Bogguss at CSPS on Sunday night. (10/27)
The award-winning country singer with the golden throat won a folk music Grammy in 2005 for her contribution to an album of Stephen Foster songs. That started her thinking about all the folk songs she grew up singing in grade school in Aledo, Ill., just south of the Quad Cities. So in 2011, she released her 15th album, showcasing the “American Folk Songbook.”
It’s filled with singalong songs, and she’s more than happy to have audience members join in on such classics as “Red River Valley,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Ol’ Dan Tucker.” She arranged each one with her own spin, but retained the familiar melodies.
The singalong aspect was the impetus for the album.
“That was the whole deal,” Boggus, 56, says by phone from her home in Franklin, Tenn., just outside Nashville. It grew from being on the road with Garrison Keillor, witnessing “the spirit of everybody standing around and singing together,” without worrying about perfect pitches and stellar vocal qualities.
“It was just about sharing something we have in common and just the whole thing of people standing there belting it out without inhibitions,” she says.
That’s the way she likes it on her solo tours, too.
“We get a big hootenanny going,” she says with a hearty laugh. “We work it out. If people don’t know all the words, I encourage them to just sing the word ‘watermelon.’ Somehow it works in there and nobody notices.”
She loves the part after the show, too, where people tell her how they learned the songs — generally from music class at school or an uncle or grandma who sang favorites like “Froggy Went A-Courtin’.”
She dipped back to her roots to gather 17 favorites onto the CD, which also has a companion hardcover book filled with sheet music, stories and illustrations. She examined the roots of each song with Pat Bergeson, a fellow guitar player from Illinois, then added bass, dobro and fiddle players. Even more old-timey instruments were added for the recording, including hammer dulcimer, tin whistle and mouth harp.
Everybody stayed true to each song’s original intent, “playing from the heart and from the little kid inside of you,” she says.
“(Bergeson) and I went into the studio at my house and laid down the purest, simplest way to do these songs,” she says. “A lot of these songs had tons and tons of verses, so I would just pick out a kind of a storyline … and whittle it down from 25 verses to nine. That’s really what folk music does — it tells somebody’s story, so in this case, I was telling the kind of story that I wanted to hear.”
But that’s not all the CSPS audience will hear. She and the other string players in her trio will dip back to Bogguss’ radio hits from the ’90s — like “Someday Soon, “Outbound Plane” and “Drive South” — as well as music she just likes to play for fun.
Even though brother Scott lives in Marion, Bogguss hasn’t played in Cedar Rapids. She’s performed in Elkader, Maquoketa, the Iowa State Fair, Cedar Falls, the Old Threshers stage in Mount Pleasant and the I Wireless Center when it was the Mark of the Quad Cities. She says she may have done something for KHAK radio back in the days when she was driving from gig to gig in a camper truck, fresh out of college, before landing in Nashville.
But she’s been to Cedar Rapids many times for visits and Thanksgiving dinners. “It’s gorgeous,” she says, and she’s looking forward to seeing how it’s changed since the Floods of 2008.
She and Scott have a rich musical heritage, beginning with singing in church choirs.
“Everybody in the house was musical,” she says. Even now at 91, her mom, who taught her how to sing alto, still sings in the choir, and Bogguss has a niece who is making a name for herself in opera.
Music was all around Bogguss and her three older siblings. A neighbor down the road in Aledo was an aspiring a country singer and would play on his porch, so Bogguss fondly recalls how the neighbor kids would put on their pajamas and go over to sing with him on warm nights. Her grandparents lived near Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in California, so visits to them made a big impression in her tween years.
“I keep coming back to that,” says Bogguss, who has been married to songwriter and recording engineer Doug Crider for 27 years on Nov. 1. Their son, Ben, is 18 and off to college.
“As you get older you starting coming back to your roots,” she says.
When Ben was growing up, she and her Nashville singer/songwriter friends would host singalongs in their home, with their kids. For her birthday last year, they all showed up with instruments in hand — musicians like Kim Carnes, Jeff Hanna from the Dirt Band and Kathy Mattea — as well as Ben and his friends. Mandolins, fiddles, trombones, guitars — all jammed around the piano.
“Instead of getting together and bitching about the music business, now we get together and we actually play and have fun and remember what it was like when it wasn’t all about a business — when it was fun,” she says. “It’s made a big difference in how I look at my business now. I feel refreshed. I don’t look at it as being this jaded thing that I have to do.
“I look at it like I am so fortunate that I still love what I do. I get to hang out with people who have crazy histories that tell the best stories in the world.”
Peel away the layers of Matuto’s music and you’ll hear indigenous sounds from Europe, Africa, Appalachia and Louisiana swamps. Together, they create a spicy roots stew that crosses continents.
It’s the kind of global sound that gets at the heart of Legion Arts’ sixth annual Landfall Festival of World Music, in which more than 70 musicians from 12 countries will bring sounds ethnic and edgy to various Cedar Rapids venues.
This year’s moveable feast begins Tuesday (9/24) with Matuto at Opus Concert Cafe. The music continues through the week at CSPS, the Cedar Rapids Public Library and First Presbyterian Church. Landfall wraps up Sept. 28 with a free lineup all day at Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids. New this year will be nourishment for the body, as well as soul, with food vendors in the park.
Matuto’s six musicians live in or near New York City, but several have deep ties to Brazil. Guitarist, vocalist and founder Clay Ross has made many trips to the South American country; accordion player Rob Curto spent five years there, absorbing the music and the culture; and percussionist Ze Mauricio grew up in Rio de Janeiro. All made their way to the New York jazz scene, a melting pot of global influences.
“There’s a whole scene of music here in New York that’s an overlap between jazz and world music,” Curto, 43, says by phone from his home in Manhattan. “One segment of that is specifically Brazilian — people who play Brazilian music. Then there’s a lot of people kind of around that, and everybody’s listening to each other and learning from each other.”
That’s were Ross and Curto connected with the others who joined them in Mutato. Ross had invited Curto to play on his “Mutato” CD in 2009, then Curto invited Ross to play on his own CD. With a Fulbright scholarship in hand, they spent a month in Brazil, immersed in the music.
“That sealed the deal,” Curto says. “During that process, we started talking about doing it together as a band. Over time, the other band members fell into place.”
The band’s name is a slang term for a man from the back-country. Its sound is a mix of the music Ross grew up hearing in South Carolina, the zippy zydeco that prompted Curto to trade piano for accordion, and global beats from their travels abroad, including a recent five-week musical tour of Africa.
“One of the most important things about our band is the way we mix what we consider to be the essential elements of all music from the Americas, which is this collision of African, European and indigenous culture in music, Curto says.
The traditions combine in the most intriguing ways.
“The nitty-gritty … really varies from song to song,” Curto says. “We have a tune called ‘Horse Eat Corn’ that Clay wrote, that’s basically like a Scotch-Irish-Americana tune. We put it on top of a rhythm called coco from northeast Brazil and it fits beautifully and it’s something new. We have another tune by Clay called ‘Diamond’ that utilizes a type of samba called a partido alto that’s really similar to a funk groove you might hear here, then Clay is singing on top of it in a blues-inflected way. It just kind of comes together.”
♫ Tuesday (9/24): Matuto, United States and Brazil, 5:30 p.m., Opus Concert Cafe
(Arga Bileg of Mongolia, which was slated to perform Tuesday at CSPS, has canceled its tour because of difficulties obtaining visas)
♫ Thursday (9/26): Kardemimmit, 5:30 p.m., Public Library; Barbara Furtuna, 5:30 p.m., First Presbyterian Church; Christine Salem, Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, 7 p.m., CSPS Hall; Debo Band, Ethiopia/United States, 8:30 p.m., CSPS Hall
The Kinsey Sicks are (from left) Trixie (singer/actor Jeff Manabat), Winnie (lawyer/activist Irwin Keller), Rachel (lawyer/activist Ben Schatz) and Trampolina (singer/actor Spencer Brown). (Kinsey Sicks photo)
CEDAR RAPIDS — Few people get serenaded by a dragapella beautyshop quartet for their 70th birthday, but Mel Andringa isn’t just anybody. The mover and shaker behind Legion Arts, more than two decades of CSPS shows and the NewBo renaissance deserves some sparkle and glow.
And that’s exactly what he got. A glittering celebration so far over the rainbow that Andringa and 200 of his closest friends were flushed in a pot of golden oldies Sunday night (8/18) from The Kinsey Sicks.
The utterly outrageous a cappella drag queen quartet from San Francisco didn’t just drive home the unreality of reality TV, the four gussied up guys stomped their stilettos right into the bleeding heart and soul of TV’s seamy underbelly with “America’s Next Top Bachelor Housewife Celebrity Hoarder Makeover Star Gone Wild.”
Think “parody” gone wild, with “Madama Butterfly” to Lady Gaga hits hitting new lows via these twisted sisters’ lyrical makeovers. Dare I say that two of the funniest, most side-splitting — yet harmonically satisfying — parodies were sendups of “I Will Follow Him” from “Sister Act” and “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret,” busting some Fossesque moves. Now replace “follow” with “swallow” and “herr” with “hair” and let your imagination run wild and free. You’ll get a picture that’s probably pretty accurate. Don’t make me say it.
The beauty of the boys is that they’re human rights activists wrapped in taffeta, with to-dye-for wigs and to-die-for harmonies. Their pointed jabs and barbs are delivered with a smile and a kittenish kick of their glittery heels that has audiences ROTFLOL and muttering OMG, or was that just me? I don’t think so. Laughter didn’t ring, it roared through the historic rafters at CSPS, making its own kind of his- or herstory.
Tone down the makeup a notch, and two of the guys could easily walk down the street and turn heads for their beauty. The other two, not so much. All are loaded, however, with charm, talent and impeccable comedic timing as they vie to become reality show royalty. Mum’s the word on the outcome, which really doesn’t matter all that much, since the journey is the main attraction. And the music.
From the opening strains of “When You Wish That You’re a Star” to “I’m Wearing Sexy Underwear,” the four divo/divas romped through harmonies tighter than their ruffled pettipants. They toyed with the audience, teasing several men sitting near the front, bringing one onstage for a song I dare not repeat, but suffice it to say, the good sport returned to his seat with a sheepish grin.
Mel Andringa, co-founder of Legion Arts/CSPS, celebrated his 70th birthday Aug. 18, 2013, with a weekend full of arts and entertainment, including an artist party Friday night, a Starving Arist picnic Saturday night and a concert/show by The Kinsey Sicks of San Francisco on Sunday night. (Legion Arts photo)
After a rousing standing ovation, the feting foursome sang a glorious “Happy Birthday” to Andringa, then brought us all to tears with a gorgeous tribute to their founder and friend, who died in 1995.
The Kinsey Sicks act is celebrating its own milestone this year. How appropriate that 20 years is known as a “score.”
Andringa’s party actually began Friday night (8/16), with “Mel’s Artist Party.” Local artists filled the CSPS galleries with intriguing, eclectic works of art, while stellar local musicians serenaded the gathering crowd with sounds Americana to exotic.
A huge installation in the main gallery, a creative corner and Mel masks on the walls come as close as possible to capturing the enduring spirit and unending energy of the performance artist who portrays Grant Wood as “The Man Who Invented Iowa,” but in essence, is “The Man Who Reinvented Iowa” by bringing mind-expanding art and artists to New Bohemia.
No matter how hard he’s tried to dodge it, the spotlight just seems to find Duncan Sheik.
After bursting onto the rock charts in the mid ’90s with “Barely Breathing,” he retreated into the shadows of indie music and theater.
That didn’t last long.
He wrote the music for the 2006 Broadway smash hit “Spring Awakening.” The rock ‘n’ roll tale of teen angst grabbed eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical, and nods to Sheik for best original score and best orchestrations.
Sheik came to CSPS in Cedar Rapids in March 2009 for a concert we deemed “brilliant” in our review, showcasing his show tune. He’s returning on Thursday, on a national tour with his stripped-down homage to the music of his youth via his new acoustic CD, “Covers Eighties Remixed.”
Free discussion, noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, University of Iowa Theatre Building, 200 N. Riverside Dr., Iowa City
He just keeps charting new courses.
“‘Barely Breathing’ was a bit of an anomaly in terms of my first record and in terms of the way I saw myself as an artist,” Sheik, 42, says by phone from his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he lives with his girlfriend.
“Really quickly in ’96, I was thrust into this Top 40 context. Frankly, I wasn’t that comfortable there, because I didn’t feel that much kinship with other artists who are in that world. They certainly weren’t the artists that were my influences. As much as I might respect them, it’s not what I was doing,” he says.
“Here I was, listening to Radiohead or Chalk Talk – whatever fairly left-field records I was listening to, and then I was in this very kind of mainstream music context. That caused a lot of dissonance for me in that situation. At that point, you continue to put your head down and do the best work you can do, and people are gonna perceive it however they’re gonna perceive it,” he says.
“I think that I subconsciously and consciously did a lot of work to subvert that kind of Top 40 thing from happening again, for better or worse. The irony is that when I did something in theater – which was a fairly avant-garde, kind of expressionist play, ‘Spring Awakening’ that we adapted our show from – that became, in a way, the most commercial thing that I’ve ever done,” he says.
“You don’t really have control over these things in the end. You just do your work and the culture responds to it however it does and you hope for the best.”
Two Corridor theaters are staging the rock musical this season. The University of Iowa’s production opened Nov. 9 and continues through Saturday (11/17). Theatre Cedar Rapids is bringing it to the main stage June 28 to July 20, 2013. Sheik will be speaking about the show from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in the UI Theatre Building. The discussion is free and open to the public.
He’s thrilled the show is making the leap from Broadway to community theaters, colleges and other grassroots stages.
“I love the fact that people are doing ‘Spring Awakening’ all over the place,” he says. “I just got back from Mexico City, and there was a production down there in Spanish, which was really wonderful. For me, it’s just great to see it done differently, and with different actors, because then the experience is new and fresh and exciting.”
Thursday’s CSPS audience will hear Sheik in a trio, doing a mix of his vintage tunes and new material from the covers CD released Nov. 6, as well as a set of “brand-spanking new” songs from an album coming out next year.
“I haven’t made a ‘normal’ Duncan Sheik album since 2006,” he says. “Everything I’ve done since then has been either theater-related or covers, so it’s been too long.”
As for the spotlight – he doesn’t mind it so much anymore.
“To be honest, when I first started performing live, which was not that long after my first record, it actually was not my favorite part of the process,” he says. “I’m not the kind of person who wants to get a lot of people to pay attention to me in the room. I love making records and I love writing songs and that’s why I got into this. Performing was part of the gig. Certainly initially, it was just something had to go through.
“Now 16 years later, I do really enjoy those shows when it all kind of coalesces and comes together. When the artist is with you and the music sounds right, it’s totally brilliant. It just took me a little while to get to that place.”
Experimental dance has descended upon CSPS, in the body of the artistic director of the Edgeworks Dance Theater based in Washington, D.C.
Helanius J. Wilkins is a remarkable performer. His hourlong solo work, “/CLOSE/R,” was inconsistently compelling, but at times, quite effective. Friday night’s small crowd was most attentive, and eager to support this talented artist. (11/9/12) The event repeated Saturday night.
Wilkins is supported by the National Performance Network (NPN), which provides funding to performing artists for creation, residencies and touring. CSPS is a constituent member of NPN, and regularly presents its promising roster. Wilkins wryly described himself as a “triple threat” artist, who choreographs, performs and teaches master classes.
The performance was a mixed bag, involving direct involvement of the audience, as well as video interviews with the artist, in addition to fully choreographed sequences. The interviews at times were funny, particularly as Wilkins described fighting with his family over the record player: He wanted to listen to Prince’s “Purple Rain” all day long, imagining himself to be a star.
The script developed from confessional text (yes, the dancer talks a lot) to non-verbal expression. It was in the latter realm that the performance came to life. Wilkins is a fine dancer, with long arms and legs, and a strong central core. He has remarkable hands, with fingers as expressive as a Balinese dancer’s.
A powerful sequence began with his mother’s advice to get rid of a cold. “Pee it out, sweat it out.” Put on a layers of clothes, drink a lot of water, get in bed under a pile of covers. This amusing advice led quickly into the dramatic center of the work, a strenuous, disturbing fit of shaking, somewhere between a St. Vitus dance and an epileptic fit. Anguish. Pain. Human identity. All were at stake in this wild exorcism. Wilkins’ stamina and commitment are amazing, as is his honest self-examination.
This led into a powerful, fluid dance sequence, with more formal choreography in post-modern vein (think Bill T. Jones). It was worth the wait. Wilkins is considering the sources of his own creativity, as he takes a look at what his life has been, and who he is now on the stage, at this moment.
Ben Levine is listed in the program as “scenic design collaboration and lighting design.” His work is very, very good, as is that of the entire design team. Eight white squares are suspended above the action, and continue out into the auditorium. Projection surfaces are in the form of hanging white curtains. It is as if the lights are yet another dancer, or dancers, who work closely with the live performer. This is exhilarating conceptual work.
Congratulations to Legion Arts/CSPS for bringing such challenging work to Eastern Iowa.
A band with a worldwide reach embodies its name on several levels.
Playing for Change began as documentary filmmaker Mark Johnson’s grand experiment in 2005 to record the world’s best street musicians playing “Stand By Me” on their corners. His crew built a mobile recording studio and took it from California to nearly every continent, then melded those voices into a video.
It’s now spun into a YouTube phenomenon; a non-profit foundation building music schools in Third World countries; and a fundraising concert tour featuring 10 top musicians from around the globe — all spreading the message of unity through harmony, connecting the world through music.
Luminaries including Bono, Stephen Marley, Ziggy Marley, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ have collaborated on Playing for Change CDs.
The band is touring 22 cities around North America in February and March, landing at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Feb. 23.
The musicians didn’t know each other when the project began, but have found their common ground and camaraderie.
“Mark’s message has become all of our messages together,” one of the lead vocalists, Clarence Bekker, 42, says by phone from his home in Barcelona, Spain. “Our different cultures, different musical styles, different backgrounds can come together to make happiness and bring peace, most of all to ourselves, and from there to the world.”
Playing for Change will perform on Feb. 23 at CSPS in Cedar Rapids.
Bekker hasn’t always been a street musician. Born in Suriname in South America, his family moved to Amsterdam when he was 6. At age 18, he became the youngest member of the renown Dutch band, Swing Soul Machine. From there, he spun off to a solo career in dance music as CB Milton, making three albums in the ’90s. Now in Barcelona, he collaborates with bands and local DJs, and at the end of the month, will release his new album, “Old Soul,” evoking the legendary American soul musicians
“I chose some old soul recordings to introduce myself to the big American audience,” he says, “songs that lie near in my heart. I had a lot of fun recording it.”
Bekker’s musical heritage is a blend of tropical beats and soul.
“My upbringing is Caribbean and soul,” he says. “You can hear that in my voice and music, as well. Soul music has always been part of my life. My mother used to listen to a lot of soul. Motown sounds were in our house every day. I played traditional Caribbean music when I started my career.”
In 2000 he decided to travel the world with just his guitar, making music in the streets of India, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and South America.
“That’s where my passion started for playing on the street. After I came back to Barcelona, I started to do some busking here, too, and really loved it.”
He loves the freedom it affords.
“No matter what time or what hour or how I felt, I stood on a street corner and the people would make me happy. People from all different classes. The street doesn’t know races, the street doesn’t say no to anybody,” he says.
“From newborn babies to grandpas and grandmas in their 90s, they would stop to listen to my voice. In no venue would I get an audience like that. People would really appreciate it and really be happy. I had people coming to me with tears in their eyes, really grateful that I’m doing that, which also inspired me to keep it going,” he says.
“I’m giving and I’m taking, and there was a beautiful thing about it.”
The Playing for Change touring band members hail from New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles, Congo, South Africa, Spain and New York.
“Most of us have a music background,” he says.
Three have street backgrounds: Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo of Congo and Grandpa Elliott of New Orleans.
“Some of the people are really professional professionals,” he says, “but even on the street, you find professionals, and if you’re not yet a professional, you’ll become professional. It’s the talent that counts.”
Audiences are embracing the music and the cause wherever they go.
“Our followers are reasonably educated people concerned about the well-being of the planet and are behind us 100 percent,” Bekker says. “It’s a great thing. Everywhere we go, people really embrace us with arms open wide. Even my old friends in Holland and Spain, when they see the project, they really appreciate it. I see it in their faces and their responses.”
The Playing for Change Foundation, established in 2007, has built seven music schools in Ghana, Mali, Rwanda, South Africa and Nepal, with more in the works. Bekker hasn’t visited the sites, but fully embraces the mission of providing a musical education for children in emerging countries.
“Everyone on this planet should have that to express themselves,” he says. “It also gives them big self-esteem and a secure manner to go about in their life. Music has all these ways to express yourself and is a way to become a real ‘human’ being.
“That’s why it’s important for everyone, especially in Third World countries — to build up their self-esteem and to be able to communicate with people all over the world without having to learn their language,” he says.
“We all speak the language of music. With social media, it’s easier to communicate with all parts of the world. With music, that only makes us stronger.”
CEDAR RAPIDS — Heidi Eifferts has been an admirer of Cedar Rapids’ New Bohemia neighborhood for years. Now she’s a tenant.
“We had photographed outside the CSPS hall for years,” said professional photographer Eifferts. “It was just one of our favorite locations because of the old buildings, the textures.”
Eifferts and her husband Troy Eifferts now work there full-time: their StudioU Photography is one of three businesses moving into ground-floor space at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE. A formal announcement of the businesses’ agreement with Legion Arts, the non-profit owner of CSPS, was made at a press conference Thursday (2/2) morning.
“This is another example of the New Bohemia neighborhood returning with a vengeance,” said F. John Herbert, Legion Arts’ executive director.
“The momentum’s building for the downtown district and the New Bo district,” said Richard Marsceau, co-owner of the Brewed Awakenings coffeehouse, which is expanding to the CSPS building. “It just all fits together. There’s momentum everwhere along the river, I guess, and it’s good to be part of it.”
“It’s such an emerging art and entertainment district,” said Mary Ann Peters, owner of New Bo Books, the third business to take up residence in the historic building’s ground floor. “The things that are happening now and are in the plans give it a whole personality that’s unique.”
Revenue from the tenants’ rent will help cover operating costs at CSPS, the subject of a 16-month, $8 million renovation and expansion after the Floods of 2008.
“We’ve gone from being a pretty small arts organization and a tenants ourselves to a pretty small arts organization that owns the building, so we’ve gone to quite a bit more responsibility,” Herbert said. “The retail spaces on the ground floor will be pretty critical parts of the funding for the building. We’re pretty excited to have three such locally-grounded businesses.”
Professional photographers since 2000, Eifferts and her husband moved to Iowa City from Omaha in 2008. They’ve worked strictly on location since, but decided it’s time to open a studio. Eifferts said they’ve already begun shooting in their new digs, but hope to have a public opening around March 1.
Peters said the entertainment district anchored by CSPS Hall is a natural for her new business, which will carry a broad range of titles from children’s books to the latest best sellers.
“I just saw that neighborhood as ideal for a small independent book store,” she said. “There has been a void here. Except for used book stores, there hasn’t been small bookstores (in Cedar Rapids) since Barnes and Noble opened.”
Peters said her store will have access to the inventory of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. Orders will be placed with Prairie Lights, and New Bo Books will be tied into its sales and records system.
“It’s maybe a model that hasn’t ever been tried before,” said Peters, who expects to hire up to two employees. “That way, there’s not going to be the high learning curve for me. My experience is in libraries and as a consumer of books but I’ve never sold them before.”
Both Peters and Marsceau expect the bookstore and Brewed Awakenings will be natural neighbors.
“It’s a great compliment to our business,” said Marsceau whose coffeeshop will remain in operation at its original location at 1271 First Ave. SE and its satellite location at St. Lukes Hospital . “We look forward to that – we need to have that growing-village feel down there.”
Brewed Awakenings already serves coffee, beer, wine, and light snacks in CSPS’ second-floor performance space.
Downstairs, “we’re going to have more of a traditional coffee bar,” Marsceau said. “We’ll take some of our best sandwich sellers from here, but we’re going to add some things.”
The new location will employ up to a dozen people.
Though he’s well-schooled and widely-traveled in a variety of genres — from heartfelt folk to buoyant pop to boho jazz to straightforward rock-’n’-roll, and beyond — Tom Freund ultimately comes across simply as a singer-songwriter with his own singularly distinctive voice. “Collapsible Plans,” Freund’s fourth full-length album, puts that voice front-and-center. Produced by longtime friend Ben Harper and featuring piano and vocal contributions from Jackson Browne on two tracks, “Collapsible Plans” is Freund’s most focused and fully realized recording to date. Ben and Tom have known each other for two decades, and in 1992 recorded the limited-release “Pleasure and Pain” together, which helped launch Harper’s career. Since then, Freund has alternated between recording and touring behind his own discs (2001’s “Sympatico” and 2005’s “Copper Moon”) and playing upright bass, electric bass guitar and mandolin with the likes of British pub-rock great Graham Parker and rising groove-soul sensation Brett Dennen. Freund also is a favorite of NPR’s “Weekend Edition.”
Her music has been called primal, raw, sassy and sensual. She’s been compared to Emmylou Harris and Joan Osborne by Billboard magazine. A folk troubadour whose talents have been lauded on the national and international scene for almost a decade, Jess Klein writes songs that tell the story of the soul — from wrenching heartbreak to finding the strength to pick up and move on. Now, on her seventh studio album, “Bound to Love,” Klein has created an Americana gem that speaks to the troubadour in all of us.
Tom Freund & Jess Klein | 7 p.m. Sunday (11/6) | CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids | $11-$15
A young singer, dancer and percussionist from Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast), Dobet Gnahoré sings in seven languages and embraces musical styles from Mandingue melodies to Congolese rumba, Ivory Coast ziglibiti to Cameroon bikoutsi. She is widely and internationally hailed as one of the freshest talents in new African music. Dobet grew up in Village Ki-Yi M’Bock, one of Africa’s unique artist enclaves and home to more than 50 resident artists of diverse traditions, ages and origins, including dancers, actors, puppeteers, sculptors, painters and musicians. It was here that Dobet was trained in a multifaceted approach to music and performance where dance, percussion, song, poetry and theater are intertwined. Onstage Dobet is a whirl of motion and passion, her dreadlocks flying as she dances and sings in a voice one critic described as “moving easily from a high, pure girlish timbre to a stern, throaty cry.”
Dobet Gnahoré | 7 p.m. Wednesday (11/9) | CSPS, 1103 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids | $20-$25
Singer/songwriter Catie Curtis will perform Nov. 5, 2011, at CSPS in Cedar Rapids. (Tony Baker photo)
CSPS is Catie Curtis’ favorite kind of venue.
The singer/songwriter who found her niche in the Boston folk-pop music scene plays about 80 gigs per year in coffeehouses, community halls, listening rooms, theaters and even the White House in 2010.
But she really likes performing arts centers.
“I love being surrounded by art, being in a place that supports the arts and that brings the community to participate and appreciate art of all kinds,” she says by phone from a recent tour stop in Houston.
Her history with CSPS stretches back to 1995, and she can’t wait to see the new and improved surroundings when she brings her “Stretch Limousine on Fire” tour to Cedar Rapids on Saturday. The concert will be a mix of “Limousine” cuts and songs off her previous recordings. Young singer/songwriter Jenna Lindbo will join her on harmonies, keyboards and banjo.
“I want to see the (CSPS) renovations — I really want to see that,” Curtis says, adding that Legion Arts’ mission mirrors her own goals.
“I have a dream of being able to have an arts center in my town where we can promote live music and create a space where teenagers can play, with open mics, touring musicians and an arts incubator to launch artists,” she says. “That may be a ways off, but I’ll plant the seeds when I’m really ready to stop touring.”
For now, however, she’s looking forward to coming back to Iowa.
“I grew up in Maine and feel like there’s a kinship between Mainers and Iowans. They both have a kind of dry sense of humor. I related to the music of (Iowa native) Greg Brown growing up,” she says, “and that simple, modest, humble approach to life. I feel very at home in Iowa.”
Home is very much the heartbeat for Curtis, who performs during the week but heads back to her Boston-area base for three-day weekends with her wife, Liz, and their daughters Lucy, 9, and Celia, 7.
“My whole life is about balancing my time at home and on the road, like so many people do with their jobs, but mine happens to be an overnight job,” she says. She typically flies to a region, like Texas or the Midwest, then rents a car to drive between cities.
“I’m in my 16th year on the road,” she says. “I’m not one of those people who plays 200 dates per year. I’m kind of like the tortoise and hare. I’m the tortoise — I just keep going.”
Liz and the girls stay home, to keep them rooted, and technology helps Curtis keep plugged in.
“I just got a text this morning,” she says in late October. “My 9-year-old sent a photo of her book report. It’s kind of amazing with modern technology how connected we can be while I’m gone, but I still miss so much.”
That tug in her voice disappears as she talks about her daughters.
“They’re so enthusiastic — they’re in the enthusiastic phase of life. It’s amazing to see how excited they still get about playing with dolls and getting out there playing soccer and learning Spanish. They were born in Guatemala and we’re going to Guatemala in February. I know things will change, but they’re in a very magical phase right now.”
With a happy home life and 10 previous albums under her fingers, her solid foundation has helped her push the boundaries on her latest songwriting efforts. The new CD already is generating buzz for being more gritty and raw.
“I feel like the rawness comes from the absolute honesty in the images in the storytelling,” she says, citing the CD’s first cut, “Let it Last.”
“We all learn when we’re trying to be spiritually evolved that you can’t hold onto things, you can’t hold onto time. It would be easy to say ‘I want to let it last but know I can’t.’ Instead, I say, ‘I know it can’t last, but let it last a little longer.’ That’s honest. I’m honest,” she says. “I know it hurts to want things you can’t have, but you still want things you can’t have. ‘Shadowbird’ is about wanting a drink or relationship you can’t have.
“There have been times in the past when I wrote more about how I think I should feel. This is more about how I really feel.”
One thing that has lasted is her relationship. She and her spouse were joined in a ceremony for family and friends 11 years ago, then were legally married in Massachusetts six years ago, which allowed them to co-adopt their children and have their family protected legally.
That journey has helped Curtis shape her career and inspire her songwriting.
“I’ve been with Liz since I was signed to a major label in ’96,” she says. “For me, throughout a career that can be filled with extreme highs and lows, I have been so fortunate to have a very steady and supportive home life to balance out the volatility of a life in the music business.
“As a writer, with that very secure foundation beneath me, I’ve been able to look at problems in the world,” she says. “I’ve written about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. The new record has a song that kind of reflects the economic inequalities in our country.
“A lot of the songs are about the temporal nature of life and mortality and marriage,” she says. “For me to see the marriage and kids gives me the rich experiences to help me to connect to what other people go through in their lives and the audience can relate that to their lives.”
— Diana Nollen
WHAT: Catie Curtis
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (11/5)
WHERE: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
DETAILS: Legionarts.org/events/catie-curtis or Catiecurtis.com