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Build Your Own Scene

I recently got into a discussion with someone regarding issues with music venues (for the record, I didn’t start it!). One of the first things I thought of was the music scene in Ames at the turn of the century.

One of my brothers-in-law had the idea to produce a TV show for Iowa State University’s television station featuring several local bands of the time. He would occasionally fill me in on news about the scene, including how many members were now in Poison Control Center and how I should check out a cool new band called Frankenixon. He (and others) also mentioned the lack of good venues in Ames.

A year or so later, the pianist / lead singer of Frankenixon, and her then-husband, accidentally created the greatest music venue in town and did their part to somewhat alleviate the problem with the lack of decent venues for local bands. The place eventually became known as “The Practice Space”. A great article has already been written about it, so I don’t have to do it all over again (click HERE).

Now, back to my recent discussion here in 2014: I was contemplating whether similar types of spaces would go over well in Iowa City and elsewhere. Here’s the formula that seemed to lead to the creation and success of The Practice Space, and how it compares to present-day Iowa City:

1. Is there a music-supporting couple with no kids who live in a loft apartment in a business district where they can get away with loud music at night during non-business hours and not have the cops called on them by people who share walls with the space? And are they okay with having strangers in their place using their bathroom, being around all of their personal belongings and potentially doing illegal things just outside the space? And would the couple pass the profit to the bands to make it worthwhile for them? As you can see, there were a lot of factors in play with the situation. And it takes a rare type of person to agree to put up with all of these things…but there are a few crazy people willing to facilitate such an atmosphere!

2. Would people come to the shows? Judging from Iowa City-area residents’ past showing of support of live music events (some even attend mid-week shows here), I’d say this is a yes.

3. Would enough local bands be interested in playing at the space? I’m not sure. Judging by the established venues’ events calendars, it seems like there are occasional dates with nothing going on. There are also days filled with other activities like comedy / improv, open DJ-ing and jam sessions, karaoke, dance parties, etc. The impression I get is there may be a lower number of active bands in Iowa City these days, compared to ten years ago. On the other hand, maybe the venues aren’t trying to book live bands every night (for more variety, maximizing profits, etc.) or the bands aren’t crazy about playing at the established venues for a variety of reasons (low or no financial return for their services, communication issues with booking, etc.). An alternative space could generate some interest in bands who may have given up on the current venues.

4. Would bands from out of town come to perform? Decent bands and musicians from all over the place were willing to come to Ames (a place known for its collegiate agricultural and engineering programs, and not for liberal arts). There should be no problem getting out-of-town bands to play here.

I’m not convinced a space like The Practice Space would be a great idea for Iowa City, but I could see it going well in other nearby cities (Cedar Rapids???) where there seem to be fewer venues.