Two years ago, the second floor Gallery Room at Iowa State’s Memorial Union hosted a show featuring a series of photographs of Iowa musicians. The title and description of the show suggested that the photographs would represent the range of Iowa music, yet almost all of the photos were of artists based in Iowa City. Greg and Pieta Brown, Dave Zollo, and Bo Ramsey – all members of the Trailer Park Records blues and folk scene – were all profiled in multiple photos. A photograph of BeJae Fleming, the great Southern blues guitarist and songwriter, was the only picture in the whole show of an artist based out of Ames.
The conspicuous absence of Ames musicians in that show mirrored the prevailing attitude about Ames music at that time. In 2008, it was common to hear people saying, “Ames has no music scene,” or asking, as the title of a Bill Cleary article in the Iowa State Daily asked at the time, “Why doesn’t Ames have a music scene?”
Today, people who seek out live music in Ames will find that there are shows almost every night of the week around town and that there are dozens of excellent artists in Ames releasing albums and playing live shows in the area. Yet many people in town, especially those who do not actively seek out live music, are unaware of the rich and varied musical culture of our community. The Ames scene is an underground scene; it exists outside of the view of the majority of local residents.
What is a music scene? A town may have a number of bands that play gigs or a number of venues that host shows yet still be lacking a music scene. Indeed, the main factor that determines whether or not a collection of local bands constitutes a scene is whether or not the bands themselves see themselves as being a part of a scene. A scene starts when the artists in the community begin speaking and behaving and collaborating as though there is a scene – and then there is.
Musicians and live music enthusiasts will begin to see themselves as participants in a scene especially if they perceive the continuity of their local music culture over time. This sense of continuity arises from a familiarity with the history of the music culture. When you see how bands develop and progress through their life cycle, when you see how individual artists influence other artists and create unique styles, when you see how venues evolve to serve certain sections of the scene, you begin to perceive the history of the music culture, the nature of your local scene.
Ames has a fascinating, multidimensional, and dynamic music history. What we need now is to document that history and publicize it to the wider community in Ames. The Ames Progressive hereby announces a new project to document the history of underground music in Ames. This will be an ongoing project and will continue to develop as the years go on, just like the music scene we are documenting.
As part of this project, we will compile a physical archive of documents in Ames underground music history. The bulk of this archive will be CDs, tapes, and vinyl records that have been released in Ames by artists who lived here at the time of the release. In compiling this archive we will build on our existing collection of music, much of which consists of albums and EPs released in the last three years.
We are now making a public call for more documents. If you have access to Ames music, especially music that is rare, out of print, or extremely obscure, please contact us so that we can include it in our archive. If you are unwilling to part with your copy, we will also gladly accept burned copies of CDs or digital versions of the music (unless, of course, the music is copyright-protected and cannot be reproduced without consent).
After we have amassed a sizable archive, we will upload it to a searchable online database so that anyone in the world can access a well-organized and ever-growing collection of Ames music. In the course of creating this archive, we will also publicize our research by writing articles for the Ames Progressive and other publications and making public presentations around town. The development of the archive will be an opportunity to tell the story of our local music culture and foster awareness of the proud history of our city. Let’s come together as a community to embrace our local music and celebrate what is uniquely AMES about the Ames music scene.
For more information, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org and put ATTN: MUSIC HISTORY in the title of the message. Or call Nate Logsdon at 515-520-1600.
To donate a recording to the archive, please send it to: Ames Progressive, 118 Hayward Ave. Suite 3, Ames IA 50014.