You Iowans are so lucky. If I didn’t have a killer economics test on Wednesday, I’d probably be playing with the Maximum Ames Music Festival app on my iPhone. Hell, I’ve been doing that even though I have two tests and zero plane tickets to Iowa this week. But here’s my point: I’m approximately 1,000 miles away from my hometown and I can barely contain my excitement for MAMF, which starts on Thursday night. I obsessively retweet and “like” anything about MAMF that I see online and I probably know more about the lineup than you know about yourself (okay, scratch that last bit … college has been a very confusing time for me).
Rest assured, if I had any means of getting to Ames late this week, I would. If I were an Ames High student, I would straight up do my homework (read: sob in anticipation) at the Space for Ames or the City Auditorium, just two of the dozens of venues hosting the festival. I just have nothing to say to people who live in Ames and have not purchased a four-day pass. I’m really going to need you to take a moment to examine your life choices.
Now that you’ve gotten back on the musical straight-and-narrow, please take a gander at my ten picks for the four days of bliss at the end of this week. Even if you don’t go to any of these shows, please make a concerted (pun intended) effort to go to at least one MAMF show. In fact, pick one other than Jeff Mangum or Wanda Jackson — be surprised by local bands and find your new passion. Ames will never seem boring after going to your first local show, I promise.
10. FACES: Families of Ames Celebrating Ethnicities
MAMF is not just a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings with greasy hair and impossibly tight pants nodding to experimental music. It’s doing a really good job of integrating the community at large and taking advantage of Ames’ oft-touted diversity and gorgeous public spaces. Be sure to check out this showcase of various Iowa State music and dance groups for free at Bandshell Park. Bring your parents, grandparents, cat on a leash, and everyone else.
9. Mumford’s, with Old Scratch Revival Singers, Morning Sex and the Good Weed, Ladysoal, The Wheelers.
In the past year, I’ve seen Mumford’s more times than I can count. I plan on continuing to be a dedicated fan, even in Durham (that’s right, they’re coming here in October). And that’s how it should be. Indeed, for any readers who have not experienced local music, Mumford’s is one of the best starting points. They encompass every genre from rock to country to hip hop to crying, Ladysoal and The Wheelers will bring the soul and the party to this concert, and the other two are local bands who, though I have never seen live, always bring out big crowds. You can be sure there’s a good reason for those consistently huge turnouts.
8. Mount Eerie, with UUVVWWZ, Paleo, Run-On Sunshine
I will have the distinct pleasure of seeing Mount Eerie just a few hundred yards from my dorm at the Duke Coffeehouse (if you are a touring local musician, I’d highly advise booking a show here — it’s an incredible performance space in one of the most vibrant music communities in the country) on Wednesday night. MAMF attendees, on the other hand, can see Mount Eerie and these other three bands perform in a living room. It’s a large living room, to be fair, but when else will you see such a huge name in national indie music in such close proximity? Nebraska natives UUVVWWZ (“double U, double V, double W, Z”) were the only non-Iowa band on the Aquapalooza benefit concert lineup earlier this year, and they were absolutely phenomenal. Their darker, more experimental sound and formidable talent will definitely expand your horizons. Oh, and they’re signed to the legendary Saddle Creek Records. Again, when are you going to get to see musicians like these in a living room?
7. The Ames Women of Rock Showcase
This is just cool. I wrote a feature about “Hear My Voice,” a compilation featuring many of these musicians and poets who helped raise money for the ACCESS women’s shelter. The compilation itself emerged from a similar Women of Ames showcase at last year’s MAMF. These talented ladies are inspiring songwriters and phenomenal performers — this is a must-see.
6. Adam Faucett, Christopher the Conquered, People With Heads
Although I am not familiar with Adam Faucett and People With Heads, I do know that both have a considerably large following in Ames. Again: there must be a reason why so many talented Iowa musicians, including the illustrious Ames Progressive editor Nate Logsdon, like Adam Faucett so much. To be honest, I’d pay $5 just to see Christopher the Conquered. Hell, I’d pay $100 to see CtC — Chris is by far one of my favorite musicians of all time. Get ready for a thought-provoking, stirring, and fun set with Chris and the Black Gold Brass Band.
5. H.D. Harmsen w/ Dear Rabbit, Derek Lambert, Lesbian Poetry
I’ve only heard one song off Dustin Harmsen’s forthcoming Maximum Ames release and I am already planning on preordering it. I am more familiar with the other three musicians set to perform at this intimate showcase at Vinyl Cafe. Dear Rabbit is just something else. Wholly theatrical, wholly bizarre, wholly accordion/broken guitar/trumpet/coffee/honey/hot sauce. I’ve seen Rence Liam play in Ames twice and I’d definitely see him play as Dear Rabbit again. Derek Lambert is quite simply one of the best songwriters in the state, and one of the few who can write deeply introspective music for a solo act and face-melting rock-and-roll for his Prairie Fires performances. Elliot Burke of Lesbian Poetry is also one of the most talented musicians in Iowa. I know I say that about everyone, but Elliot’s songs are brimming with quirky lyrics, dry humor, and biting social commentary. His set will have you laughing, thinking, and occasionally cringing when his accounts of awkward teenage moments remind you of your high school self.
4. ALL DAY POP AND PUNK HOUSE SHOW
If you like sweat and life, go to this. If you don’t like sweat and life, you should work on that.
3. Jeff Mangum, with The Music Tapes, The Poison Control Center
Let’s get this straight: I totally called that Jeff Mangum was going to headline this whole thing (Melissa from Jaw Harp Potential can totally vouch for me, I promise) a solid three days before the first lineup announcement in July. If you don’t know who Jeff Mangum is, I urge you to buy In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It’s definitely one of my top five favorite albums (with over 40 plays in my iTunes) and it’ll probably grow to be one of your favorites too. Seeing Jeff is an especially rare treat since he has greatly reduced his touring after the breakup of Neutral Milk Hotel in 1999. The Music Tapes, another Elephant 6 band featuring Julian Koster of NMH, is set to open for Jeff with Iowa superstars the Poison Control Center. In many ways, this show is a perfect indicator of MAMF’s values: incredible national acts, dedicated local musicians, intimate shows, crazy affordable tickets. The fact that PCC is playing with one of the most important figures in American alternative culture should be enough to convince you that Iowa is well on its way to becoming a major music hub.
2. Phoenix L’Amour Presents: VarieTEASE
Holy cow, this lineup isn’t even real. I’m not going to go into all the details of this show, but I will highlight one band: Trouble Lights. Fairfield is famous for its experimental/slightly overwhelming performers, but Trouble Lights is straight up beautiful pop. It’s what pop music would sound like if fat music executives weren’t picking what gets on the radio. If you still haven’t familiarized yourself with this incredible pop/electronic duo, you need to download “Safe With Me” from the Trouble Lights Bandcamp page right now. Oh, and preorder their forthcoming Maximum Ames release while you’re at it. Work with me here, I’m trying to help you get with the program.
1. The Daredevil Christopher Wright, with Plume Giant, Holly & the Night Owls, Jaw Harp Potential
I’d be damned if I didn’t put the show featuring Jaw Harp Potential at number one. I won’t say too much about JHP here since I manage them and have a tendency to helicopter-parent them, but you need to download their new EP (hint: it’s free!). The Daredevil Christopher Wright is a folk band on the verge of blowing up nationally. They have a large following all around the country. One of their biggest fans is Justin Vernon (you might have heard of his little project called Bon Iver), who is from the same area in Wisconsin. Plume Giant, another brilliant folk/acoustic act, just released their first full-length album via Bandcamp. I downloaded this album a few weeks ago and it is definitely worth your time and money. Keep these guys on your radar.
Of course, don’t limit your concert-going activities to this list — there’s a lot more to see than just these 10 showcases. This week is sure to go in the annals of Iowa music history, and I can’t wait to see what our community puts together in 2013.