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If the river was whiskey: Bourbon and Blues celebrates some Iowa bourbon and a stream of blues‬

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If the river was whiskey: Bourbon and Blues celebrates some Iowa bourbon and a stream of blues‬

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The eighth-annual Bourbon and Blues Fest will celebrate all weekend long with Iowa’s first bourbon, BBQ, and jazz.

By Levi Wright

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The Freedom Festival will come to a close with one of its last events, the Bourbon and Blues Fest.

Beginning Friday through July 9, the eighth-annual Bourbon and Blues Fest will take place at the Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, 1441 Marak Road N.W., Swisher. The festival is part of the Freedom Festival, which runs from June 15 through July 9.

The Freedom Festival is put on by a staff of two, Executive Director Robyn Rieckhoff and Events and Marketing Director Liz Neff. With more than 100 events, they rely on outside vendors to bring events that are unique to each vendor. Their previous events include the Balloon Glow, concerts, and much more.

“The Freedom Festival was started because we didn’t have fireworks in Cedar Rapids,” Neff said. “The closest place you could go to see fireworks on the Fourth of July was Atkins. So, the original intent was to have fireworks for Cedar Rapids, and that was back in 1984, and that started the celebration of freedom and fireworks.”

Bourbon and Blues Fest  is a way for the Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery to celebrate its bourbon and Iowa’s first bourbon. This year, it was awarded Distillery of the Year by the American Distilling Institute, which has a national reach from its base in Hayward, California. It holds expos across the nation from Portland to Baltimore.

“We accomplished [winning Distillery of the Year] with our quality of products and our tenure that we’ve been producing these quality products,” said Jamie Siefken, the Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery general manager. “We’ve been distilling since 2005. In the craft industry, we are one of the oldest craft distilleries in the country. We started making spirits before craft spirits was a thing.”

This will be the first year that the distillery may sell cocktails. In previous years, it was unable to sell cocktails legally, but this year, organizers planned a year ahead so that attendees may buy cocktails if they decide to pair some sipping with the blues on the stage.

“I know the owner’s a big blues fan, so [the creation of Bourbon and Blues Fest] probably has something to do with that,” Siefken said. “I assume that he was bourbon and blues because it seems to go well together. We have a barbecue as well, so we have bourbon, blues, and barbecue. It seemed like a natural fit.”

With North Liberties Blues and BBQ going on at the same time as Bourbon and Blues Fest, it may be a shade hard for people to find the difference between the two.

Bourbon and Blues Fest focuses its attention on the bourbon the distillery produces, with music and food being a secondary focus. Blues still gets attention, with four different bands playing for the three days.

“Blues music isn’t just about the music, it’s also about life, and that’s why food, drink, and dancing, that all goes hand-in-hand with blues music,” said Chad Elliott, the guitarist and vocalist for Chad Elliott and the Redemptions, a band performing at the fest. “People can celebrate. A lot of people don’t think of the blues as a celebratory music, but it is. It’s something where everyone can come together and celebrate life through the blues.”

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