The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Season of the Witching overtakes downtown


The Witching Hour Festival returns to Iowa City for a third time to delve into the many lives of art.

By Joshua Balicki
[email protected]

The Witching Hour festival is on its third year of exploring the unknown, sharing creative processes, and presenting all forms of art.

Teams of seven curators from local organizations compose a list of artists and thinkers who push the boundaries of their respected areas.

“Witching Hour is the time of night where supernatural or weird things happen,” Englert Marketing Director Aly High wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Witching Hour, the festival, plays on that dichotomy with discussions, workshops, and lectures during the day and performances at night.”

The festival will begin Friday and will run through Saturday night at various locations downtown, including the Englert, 221 E. Wasington St., and the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

The festival organizers pride themselves on their representation of internationally acclaimed and up-and-coming artists, and community outreach is at the heart of Witching Hour.

Discussions on local concerns such as small-town journalism, Iowa bee populations, women of color in Iowa City, racial trauma, and the siege of interactive technologies will take place.

Many forms of art and culture can find a place to call home in Witching Hour. Literature, film, visual arts, music, dance, and education are showcased with a diverse selection of voices, backgrounds, and viewpoints.

“I want everyone, regardless of whether or not they identify as an artist, to come to Witching Hour and to be inspired,” High said.

“Whether that means creating something new, feeling inspired to be a better part of your community, or just finding new artists and thinkers you enjoy.”

Featured Act: Beach Fossils

The band Beach Fossils started as a solo project in the Brooklyn bedroom of Dustin Payseur. His honest, introspective lyrics, paired with multilayered, atmospheric pop, gained critical acclaim in the indie scene.

“Music for me is escapism,” Payseur said. “It is an emotional process that involves pouring personality and experience into the sound.”

After numerous lineup changes, the current trio includes Payseur, Jack Doyle, and Tommy Davidson.

When asked about the reasoning behind the band name, Payseur laughed.

“I have no idea,” he said. “It is like the worst band name ever. I had demos recorded, and I needed to send them out to labels, and I did not have the name. I just threw it together in a few minutes.”

The band’s new album, Somersault, was recorded in numerous studios around the country, including Brooklyn, Manhattan, LA, and a rented cabin in upstate New York.

Because of the various locations the album drifts from melancholic breakup odes to New York orchestral anthems to laid-back train grooves. In truth, the Beach Fossils seem to be The Smiths reincarnated.

Payseur started Bayonet Records with his wife, Kate Garcia, and the label has worked with acclaimed indie bands including Frankie Cosmos,

Warehouse, and Cherry Paper. Payseur is in the process of signing a huge batch of new artists who will début next year.

“I have always wanted to start a label,” he said. “It is about putting out records that I love and artists who are real. I want to release anything and everything, a wide spectrum of sounds and styles.”

In 2016, The Beach Fossils was featured on “Vinyl,” an HBO series that documented the New York music scene in the 1970s.

“It was fun and incorporated a lot of people I respected,” Payseur said. “None of us are actors, but it was fun to be involved.”

Payseur appreciates the diverse art that comes out of Iowa City.

“I am always happy to come through somewhere that we have not played before,” he said. “This is all that I do. I will continue to keep writing songs and touring. This is my life.”

Featured Act: Literature: It Devours

Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor released two episodes per month of a scripted fiction podcast called “Welcome to Night Vale.”

As of 2017, “Welcome to Night Vale” had more than 180 million downloads on all platforms.

“We knew we wanted to start a podcast, but we did not want to be like other people,” Fink said. “We came up with this idea that there is a small desert town where all conspiracy theories come true.”

From there, Fink and Cranor, along with the rest of the voices behind the podcast, toured the world. The duo has accumulated more than 240 live shows in 16 countries, most of which have been sold-out.

“We have presented ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ at live podcast events several times at the Englert, and they always sell out,” High said.

“It is really a phenomenon how popular this podcast is.”

Fink and Cranor made an appearance on Stephan Colbert’s show, which helped expand their listenership.

“That was a weird day,” Fink said. “I had never been on TV before. I was fine until the commercial break before we went on. Stephan really makes you feel comfortable.”

Their goal was to take interesting artists and introduce them to the world of podcasting.

“Night Vale Presents,” the podcast’s network of related projects, features shows on social justice, comedy routines, and other side projects, whether they’re by the creators or not.

Fink recently released a nonfiction podcast called “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats,” which is co-hosted by musician John Darnielle, lead vocalist for the band.

“I wanted to have a conversation about art and the fact that I have been a fan of his, but now I have people who are fans of me,” Fink said. “That really changes how you think about being a fan when you have on the other side of the equation.”

In 2015, Fink and Cranor released their first stand-alone novel, Welcome To Night Vale. The question was if a podcast could be transformed into that form. It became a New York Times Bestseller and received unprecedented reviews.

Their second novel, It Devours!, intertwines traditional noir elements with relevant age-old questions.

“With the second one, the question we posed to ourselves was, ‘Can we write a Welcome to Night Vale novel that is a page-turning thriller?’ ” Fink said. “We wanted to write a book about science and religion.”

Featured Act: Comedy: Hari Kondabolu and Aparna Nancherla

Hari Kondabolu was raised in Queens, New York. The hallmark of his childhood was having his high-school mascot named after him. Kondabolu admits that he still tries to live up to the honor.

“I was sheltered in Queens,” Kondabolu said. “I thought the whole country was like that. It was really diverse. I knew people from all over the world, different income levels, and immigration statuses.”

Kondabolu went to college in Maine and majored in comparative politics. He admits that this change of scenery was a bit of a culture shock, but it helped him develop a relatable standup routine, endure rigorous touring schedules, and stay true to his unique personality.

His podcast “Politically Reactive” and his album Mainstream American Comic has solidified Kondabolu as one of the most prolific political comedians to date. He discusses topical issues such as stereotyping, racism, poverty, and bureaucratic corruption.

Kondabolu finds an impeccable balance between serious reflection and humorous satire.

“If they are not laughing, the jokes are not balanced,” he said. “It meant that I did not write a punch line strong enough to justify where I went.”

Kondabolu pursued comedy before he was a political activist. He was discovered in Seattle while working during the day and performing routines at night. The reason he chose comedy for a profession is simple: to protect and heal.

“I do comedy because I like comedy,” he said. “There is no other agenda but me speaking my truth and being funny about it. There is nothing more blunt than standup.”

He said some of his life highlights were opening for Chris Rock in Europe this fall, a half-hour special on Comedy Central, and a standing ovation on David Letterman’s show with his parents in the audience.

Kondabolu is excited about visiting Iowa City. For six-straight years, he performed at Grinnell College but never had a proper show in Iowa City.

“It is a really cool festival with really cool artists. My friend Aparna is headlining a show as well.”

Aparna Nancherla has enjoyed comedic success on the Emmy-winning Netflix series “Master of None,” “Crashing,” and the most recent season of “Inside Amy Schumer.”

“Acting is definitely its own thing; comedy is a rare profession in which you can go in a lot of different directions with it,” Nancherla wrote in an email to the DI. “As an actor, you want to serve the story with your character.”

Her comedy excels with dry wit, philosophical depth, and an observational voice.  Nancherla discusses opical issues such as depression, academic pressures, absurdism, and racial indifference.

“I don’t think my style was a premeditated decision as much as an extension slash distillation of my inner monologue,” she said. “It’s important to raise awareness of issues people with different life experiences might not register, simply by inviting them into my point of view.”

Rolling Stone has named Nancherla one of “The 50 Funniest People Right Now,” and she is recognized as one of the “Top 25 Comedians of 2016” by Paste Magazine.

Though Nancherla does not have any ties to Iowa City, she does love the song “Iowa” by Dar Williams. She is attracted to festivals that are not simply about comedy.

“I love art in general and am thrilled by the ability to see artists of all sorts engaging with their work and facing the same philosophical questions all artists do,” Nancherla said.

Witching Hour

When: Friday-Saturday

Where: Various locations downtown

Admission: Some events are free, others use passes ($40 for one day,

$65 for two days), or tickets

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