Big Grove brings the blues back, with several Midwestern musicians

The Big Grove Brewery will feature five acts this weekend, each providing a different take on the blues.



Sarah Stortz, Arts Reporter

Based on the foundation of the blues, several musicians will gather this weekend at Big Grove Backyard Blues Festival to give their unique interpretation of the music.

The Big Grove Brewery & Taproom will host its first Big Grove Backyard Blues Festival starting at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The featured artists will include Kevin “B.F.” Burt & Big Medicine, Hooten Hallers, Katy Guillen & the Girls, Tanya English Band, and Matt Woods.

Brian Johannesen, the Big Grove talent buyer, said he has tried to bring more outdoor music events to the establishment since it opened last year.

“We’ve had all these acts play in the taproom, and they are all incredible, and they all bring something different to the table, so we thought it’d be really cool to see them all on a bill together,” Johannesen wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “The coolest part for me was how unique all of their perspectives on the blues is. I think, sometimes, people think of the blues as all sounding the same, and while it does have a somewhat rigid structure, there are so many different ways to express yourself through the blues.”

It doesn’t rely on technical prowess or clever songwriting. It’s just this raw emotion that comes through the simplicity of it. You don’t really need to be a technical master to play [the blues], you just have to find the feeling

— John Randall

Woods, a American roots musician native to Iowa, has performed in numerous local, regional, and national venues since 2002. During his career, he has released two solo albums and two albums with his band, the Thunderbolts.

“It seems like breweries are becoming a big thing in Iowa because people are enjoying live music,” Woods said. “It’s always great to have access to that and have work when we need it.”

There are difficulties in his job, he said, and he often believes he plays background music to certain audiences.

“It’s difficult to put that out every night and get nothing in return,” he said. “It can be kind of grind, especially if you’re playing a lot and you’re away from home.”

John Randall, one of the vocalists and the guitarist for Hooten Hallers, said he believes the blues appeals to many because of how it conveys emotion.

“It doesn’t rely on technical prowess or clever songwriting,” Randall said. “It’s just this raw emotion that comes through the simplicity of it. You don’t really need to be a technical master to play [the blues], you just have to find the feeling.”

While performing, Woods said, he often notices a generation gap among his listeners, with younger people seemingly not so interested in the genre.

“It’s hard to get their attention, probably because they have a lot of options of what to listen to,” he said. “I think [the blues] can reach all ages if people are open to it.”

With the event taking place in a college town, Randall said, the blues can connect to a younger generation of concert aficionados.

“There are definitely young folks who are discovering and enjoying this kind of music,” he said. “Whatever music you listen to, you’re going to find the blues in there somewhere.”

Tanya English, the lead singer for the Tanya English Band and a Coralville native, said she believes there’s a common misconception about the blues solely focusing on sadness.

“It’s not all about being depressed,” English said. “Sometimes, it can be about something more uplifting. Uplifting that [sadness] into something higher is amazing.”

With all of the musicians taking a unique perspective on the genre, she said, she will be excited about being around other musicians who share her passion.

“I love being with other musician playing the blues,” English said. “It’s such a family.”