Hawkeyes form Cowpoke, a band without labels

With songs that experiment with different genres, members Elli Bandstra and Aaron Longoria perform in newly formed band Cowpoke, which will perform at The Mill on Nov. 3.

Cowpoke+performs+at+River+City+Housing+Collective+on+Saturday%2C+October+27th%2C+2019.+++As+part+of+a+Halloween+celebration%2C+River+City+Collective+Housing+hosted+various+local+bands+along+with+a+costume+contest.+
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Hawkeyes form Cowpoke, a band without labels

Cowpoke performs at River City Housing Collective on Saturday, October 27th, 2019.   As part of a Halloween celebration, River City Collective Housing hosted various local bands along with a costume contest.

Cowpoke performs at River City Housing Collective on Saturday, October 27th, 2019. As part of a Halloween celebration, River City Collective Housing hosted various local bands along with a costume contest.

Tate Hildyard

Cowpoke performs at River City Housing Collective on Saturday, October 27th, 2019. As part of a Halloween celebration, River City Collective Housing hosted various local bands along with a costume contest.

Tate Hildyard

Tate Hildyard

Cowpoke performs at River City Housing Collective on Saturday, October 27th, 2019. As part of a Halloween celebration, River City Collective Housing hosted various local bands along with a costume contest.

Ashley Dawson, Arts Reporter

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Cowboys and cowgirls are a thing of the past — a band whose namesake is the gender-neutral term “Cowpoke” is making strides in Iowa City’s music scene.

Consisting of vocalist and instrumentalist Elli Bandstra and guitarist Aaron Longoria, the former internet friends teamed up in the spring after Longoria picked up Bandstra’s guitar during a mutual friend’s wine night.

Once the two began to harmonize together with Longoria’s guitar and Bandstra’s voice, Cowpoke jumped into existence with five simple words from Bandstra: “We should start a band.”

Despite this, starting a band came with its challenges. During their very first jam session, the duo did not have any guitar picks, so they used their University of Iowa student IDs. By the end of the session, Bandstra and Longoria had written four songs.

Now, donning their cowboy hats during their sets, the duo plays at house shows and small venues around Iowa City. Bandstra, a UI senior majoring in cinematic arts, stunts her brown hat over her cascading brunette locks, while Longoria, who graduated from the UI in May, wears his black hat over his long, dark hair.

Before forming Cowpoke, Bandstra played piano and guitar throughout her childhood. Although she had quit playing for a while, she brought her guitar to college and began picking the instrument back up. She also plays the ukulele and is trying to teach herself how to play the banjo. Longoria, on the other hand, only plays his guitar in the band.

The majority of Cowpoke’s songs are originals, although the two have not yet recorded any songs together. With hopes to release their first recorded set by the end of November, the only place to hear Cowpoke’s music is at live performances, which they often play alongside bigger names around Iowa City.

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Though they started out small, only playing gigs landed through mutual friends, Cowpoke’s most recent performance was with Dog Dave and Lazy Twitch at the River City Housing Collective’s Halloween Party on Oct. 26. Their next performance will be Nov. 3 at The Mill for the “Songs for SILT” event, alongside Truffle Pig, Not Jupiter, and Scamper.

At these events, a crowd member is likely to hear some of Cowpoke’s original songs, written by both Bandstra and Longoria, such as “Space Cowboy,” “Chardonnay,” and “Bloom Jam.”

“Aaron will have a chord progression, and I’ll just kind of throw some words on there,” Bandstra said. “Our process is very open-ended.”

The band’s tendency to perform varying styles is just as unique as its songwriting process. Including selections from country, western, indie, alternative, and grungy sounds, Longoria describes Cowpoke’s overall sound as “cowboy crunch.” Its various styles play into the group’s goal to move away from genre labels, as well.

“What is genre? What is genre outside of how people are going to label our music?” Longoria said. “We go more for an energy or a vibe.”

The male-female duo also named its band Cowpoke to eliminate the gendered terms “cowboy” and “cowgirl.”

As Longoria said, “Anyone can be a cowpoke.”

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