Live from Linn Street: Goosetown Cafe hosts outdoor shows

In order to provide entertainment during the pandemic, Goosetown Cafe has provided live outdoor music for customers dining on Linn Street and visiting area businesses.


Kate Heston

Blake Shaw and Dan Padley perform outside Goosetown Cafe on Tuesday Oct. 7, 2020. Guests watched from their tables outside as others gathered within the street to listen.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

Golden sunlight streamed through auburn-clad trees near Goosetown Cafe as local bass player and vocalist Blake Shaw and guitarist Dan Padley prepared for their set on a peaceful weekday afternoon in Iowa City.

The performance, held on Oct. 7, has been one of several hosted by the café. As the weather cools, local musicians are able to soak up their final opportunities to perform live safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a section of Linn St. that has been closed off for outdoor dining.

That Wednesday evening, the day drifted into a peaceful lull while the cafe’s customers sipped drinks and chatted, surrounded by the sounds of Shaw and Padley’s jazzy music and quirky comments between songs. At one point in the show, a father and daughter twirled around in some empty space between their table and the sidewalk.

“Playing anywhere again feels amazing, but it’s difficult,” Shaw told The Daily Iowan. “Before, when we played almost every weekend, our skills were honed, and most things felt second nature. Nowadays, my playing is just a bit more cautious. The music we play consists of a lot of listening and reacting to what we hear. It’s a fun game to see what we can come up with and remember how we’ve played stuff before.”

Shaw and Padley used to play at Goosetown Cafe before COVID-19, when the restaurant would have live music every Thursday. While staying primarily at home earlier in the year, Shaw was doing live streams of his music to help him stay connected. Even though he’s playing for a live audience again, he said he thinks he’ll keep live streams in his life.

“We’ve had a great response to playing outside of Goosetown,” he said. “Not only is it a beautiful scene, but it sounds good too. The natural reverb of the buildings is fun to play around with and the people are hungry for live music.”

Goosetown manager Peter Kessler said he has been especially pleased with the outdoor shows because it means he has the ability to employ people. In March, the restaurant had 30 people working who were furloughed for around three months. Currently, Goosetown has a staff of 15.

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“It allows everybody to go back to some normalcy that allows people to make money, whether it’s performing or working in a restaurant,” Kessler said of the current arrangement. “It allows customers to eat at a restaurant as opposed to eating at home again.”

Elizabeth Moen is another performer taking part in the feeling of normalcy from Goosetown’s live music. The musician played a solo show on Oct. 9.

“Goosetown was very serious about COVID safety precautions, so I felt comfortable being there and playing in my distanced pod,” Moen said. “It felt good to play for other people and feel connected to people again in a way I hadn’t for seven months.”

Kessler said Goosetown pays its artists a couple hundred dollars to perform, as well as any tips they receive during the performance through Venmo or a tip jar.

“At the end of the year, we hope to make a five percent profit off of all of our sales,” the manager said. “To give a couple hundred dollars on a single night is a little bit of a risk — but I know I’m going to fill up that street, though — so I know that I’m a little bit protected.”

The music, Kessler added, contributes to Linn Street’s energy and atmosphere. Even before the pandemic, live performances at Goosetown has drawn a special crowd.

“Music brings in a different group of people, many who come just to see live music. If I don’t have live music, I may not see that segment of people,” he said. “Music makes us a destination place to go visit as opposed to any other restaurant anybody could go to at any point; it becomes a spot you gotta go to.”

He plans the live shows by monitoring the 10-day weather forecast and picking the day of the week that looks the warmest or nicest. The street will be closed off for outdoor dining until December, so Kessler plans to continue live music as long as he can, and wants to reopen the outdoor dining in the spring next year.

Along with those hopes for next year, Goosetown Cafe will continue its autumn shows with Iowa City band Nielo and the Seeds of Hope will be performing at Goosetown Cafe on Oct. 14.

“We’re the luckiest restaurant in town to have a street that’s shut down and the ability to put 20 to 25 tables outside,” the manager said. “We have a formula that works well in this pandemic setting in which we can safely serve people with a great amount of distance between tables, and provide entertainment.”