Englert Mission Creek Festival returns live

The annual festival put on by the Englert Theatre to celebrate music and literature will return to Iowa City for the first time in-person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


James Year

Closet Witch drummer, Royce Kurth, performs at Gabe’s during Mission Creek’s Underground Showcase on Saturday, April 7, 2018. They describe themselves as a grindcore band. The style is known for its highly aggressive punk, heavy metal, and industrial influences.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

Musicians, poets, and writers from all over the country will flood the downtown Iowa City area this weekend to celebrate music and literature. The events will mark the return of Englert Theatre’s Mission Creek Festival after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The three-day festival will present 12 literary artists and 39 musical artists, including headliners Beach Bunny and Soccer Mommy, and will take place across several different Iowa City locations, such as the Englert Theatre, Gabe’s, FilmScene, Big Grove Brewery, Prairie Lights, and Riverside Theatre. The festival aims to bring in both recognizable and underground artists who represent a variety of cultures.

Englert’s Senior Programming Manager  Brian Johannesen said the festival is very accessible and representative of Iowa City. It offers both ticketed and free events that “encapsulate” Iowa City’s best artistic qualities, he said.

RELATED: Englert Theatre announces 2021 Mission Creek lineup

Johannesen said the festival layout is different from how it’s been done in the past. This year, Mission Creek will take on a more “traditional” layout, with more time between performances and separate locations around the city serving as “stages,” rather than entirely different venues.

“There are several paths that you can take depending on your tastes and music, to make sure that people are able to see everything they want to see and also give them time and space to go check out something new and different that they haven’t seen before,” Johannesen said.

One of the festival’s keynote speakers, Golden, is a poet and photographer out of Boston.

Golden said they have never been to Iowa before, let alone Iowa City, and that they truly “don’t know what to expect.”

“I feel like I would never pick it up on a map, but I’m excited because I’ve also obviously done a lot of research before, and Mission Creek has had several different poets that I love,” Golden said.

Golden graduated from New York University in 2018 with a BFA in photography, and is the recipient of several fellowships and awards, most recently a Women Photograph Project Grant and the Mass Cultural Council Fellowship in Photography in 2021.

Their work centers around the intersections of Blackness, gender, and family in the U.S., they said, because they write from their personal perspective on being a Black trans person.

Golden added that being able to write about their family in their poetry is what moves them the most emotionally within the medium.

Even though Golden’s work is based on their identity and personal experiences, they said these topics can be broad, and because of that, their poetry is really more about people in general.

Golden said that, when speaking at an event, they think of it more as a performance than a reading. Once they take the stage, they have their poems memorized and incorporate their photography into the performance.

Golden’s performance will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday at FilmScene as part of a keynote literature reading — a reading meant to unify the audience with common themes and ideas — with Eve L. Ewing and Fariha Róisín. Golden said they don’t know much about the other keynote readers, but they look forward to getting the chance to observe and learn from them.

“I love joint readings because I get the chance to get a deeper dive into people’s work, and I feel like it allows me to be like ‘I love poetry,’” Golden said. “That’s the thing that brings you there, and I feel like, you know, sometimes you’re reading by yourself, and it can be kind of just about you, but I love to sit back, I love to hear new things, so I’m excited for that.”

Though Golden has never been to Iowa City, that isn’t the case for all Mission Creek artists. Ella Williams, who goes by the stage name Squirrel Flower, went to Grinnell College in Iowa — this will be her third time playing the Mission Creek Festival.

Williams was 19 years old when she performed at her first Mission Creek festival, opening for a literature reading at Revival boutique on the Pedestrian Mall.

RELATED: Mission Creek Festival canceled for 2020

Her second Mission Creek appearance was in 2018, where she opened for musician Julien Baker at the Englert, which she said was a much bigger show and a very different experience.

This year, Williams will take the stage at 11 p.m. at Riverside Theatre on Friday. She said she looks forward to coming back to Iowa City, which isn’t a far commute from where she now resides in Chicago.

“I just love the Iowa scene and everybody there so much, and I’m just stoked to be back in Iowa City,” she said. “I’m staying for the whole weekend, so I’m really excited to see a lot of inspiring music.”

Williams, who is known for her live performances, said being able to perform in person is her most genuine way of expressing herself. At Mission Creek, her set will include solo and full band music, with some heavy rock influences.

Williams said something she enjoys about Mission Creek is that it is not a huge corporate festival, and that it is truly about art. Something that sets the festival apart from others is how it celebrates music and literature collectively, Williams said, allowing people in attendance to explore different artistic mediums.

“It really is about the art,” Williams said. “I think having a mix of literature and music shows, that it's just more interesting, you know, more variety and more crossover and more to experience.”