Local music legend Greg Brown to hold retirement performance at the Englert

With a nearly 50 year-long career making folk music and touring the country, Iowa City music legend Greg Brown will retire with a 2-day performance at the Englert Theatre.


Brett Roseman

Greg Brown sings while playing to full house at the Mill on Sunday Apr. 30, 2000. (Brett Roseman/The Daily Iowan)

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

Greg Brown’s nearly 50-year career music career is coming to an end — but he’s ending on a positive note. On Feb. 16 and 17, Brown will perform one last concert at the Englert Theater.

The two-day performance will send Brown off to his much-awaited retirement after traveling the Midwest — and the county — as a folk legend. The Iowa singer and guitarist is originally from Fairfield, Iowa, and released his first LP with fellow musician Dick Pinney in 1974 titled “Hackelbarney.”

When he was 19 years old and a student at the University of Iowa, Brown signed up for a talent competition and won. His prize was opening at a campus concert for fellow folk singer Eric Andersen, who told Brown he should move to New York. After getting his name out there at various labels in New York and Los Angeles, Brown opted to return to Iowa.

In the 1980s, Brown’s career began to pick up. He solidified his regional fame on the radio variety show “A Prairie Home Companion,” on which he regularly performed. He then self-published two more solo albums in 1980 and 1981, titled “44 & 66” and “The Iowa Waltz,” with the latter gaining more regional popularity. From there, Brown’s recognition only grew.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Brown wrote that some of the highlights of his career include the sheer volume of albums he has recorded — which stands at a total of 30, as well as many features on others — and getting to play in locations many folk singers have not.

“Some of the highlights would be touring around France and Italy, recording a bunch of albums, and getting to meet and jam with many wonderful musicians,” Brown wrote.

He started his first of many collaborations with Iowan guitarist Bo Ramsey — who will perform alongside Brown at the Englert — in 1989 after the success of his eighth album, “One Big Town.” Ramsey debuted in Williamsburg, Iowa, back in 1973 as frontman for the Mother Blues Band. Ramseys’ big break came in 1994 when he went on tour with Lucinda Williams as her opening act. In 1993, Brown received his first Grammy nomination for “Friend of Mine,” which he created alongside Bill Morrissey. In 1996, his album “Further In” received a four-star review in Rolling Stone. His 1997 release, “Slant 6 Mind,” earned Brown his second Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional Folk Album category.

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In the 2000s, Brown continued to release album after album, including “The Evening Call” in 2006, which was featured on an episode of NPR’s “On Point.” In 2010, Brown collaborated with singer Anaïs Mitchell on her album “Hadestown.” Brown released his final collection in 2012 titled “Hymns to What Is Left.”

The Englert Theatre describes Brown as an artist who “moves audiences with warmth, humor, a thundering voice, and his unpretentious musical vision.” Senior programming manager Brian Johannesen wrote in an email to the DI that Brown is a “cultural institution” in Iowa City.

“As I have met and worked with songwriters all over the country, whenever I bring up Iowa City, they almost always mention Greg Brown,” Johannesen wrote. “He has been an inspiration to songwriters across generations; proof that simplicity, honesty, and the ability to wring meaning out of the small things in life is still the best recipe for a good song.”

Johannesen noted that Brown’s performances at the Englert will be bittersweet after many other shows on the same stage. Brown is succeeded musically by his daughter, Pieta Brown, who last performed her indie-Americana sound in Iowa City in 2018.

Although his performance at the Englert will be his last official concert, Brown noted that he may do a few benefit concerts from time to time in the future. His advice for any Iowan musicians hoping to make it big does not follow a similar path to his own.

“I would suggest to young aspiring musicians in Iowa that they move,” Brown wrote in an email to the DI. “Iowa under the present administration has become a cruel and toxic place, with no respect for our land, or water, or little else other than agribusiness profits.”