Summer of the Arts in the Spring at the Englert raises the roof for arts community funding

On Sunday, March 26, the Englert Theatre hosted the ‘Summer of the Arts in the Spring’ event to raise funds for Summer of the Arts festivities, showcasing local bands and conducting a silent auction.


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Winterland performs at the Summer of the Arts in the Spring event at the Englert Theater on Sunday, March 26 2023.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

From the Old West to underground bars to summer road trips, Iowa City’s local bands took audiences on an eclectic trip through time and sound in a show of support for Summer of the Arts.

The Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City hosted a fundraiser on March 26 to raise money for the Summer of the Arts and to kick off the theater’s spring season.

For 40 years, the Summer of the Arts program has organized festivals that showcase artists and immerse the local community in free entertainment.

This season’s fundraiser featured performances from six local bands: The Beaker Brothers, Dandelion Stompers, Dave Zollo & the Body Electric, The Savage Hearts, The Recliners, and Winterland.

The Beaker Brothers opened the event strong with a slower rock style and a keyboard that integrated a contemporary, synth-like sound. From the first note, audience members gathered at the front of the stage to dance in a mosh pit.

The Dandelion Stompers, a jazz band made up of string and woodwind instruments, followed the opening act. The rich voice of the lead vocalist, Katie Roche, transported audience members back in time to what felt like the era of flappers.

Iowa City resident Amy Schoon attended the Dandelion Stompers live show for the first time on Sunday. She said she was thrilled to hear the band’s music, especially because one of their featured instruments was a clarinet, which she grew up playing.

Schoon is a long-time supporter of the arts, and she values the contributions that Summer of the Arts has made to the community, she said.

“I’ve never lived in a place that had this rich of a local music scene,” Schoon said. “It’s just such a wide variety of different music and talent for all ages, and it’s just so exciting.”

The third band, Dave Zollo & the Body Electric, brought classic rock to the stage, with hints of heartland rock reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Zollo, keyboardist and lead vocalist, carved an iconic image on the stage with a fedora and a lack of shoes.

In the fourth slot of the night, The Savage Hearts sent audiences back to western saloons with exceptional fiddle playing supported by the deeper twining of acoustic guitar and electric guitar plucking.

The Recliners combined a similar western sound with a slower classic rock to invoke nostalgia and take audiences on what felt like a cross-country road trip. One of their notable performances was a cover of “Alice” by Jefferson Airplane, which raised the audience’s goosebumps thanks to powerful vocals by Sasha Alexander.

Kevin Hanick, another band member, is also the event’s organizer and former president of the Summer of the Arts program.

Hanick said he was concerned with the reach of promotion for the event but was pleased by the turnout. He said he hopes audiences leave with a stronger appreciation for Summer of the Arts and an inspiration to support the local music scene this spring.

“I think Summer of the Arts is a significant contributor to quality of life in Iowa City,” Hanick said. “We put on literally hundreds of free events every summer. They’re free and family friendly. We bring people downtown for the arts, the music, and the food. And it’s been a long-standing thing that we value.”

Winterland, the final group of the night, played vibrant and lively Grateful Dead tributes. Ironically, their music felt anything but wintry, instead immersing audiences in the vibes of summer sunshine.

Raising money for the arts comes after millions of arts-related funding was cut in 2020 by the state Board of Regents. As a result, the UI has ceased allocating funding to the Englert Theatre and Hancher Auditorium.

Since the budget cuts, the Summer of the Arts has persisted by organizing events like the Summer of the Arts in the Spring to raise more money and encourage more volunteers to join the program.

Before the final concert ended, every band took to the stage to collaborate on one large piece. Hanick shined a spotlight on several musicians throughout the song, improvising as he went along. The final performance was a heartwarming show of camaraderie among musicians and created an incredible mixture of unique styles.

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