Mission Creek Festival 2023 transforms Iowa City in celebration of music and literature

From all-encompassing listening experiences to traditional rock and folk, festival attendees were sure to find something to enjoy.


Matt Sindt

Singer and guitarist Kevin Morby and saxophonist Cochemea Gastelum perform on stage during a Kevin Morby concert at Englert, in Iowa City, during the Mission Creek Festival on Saturday, April 8, 2023.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Assistant Digital Editor

Downtown Iowa City tends to be fairly lively as the weather starts to warm, with students and families walking and exploring the city streets.

This year’s Mission Creek Festival — which took place April 6-8 — transcended that norm.

Across the city, festivalgoers took this year’s event in stride, making the most out of the three-day celebration of music and literature. From the main headliners to the free stages in smaller settings, audience members were more than ready to enjoy the arts.

One of the most energetic audiences could be seen during Sudan Archive’s set on Day 2 of the festival at the Englert Theatre.

The show started with Sudan Archives walking onstage, violin strapped to her shoulder, with the audience immediately captivated. As soon as the music started to pick up, the audience rushed to the front of the theatre and began dancing.

Sudan Archive’s style was dramatically distinct, melding several genres to create her own sound. During the show, she said the media tends to label her work as R&B, which she doesn’t find entirely accurate. The violinist said she draws inspiration from Irish jigs and bases her work on that foundation.

Throughout her set, the audience was enthralled by Sudan Archive’s performance. At several points throughout the show, the performer walked into the crowd to dance.

Les Izmore and Jade Green were two attendees in the audience from Kansas City and were front and center during the show, cheering and dancing along the entire time.

 “I wouldn’t have expected it in Iowa City, I’ll say that,” Green said.

The two said they had been following Sudan Archives’ music career since her first album came out in 2017. Izmore described the show as outlandish and said it was one of the greatest things they had seen in a long time.

Izmore and Green are creators in the music industry, and alongside being entertaining, they said the concert educated and inspired them.

“I’m really excited to kind of apply what I’ve seen as a performing artist,” Green said.

Following the high-energy performance of Sudan Archives came headliner Lindsey Jordan, who is more commonly known as Snail Mail.

Throughout the show, Jordan had great banter and chemistry with her fellow performers, at one point accepting a challenge to complete 10 pushups on stage.

The setlist was packed with heavy hitters, from Jordan’s “Speaking Terms,” a song that describes the struggles of a failing relationship, to her most popular song “Pristine,” which emulates the tragedy of pining after someone who doesn’t reciprocate those feelings.

While the energy was drastically different, the audience maintained the high, supportive energy displayed during Sudan Archive’s set.

The final Mission Creek performance at the Englert Theatre was by indie-rock artist Kevin Morby on April 8.

During Morby’s set, the stage was adorned with roses and a myriad of instruments that were used throughout the show. Musicians on guitar, bass, drums, and keys were present, accompanied by other slightly abnormal instruments, including a cowbell, saxophone, flute, and more.

Morby’s music was littered with illustrative and powerful metaphors, showing his talent in the songwriting department. Such is a common trait for artists signed with independent record label Dead Oceans, which represents several artists known for their lyricism like Mitski and Bright Eyes.

While the main stage shows garnered a great deal of attention and attendees, several other stages also showcased incredible talent over the weekend.

University of Iowa student Myles Evangelista performed under the name mars hojilla at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe on April 8. The venue buzzed at full capacity.

The show started with an energetic cover of “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees before they moved into their own music. Evangelista was supported by Chloe Weidl on drums and Paras Bassuk on bass.

The pop-rock artist’s song “Pinocchio” stood out and received a long and loud round of applause from the audience. Evangelista said the song was based on their experiences divorcing from the catholic church and coming out as transgender.

Other themes in Evangelista’s work included a piece that was about clowning on performative activists and a few softer ballads on friendship and love. These concepts clearly resonated with audience members, as Evangelista and their co-performers received enthusiastic cheers after every piece.

Greg Wheeler & The Poly Mall Cops also garnered a fairly large crowd at Gabe’s on April 8. Contrasting heavily with other performances, Greg Wheeler & The Poly Mall Cops presented garage punk that was loud and undeniably fun.

The audience near the front of the stage was nearly as fervent as the performers, dancing and moshing to the high-energy songs.

Riverside Theatre also hosted performances this year, with acts including Extravision and Ebony Tusks. The venue itself was rather unique, with a relatively small stage where the audience was seated right in front of the performers.

Ebony Tusks used the space to its advantage, with the lead performer walking up and down the center aisle to interact with audience members. The show was powerful, presenting an experiment of sound that melded rap with nontraditional and vivid accompanying noise.

The most magical part of Mission Creek Festival is the diversity in style and genre it presents. If an audience member is not enjoying a show, all they need to do is cross the street to a different venue and discover a wildly different experience.

From all-encompassing listening experiences to traditional rock and folk, Mission Creek Festival offered music for a variety of attendees to enjoy.

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