River Glen & Band to introduce debut album at James Theater performance

On May 5, River Glen & Band will perform at the James Theater, introducing their debut album, “As Above, So Below,” in a loving tribute to Iowa.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

The James Theater will host the River Glen & Band on Friday for a live debut of the band’s album, “As Above, So Below.” The performance at the James is one of five stops on the band’s tour through the Midwest.

“As Above, So Below” was an endeavor originally undertaken by band member River Breitbach. As the singer and musician put it, he wanted to make the “most Iowa album ever” in a show of love and appreciation for the state that raised him and his artistic talents.

Breitbach was born into a life of music because his family had a band with his older siblings that began busking on street corners before traveling between towns and music festivals. He started playing his first instrument the mandolin at three years old.

As he grew older, Breitbach learned how to play classical instruments in lessons that his parents organized for him while he was homeschooled. His first experience with a band outside his family was “River and the Tributaries,” which he formed in high school.

Breitbach used his knowledge of making music and organizing performances to start the River Glen & Band, which is made up of drummer Justin Leduc, electric guitarist Dan Padley, vocalist and bassist Blake Shaw, and vocalist Megan Roeth. The band’s music is a blend of folk, pop, and rock.

Breitbach was named 2017-18 Fellow by the Iowa Arts Council and given a grant that funded the actualization of his idea for “As Above, So Below,” which features over 150 artists from Iowa that Breitbach met through community outreach or family acquaintances.

Those artists whose work did not make it onto the album were included in Breitbach’s album acknowledgments.

The artists on the album are just as diverse as the genres and subjects of their music. However, the album’s overarching theme is that of mortality, or what Breitbach refers to as the “arc of life to death.” It also includes autobiographical bits of Breitbach’s life and prevalent social messages.

“There’s kind of my attempt at treating music like medicine and using music to speak to these times now in this place,” Breitbach said.

Breitbach said he is ecstatic about the album’s debut and the band’s tour that begins on Monday, but he has not always felt that way.

He originally devoted all his time and energy to the album until halfway through the process when he injured his food. His injury landed him in and out of the hospital over a period of two years.

“Artists need to be lifted up, and then very realistically we don’t blind optimism that’s like ‘You can do anything if you just put your mind to it and push yourself hard enough’ because it’s not that realistic,” Breitbach said. “People still have to be family members and community members and show up in other places.”

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Breitbach said he also found that taking a small step back from the album after five years of work helped him remember his excitement and passion instead of his anxiety over the album’s smallest imperfections that only its creators would notice.

“There’s a danger to having a project open for too long, and a couple times over, I forgot to be excited about it, or needed to stop having feelings about it so that I could be living life without holding space for something for years, which was hard to do,” Breitbach said.

Breitbach has been familiar with the space of the James Theater since he was a child when he performed there with a comedy improv troupe.

James Theater Manager Grace Merritt is excited about the band’s performance and hopes that it continues to encourage audiences to support both the James and other local theaters.

“We continue to hope to be a spot where musicians can find a great community to show their work in and to make sure that local performers have a stage that they feel really comfortable and secure on, and where they feel like they can put on a good show and celebrate the work that they’ve putting in,” Merritt said.