The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

‘It defines what Iowa City is all about’: Venues prepare for Mission Creek Festival

The festival will take place April 4-6 at a variety of downtown Iowa City music and entertainment venues.
Sudan+Archives+performs+during+a+concert+in+Englert+Theatre+in+Iowa+City+on+the+second+day+of+the+Mission+Creek+Festival+on+April+7%2C+2023.
Matt Sindt
Sudan Archives performs during a concert in Englert Theatre in Iowa City on the second day of the Mission Creek Festival on April 7, 2023.

Musicians, authors, and artists will flood into Iowa City this weekend as Mission Creek Festival gears up.

Celebrating its 19th year, the Mission Creek Festival has been an Iowa City staple event since 2006. The festival is modeled after the original Mission Creek Festival based in San Francisco, California.

The festival prides itself on uniting literature and music enthusiasts alike. It started in 2005 when Andre Perry, the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium’s executive director, moved to Iowa City. Perry worked on the original California Mission Creek as a producer and wanted to bring something similar to Iowa when he moved.

This year, the three-day festival’s lineup includes literary legends like poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib and “In the Dream House” author Carmen Maria Machado.

Some of this year’s music headliners include indie rock singer-songwriters Neko Case and Indigo De Souza on April 4-5 respectively, as well as rock band Osees on April 6.

“… Our programming team works year-round to establish relationships with both national and local agents and artists to book a well-rounded selection of acts,” Ella Kang, Mission Creek Festival senior marketing manager, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Same as previous years, we also opened up direct submissions from local Iowa artists, which I feel gives the festival that homegrown, personal touch.”

Kang added that this year will see additions and changes compared to previous years, including the introduction of a new venue in rotation: ReUnion Brewery on the Pedestrian Mall, will host free shows on April 6.

“We also have a live taping of the renowned variety show Live Wire Radio as our capstone literary event, which should be unlike anything we’ve done in the past,” she wrote.

Mission Creek Festival utilizes multiple venues and shops across Iowa City, including Gabe’s, The Englert Theatre, Riverside Theatre, ReUnion Brewery, Hancher Auditorium, Prairie Lights Bookstore, FilmScene, and more.

Pete McCarthy, a manager at Gabe’s in Iowa City, said the venue has worked with the Mission Creek Festival for over a decade, but individually, he has been with the event since the very beginning.

“We purchased Gabe’s in 2012, and so that would have been the first year that we were involved in Mission Creek,” McCarthy said.

This year, Gabe’s will host multiple artist performances, including Strangers of Necessity, Anthony Worden, Armand Hammer, M Denney, Sqvce, and Pelada. McCarthy said the distribution of artists is based on the size of the venue along with the genre of the artist.

“Gabe’s has always drawn the bigger rock shows, harder rock shows, bigger hip hop shows. It’s definitely been some of the bigger acts have been put at Gabe’s because of the size of the venue, because of the location of the venue,” McCarthy said. “Gabe’s is just a great venue for rock music. We have a great sound system.”

For McCarthy, Mission Creek exemplifies what Iowa City’s music scene is at its core.

“It’s such a wide variety of music. I mean, especially if you look back at some of the early years of 2012, ‘13, and ‘14. I’m just looking at Tuesday through Saturday, the different bands we had at Gabe’s, it was just incredible,” he said. “We’ve had like four or five different completely different genres of music, and each one of the shows was completely packed and just awesome shows.”

This ability to mix genres and draw hundreds of people sets the Mission Creek Festival apart, he said.

“You can’t find many festivals like that. You know, most festivals are genre-specific. There’s festivals out there that mix it up, but nothing like Mission Creek,” McCarthy said. “I think Mission Creek is very unique, and I think it defines what Iowa City is all about.”

Gabe’s began setting up and preparing for Mission Creek the week of March 25. As McCarthy has participated for the past 19 years, he said the festival is a part of his life that he anticipates yearly.

“I look forward to it. I embrace it … I look forward to the bands that they put here. Every time I’m upstairs in Gabe’s, I look at some of the old posters we have, and I just remember some of these great weeks and they never disappoint,” McCarthy said. “I always have a highlight of each year and always look forward to it. I’ve never missed one.”

Riverside Theatre is also gearing up for the event, hosting multiple performances over the three days, including Single File, Hatis Noit, Sunny War, 24thankyou, and Nadah el Shazly.

Adam Knight, producing artistic director at Riverside, said the venue has begun hanging lights and has met with the Mission Creek team repeatedly to ensure that their aspect of the festival runs smoothly.

“We’re just one arm of this but it’s a really fun operation to be a part of, and we just want to make sure that our space is really welcoming for the audience and the artists backstage and that everything looks fantastic on our stage,” Knight said.

Riverside, which was first founded in 1981 and moved into its current location in the Pedestrian Mall in 2022, is another location that allows the Mission Creek Festival to reach more of the Iowa City community, Knight said.

“It was part of our original conceit of the new space was that it might be a place for Mission Creek to utilize during the festival,” Knight said. “I remember when we were contemplating the space had a conversation with Andre Perry, who’s the artistic director of the festival, and we both thought it would be really cool if concerts could be in our space.”

Knight, who came to Riverside after working for 17 years in New York City, said he found it interesting when theater spaces were used for concerts in New York.

“When I did see concerts in theater spaces, I think a theater provides a very interesting thing that a small venue like a bar can’t, and I think the audience sits and listens in a very distinct way when they’re sitting in a small theater, listening to music, and that’s certainly something I’ve seen play out over the last few years that we’ve hosted,” he said.

Similar to Gabe’s, Knight said the curators decide which performances and artists are in each venue during the festival.

“We don’t really have any say, but what I think their curators do really well is tailor the artists to the venue and vice versa,” Knight said. “So, I think the five acts that are going to be playing in our space are really going to shine very well in our [venue] and our size and type of space.”

Kang wrote that Mission Creek remains an integral part of the year for many community members, which keeps it important to Iowa City as a whole.

“This is the 19th year that we’ve had the privilege of hosting the festival, and it continues to be a beacon that calls community members home, even if it’s just for the weekend,” Kang wrote. “There’s definitely a great sense of pride for being able to host something like this in our small city, so the festival means a lot to us.”

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About the Contributor
Kate Perez, Senior Reporter
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Kate Perez is a third-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English and a Writing Certificate. Prior to her role as a Senior Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Kate was a News Editor, a Digital Producer, and an News Reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Kate has held internships at USA TODAY, Iowa Public Radio, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.