Come evening, UI workers whirl into blues band


Though their genre receives little attention in Iowa City, the blues masterminds of Tornadoes do their part in keeping the music flowing.

“Musical tastes in a college town are a little more fickle than they would be in a factory town such as Davenport or Moline,” guitarist Bob Goffstein said. Tornadoes will play at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington, at 8 p.m. today. Admission is $6.

For 13 years, this contemporary, yet classically electric blues band has been keeping itself busy, playing almost three times a month and taking the occasional hiatus for the members’ professional careers.

Goffstein did a residency at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, and he is now a practicing ophthalmologist. Harmonica player Jim Rossen is an UIHC cardiologist, and bassist Dan Berkowitz is a journalism professor as well as an associate dean at the UI Graduate College. Rich Paterson, the band’s drummer, helps run the power plant and is the only member of the group with a degree in music.

But after nightfall on most weekend nights, these bearded professionals by day shed ties and jackets for jeans and a stage.

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The group’s most recent gig was the Iowa City Jazz Fest this summer, its third Jazz Fest since the members formed the band. And luck was on Tornadoes’ side when it the members decided to start playing again.

“It’s always a good time,” Goffstein said. “But this time the weather was bad before we started, so none of the stages except ours were ready to go. And then we got another half-hour set later in the afternoon.”

The band, which originated in Iowa City and doesn’t do much traveling beyond Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities, has run into difficulties with its chosen name and the age of the Internet.

“[The name is] hard to find on the Internet,” Goffstein. “But it’s the old Babe Ruth thing. It doesn’t matter what they say about you just as long as they spell your name right.”

But there’s a perk to name the band after a natural disaster in the heart of the Midwest.

“Every spring, we get free publicity,” Goffstein said. “Tornadoes Destroy Vinton. Tornadoes Demolish Houses.”

When the members of the band aren’t playing as Tornadoes or working their day jobs, they have their own side projects to occupy time.

While drummer Paterson has a small project with another area blues artist, the remaining three musicians have formed their own small band, Blue Midnight Trio.

“When we want to be able to play more quietly [we play with Blue Midnight Trio],” Goffstein said. “When people want to eat or talk while we play. It has different sound and different audience.”

The band that’s so feverishly keeping blues alive in and around Iowa City rarely has a difficult time seeing the silver lining.

“It’s sort of more a genre du jour here, but the blues is always around,” Goffstein said. “Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, but it’s always around.”

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