Iowa native Bern plays Mill

BY RILEY UBBEN | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Dan Bern has never had much of a backup plan. Being a musician was always his only option.

“The last straight job I had was teaching tennis about 20 years ago,”he said.

The Iowa-born folksinger will perform with Sam Knutson at 9 p.m. March 13 at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. Admission is $17.

Sam Locke-Ward, the manager of the Mill, said that fans are eager to see Bern return to his home state.

“He’s a good songwriter,” Locke-Ward said. “People were always raving about him, and they want him to come back.”

Bern’s last appearance in Iowa City came during tough circumstances for the area. The songwriter was part of a benefit concert at the Old Brick in 2008 to raise money for victims of that year’s flood.

He also wrote songs for and participated in the “Moving Home” production in Cedar Rapids.

“It was great to be able to do something at that time,” he said.

The singer is no stranger to using his music for social causes. Influenced heavily by Bob Dylan, Bern’s lyrics often grapple with political issues, from health care to the war in Iraq. “President” is a humorous song that walks the listener through the songwriter’s political views by answering the question “What would Dan Bern do if he were president?” In “Talkin’ Tea Party Blues,” he criticizes some of the more hypocritical aspects of the recent political movement.

While including political views in a song runs the risk of alienating fans, University of Iowa freshman Kane Martin thinks that aspect of Bern’s music makes it that much more memorable.

“I think a lot of artists stay clear of the political side of things because they don’t want to scare away [fans],” Martin said. “When people such as Bern sing about the political stuff, it becomes a little footnote in history. It definitely gives music that ’60s feel, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.”

Bern’s music isn’t always wrapped up in politics, however. His sense of humor is a big part of his appeal — so much that filmmakers in Hollywood have taken notice. Bern was approached to write songs for the Judd Apatow production Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, as well as Get Him to the Greek.

In “Royal Jelly,” one of the songs found in Walk Hard, John C. Reilly channels Bob Dylan’s signature drawl and spouts off lines of nonsense that are supposedly “very deep.” The song proves that Bern is even willing to poke fun at one of his music idols.

With 18 releases in his discography, one would think that writing music for films would be enough extra work for Bern. However, the prolific songwriter also finds the time to put together a series of short films and short stories for his website.

“You’ve got to do something,” he said. “I like to keep busy and juggle things.” “Having a little family to support is all the incentive I need to keep churning.”

He doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. The artist looks forward to releasing more music after his current tour, in addition to getting back on the tennis court for some quality time with his 1-year-old daughter.

“I have two records that are close to completion,” Bern said. “And my daughter’s backhand needs attention.”

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