319 Music Festival returns for second year

BY ERIC HAWKINSON | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Local musician David Zollo said almost everywhere he goes, he’s recognized as some sort of a performer. With shaggy hair, piercing hazel eyes, and heavily tatted arms, the Iowa City native has a certain appeal that’s striking and something he has come to terms with.

“I have little old ladies who will come up to me when I’m dressed up in a suit, and they’ll say, ‘Are you some kind of entertainer?’” the 41-year old said, then chuckled.

Beyond the keys on his piano, he considers himself like any other community member. As a major contributor to Neighborhood Centers for Johnson County, Zollo has been one of the driving forces behind the annual 319 Music Festival, which aims to positively affect the community on Iowa City’s Southeast Side. The festival, in its second year, will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Weatherby Park, 2400 Taylor Drive. Admission is free.

AmeriCorps Vista lead coordinator Ryan Fischer said Zollo helped enlist musicians such as Dave Bess, who will bring a variety of genres to the festival. He’s also worked to enlist other musicians, including Idris Goodwin, Kevin “BF” Burt, Agri Cultor, Midwest Quality, Saul Lubaroff & Quartet, Rae & the Honeybees, and the Uniphonics.

“It’s a wide range of styles, and I think a lot of talent,” Zollo said. “I’d put the talent here up against anywhere I’ve been, and I’ve been everywhere, for better or worse.”

Since last year’s festival, the Southeast side has seen positive effects in the community as a whole, said Sue Freeman, the program director of Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. In a difficult year that included the city’s putting a curfew ordinance in place, many saw the Southeast Side becoming a scapegoat.

“In particular, [the festival is] really looking at how we can positively focus attention on the Southeast Side of Iowa City,” Freeman said. “How can we bring arts and music programming to the Southeast Side and, for us, really celebrate this park and celebrate this community?

Zollo said music is a powerful force that can be used to bring people together.

“[Music is] important to everybody,” Zollo said. “I realized long before I became a musician that there’s no accounting for taste, and while you can argue over a pitcher of beer at the Deadwood all you want about the merits of certain types of craft, music really is free of that kind of conversation.”

The festival was a way to turn around the conceptions about this part of town to so people could see a working-class community focused on family, children, and decent, affordable housing.

“You don’t have to be afraid of the Southeast side. We felt it kicked off a really positive summer,” Freeman said. “We had people collaborating on programming; we had tremendous volunteer support. We would like this to be an annual event; we want Iowa City to continue to focus attention on the positive part.”

Zollo grew up on this side of town and understands where some of the misconstrued feelings about the Southeast Side come from. He said there has definitely been crime there, but it’s all contextual and can happen anywhere. He doesn’t believe any parts of Iowa City are “dangerous” or “threatening.” He said people have taken the idea that it’s a rougher place than it really is.

“When we ghetto-ize a place in our minds, everything else follows,” Zollo said. “So I think it’s important to stop that process before it starts.”

As a longtime Iowa City musician, he is energized by the opportunities to give back. He identifies himself as a normal member of the community who just happens to be a musician.

“I don’t think what I do as a musician is going to change the course of history, but I do think it means a lot to people,” he said. “It’s just like any other cultural experience. The reason I still do it is, Well, what else am I going to do? Sell insurance?”

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