Iowa legend returns to the Mill

BY NINA EARNEST | JUNE 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Forty years ago, musician Greg Brown was a cheap act to book.

David Olive, who booked shows at a campus venue called the Wheel Room, said he brought Brown in for “10 bucks and free beer.”

“He mostly cared about the beer,” Olive said.

But throughout the years, Brown’s acclaim has grown, and his talent as a singer and songwriter is now legendary. Giants of music such as Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana have covered selections from his wide repertoire of songs.

Yet the native Iowan and Grammy-nominated folk artist continues his relationship with Iowa City. Brown is back in town to play an 8 p.m. show at the Mill today.

Tonight’s visit to the 120 E. Burlington St. venue marks the release of his new album, Freak Flag, from Yep Roc Records.

“I wasn’t sure for a while that I would do more recording,” Brown said in a press release. “I had done a fair amount, and the business is in a shambles. But I thought, hey — maybe it would be good to put another one out — tender songs for harsh times.”

Mill owner Marty Christensen said the venue is glad to host the event, simply one long set by Brown without opening acts.

“He has a history with the Mill that goes back to the start of his career, and he has played many amazing shows there,” Christensen wrote in an e-mail.

The owner said Brown used to play one Sunday every month when original owner Keith Dempster managed the establishment — and at each performance, the following show would soon be sold out.
Mill talent buyer Andre Perry, who booked tonight’s performance, said he had been in conversation with Brown’s agent for some time. The artist, Perry said, had wanted to do a special show at the Mill and the release of the new album was the ideal opportunity.

“We just thought it would be nice to have him back,” Perry said.

Perry said Brown has played at several larger venues in the past few years and had fewer opportunities to perform in smaller locations.

Yet the Mill, closed-in and intimate, creates a different atmosphere.

“There’s not much separation between [the audience] and the musician,” Perry said.

In 2003, Olive filmed Last Night … at the Mill to document a Brown performance then thought to be the last the Mill would host.

“The Mill is something that fostered [Brown] but other people as well,” Olive said. “I think there is a real place for places like that, particularly in a genesis town like Iowa City.”

But the Mill is still open after all these years. And Brown, one of its legendary performers, keeps coming back.

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