Dormant Firecracker 500 kicks back to life

BY KATIE HEINE | JUNE 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sunkissed skin and plenty of rest is apparently all it takes to unleash an event that’s been in a 12-year slumber.

After a successful three-year run in the late 1990s, the Iowa City Firecracker 500 Garage Rock ’N’ Roll Festival lost its way for a more than a decade. But beginning Friday evening, the live music event will be alive and kicking for a three-night affair featuring more than 20 bands at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave.

The festival will kick off on at 7 p.m. Friday, and performances will continue through July 3.

Headlining the three-day celebration are the Coathangers, Paul Cary & the Small Things, and White Mystery/Strange Boys, respectively. Doors will open at 6 p.m. each day, and tickets are $10 per show, $25 for a three-day pass.

And for whatever reasons the festival slipped under the covers, local organizers are stoked for its reawakening.

“We’re tan, rested, and ready,” said Joe Derderian, one of the planners committed to getting the festival back on its feet.

Derderian teamed up with Doug Roberson, the creator and organizer of the first Firecracker Festival in 1997 and current talent buyer for Blue Moose. Together, the two rock ’n’ roll junkies compiled a “wish list” of their favorite bands and whittled it down to the 22 acts that will perform this weekend, Derderian said.

The lineup for this year’s festival includes such local bands as Hott, Slut River, and Lipstick Homicide, and it also boasts a mix of bands from such places as New York, Texas, and Georgia.

“I believe in doing things all the way or not at all, and with Doug’s continued encouragement, we decided to push ourselves,” said Derderian.

Both have an tremendous musical backgrounds, so it’s no surprise they were able to persuade bands from near and far to perform.

And while Iowa may not be seen as a likely destination for rock ’n’ roll bands, Derderian said, it doesn’t have to be perceived that way. Iowa City is between the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Omaha, and St. Louis — playing a gig here is a logical routing decision.

“Iowa City deserves to be more than just a flyover area to touring bands,” Derderian said.

Because the Firecracker Festival has been beneath the sheets for several years, organizers utilized social media not only for booking purposes but also to inform the public about the “return of the beast,” as Derderian calls the fest.

Roberson said he was happy to have the festival back in action, especially because festivals are preferred in the music scene.

“People are so much more acclimated to festivals,” he said. “They like organized events so they can plot out where they’re going to be and who they’re going to see.”

Craig Ziegenhorn played in the 1999 Firecracker 500 Festival with his band, Liberty Leg. And on July 3, the four-piece band will bust out its blues-inspired tunes.

“It was great; I even recorded it,” said Ziegenhorn as he recalled one of his first gigs with Liberty Leg. “It should be a really good time.”

Roberson said he’s heard positive feedback about bringing back the festival. And he said he intends to ensure it becomes an annual event.

But booking festivals can sometimes be a “gamble,” Roberson said, because there’s always a chance of losing money.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said. “That’s the nature of rock and roll.”

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