Seldom Seen music festival combines urban and rural influences

BY BRETT KARLAN | JUNE 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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The comment was something one might expect from an old farmer reclining in a chair on his front porch. Certainly, it was odd coming from the mouth of a 21-year-old festival organizer sitting at a noisy table in the Java House.

“We’ve checked the Farmers’ Almanac, and [the weather] is supposed to be really nice,” said Zoey Miller, a co-organizer of the Seldom Seen music, literature, and arts festival.

The juxtaposition of urban and rural is one of the driving forces behind Seldom Seen. It will occur over two days, Friday and Saturday, on a farm near Monmouth, Iowa. Tickets are $15, available through the Englert box office, 221 E. Washington St. Check-in for campers will begin at 3 p.m. Friday, with the first show starting at 6 p.m.

The farm is owned by the family of Therese Mulgrew, a co-organizer of the festival.

“I started this festival on my own because I grew up on the farm, but I moved away in high school,” Mulgrew said. “I was sort of nostalgic about it, and I always wanted to start a little event out there that surrounded live music.”

So that’s what she did three years ago. Now, with co-organizers Miller and Emily Kane on board, Mulgrew wants to grow that idea. They have partnered with the Englert Theater to sell tickets for the first time and have expanded the festival beyond music.

Friday night is devoted to literature, with readings by Iowa City-based Lucas Mann, the Iowa City Spoken Word Collective, and headliner Kyle Beachy, among others.

“I got an email out of the blue one afternoon and immediately agreed to the invitation,” Beachy wrote in an email.

“I’m going to read a series of short things that I hope will hold people’s attention at the hour, after a long day, on a farm in the middle of Iowa,” he said. “I’m also … going to have a couple full days of creative time on the farm and hope to write [and perform] something during that time.”

The festival continues on Saturday with performances by local and regional bands. The groups range from electronic to hip-hop to folk. Madison-based folk-pop ensemble PHOX is scheduled to headline.

There will also be a smattering of other artistic undertakings that don’t fall neatly into any category. Food and craft vendors will be present, and there will be an art gallery in a barn. Ted Wittman, a Dubuque-based visual artist, will project a film on the side of the barn.

“Becoming involved had mostly to do with the friendship that I share with the Mulgrew family — specifically, Therese,” Wittman wrote in an email. “I will offer headphones to anyone who wants to hear it — as I have intended it to be heard — but the majority of the crowd will see [the work] as an illuminated visual complementing whatever noise is currently filling the air.”

Festival organizers stressed the advantages of taking a festival beyond a crowded bar or stadium setting.

“Being removed and on the farm allows everyone to have a unique and special experience,” Kane said.

Mulgrew agreed, highlighting the festival’s focus on local artists.

“We hope to showcase Iowa as a creative monument of its own,” she said.

WHAT: Seldom Seen Festival
WHEN: Friday and Saturday; first show starts at 6 p.m. Friday
WHERE: 738 109th St., Monmouth, Iowa
ADMISSION: $15 in advance at the Englert or Midwest Tix; $20 at the festival grounds

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