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Coffee, Art, and Soul Phelgm

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | SEPTEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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High Ground Café, a large, open coffee shop featuring local artists’ work on the walls, large seating areas, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee, works to remind people what it means to be involved in community arts.

“Art is an incredibly important thing to have; it is the greatest form of self-expression,” said Christie Hillard, a High Ground employee.

Since its opening last year, High Ground Cafe, 301 E. Market St., has sought to be a haven for both food and art. The band Soul Phlegm will help fulfill the second half of this equation with a performance at 8 p.m. Friday at the coffee shop.

Whether it’s acting as a public gallery for local art, bringing in a balloon-animal-maker, or supporting musicians, High Ground owner Wesley Ward said he wants to offer an outlet for Iowa City artists.

“Supporting the local music scene has always been a passion of mine,” Ward said. “I have been going to shows at venues all around town since I first moved here, well before I open the café. I have always felt like café/coffee bar venue was missing — a place for someone to lie back, sit down, and enjoy a drink.”

High Ground opened in June 2013, serving only tea and coffee. As it grew, the menu expanded to include pastries and other foods, such as salads and sandwiches. It eventually acquired a liquor license, enabling it to sell wine and beer.

“I like to have a friendly, comfortable, and open atmosphere,” Ward said. “A café is meant to be a place to get together, communicate, share ideas, and experience something new. It’s not a place to just get away from people and study.”

Ward said art is a way of achieving the open atmosphere.

“The more involved in the local communities small businesses are, the more success they are going to have, and getting involved with the art scene in the community and local artists is a fantastic way to get more involved,” Hillard said.

As a result of this community involvement, High Ground added another item to its venue in recent months: live music. 

Thus far, High Ground has featured numerous local artists at its Friday shows, including Sweet Cacophony, Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir, Doug Foster, Flowers of Egypt, and Alex Flesher —and, soon, Soul Phlegm.

“[We host] local startups, first-time performers, and bands that wanted to help us create a new music venue in town,” Ward said.

Friday’s band Soul Phlegm consists of Californian Joseph Michael Ewart, Arizonian Kyle Talon Ballard, Chicago suburbian Timothy Eugene Hunziker, and Indianan Robert Scott Abrams.

Ballad said the group will play its brand of “soulgrass outlaw funk”, including a mix of “blues, soul, funk, folk, and a rabid manifesto of inanity.”

Ewart said the members of Soul Phelgm has found a special kind of chemistry.

“[We’ve been playing together] long enough for us to share a house and be shackled to each other mercilessly and indefinitely,” he said.

The band members said they intend to travel and record an EP this fall as well as produce a full-length album in the spring of 2015. For now, Abrams said, they look forward to the opportunity to perform at High Ground as a means of promoting “local sustainability, a good time, and good people.”

In addition to presenting local bands and solo artists every Friday night, High Ground also hosts poetry readings every third Tuesday of the month. While the bands are mostly recruited by word of mouth, the poetry readings consist of anyone willing to share a piece onstage.


What: Soul Phlegm
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: High Ground, 301 E. Market
Admission: Free


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