Iowa City celebrates Soul Fest


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Thump, thump, thump. The beat of a mellifluous melody dances its way around the Old Capitol area.

The smell of freshly cooked food of several varieties sifts through the air, drawing in wanderers from around downtown. The ambiance throughout is sweet and smooth, invoking an infectious feeling of soulful bliss to all in attendance.

This was the scene around the Pentacrest on Sept. 19 and 20 during the second Iowa Soul Festival.

A celebration of African and African-American music, dance, art, and food, the festival was a collaboration between Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts and Cedar Rapid’s Diversity Focus.

Summer of the Arts Executive Director Lisa Barnes said the sophomore festival topped its first incarnation.

“We were very happy with the attendance,” she said. “Based on last year versus this year, this year was definitely higher … Everything was so much fun.”

Soul Fest featured various artists such as the FunkDaddies, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and Lalah Hathaway. Grammy-Award-winning performer and University of Iowa alumnus Al Jarreau headlined the night of Sept. 20.

Jarreau, 74, has been performing jazz, pop, soul, and funk music since the 1960s, and his Soul Fest performance proved the Wisconsin-born musician doesn’t plan to slow down soon.

“In a world where having a career and a life in this industry depends so much on being under 25 and cute and getting the girl to be successful, it means a lot,” Jarreau said about being invited to perform at Soul Fest. “I’m not retired, and I’m not gonna retire.”

Jarreau and his band banged out tune after tune, including old favorites such as “Boogie Down” and “My Old Friend,” a song off his new album and a tribute to his late friend George Duke. A vocal solo by Jarreau’s bassist Mark Simmons generated some of the loudest applause of the festival.

UI freshman Abigail Morrow said Jarreau’s performance was her favorite part of the event.

“I really did enjoy the Soul Festival,” she said. “The music was fantastic, with everyone really getting into it and even dancing in the street. The food smelled good, and it seemed like most of Iowa City turned out for my first concert on the Pentacrest.”

Barnes gave a similar review of the headlining show.

 “I thoroughly enjoyed Al Jarreau,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity to have Hancher bring him back to Iowa City.”

The patrons lining up for food on Clinton Street, shopping at the African Marketplace, and listening to music on the Pentacrest Main Stage were diverse, representing a range of ages and ethnic backgrounds. The Gospel Brunch events at the Sheraton Iowa City Hotel Sunday attracted yet more crowds and added another musical genre to an already eclectic festival repertoire.

“I talked to a number of people who came in for the festival and the Gospel Brunch who had a wonderful time,” Barnes said. “I already have people asking about next year and what the plans are.”

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