Folk artists gather for new festival


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Actor, singer, and songwriter Chuck Mitchell has been around the block, from New York City and California to a farm outside of Detroit, and finally to a Mississippi River house in Iowa. With every move and change, his craft has developed as well.

“Music for me was not instrumental, it was vocal,” Mitchell said. “After college, I took up guitar to replace the accompanists I no longer had. And one thing led to another, and here we are, me and my guitar, 50 years later."

Joining nearly 20 other artists, Mitchell will perform at the Folk Alliance Region Midwest music festival “Iowa Welcome.” The celebration will begin at 1 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Mill, 120 E Burlington St.

The event is meant to provide a sampler of what is to come during the official Folk Alliance convention in October at the Sheraton Hotel. Though the convention has traveled to many locations in the Midwest, including Missouri and Illinois, this will be the first time it has has come to Iowa.  

“I wanted some way to make a lot of fuss and to explain what [the alliance] is to the community of Iowa City, counties around, and in fact the whole state,” Folk Alliance board member Nancy Freeman said. “There’s so much wonderful live music in Iowa and I thought people ought to know about it before they make a decision on whether to come [to the big convention] or not.” 

As a longtime music presenter, Freeman watches nearly 2,000 musical acts and performances each year. So when it came to inviting musicians to the festival, she said, she knew exactly whom she wanted.

“It’s going to be a unique combination of musicians, and you’ll never see this particular group of people perform all in one day anywhere,” she said. “I tried to represent every kind of music and musician that’s in Folk Alliance.“

Iowa Welcome will feature Iowa natives such as Slew Grass, Greg Brown, and Radoslav Lorkovic. Among them will be Nathan Bell, who has performed at the Mill since the ’80s. Bell said that when he began his career, all he wanted was to be a part of the Iowa City music scene.

“I was a kid with an afro who wanted to be Jimi Hendrix when folk music chose me,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to write about the people that nobody noticed the lives of working people and the controversies and issues in American society. Folk music, in all its forms, was the perfect vehicle for what I wanted to say.”

Mitchell said he looks forward to the Folk Alliance celebration because he will give a live performance, an opportunity he said he has seen diminish during his career.

“I made a living as a folksinger for almost 30 years, traveling the U.S. and Canada on a circuit of coffeehouses and college residencies — 30 years of paid vacation, I’d say. I took that circuit for granted,” he said. “It’s gone, and barring a global electromagnetic pulse that zaps your PC and your smart phone for a couple of decades, there’s not much likelihood it will return.”

By inviting poets such as Marvin Bell, Freeman said, the aim of the festival was to not only highlight musical artists but to also recognize the literary tradition of Iowa City. Known for weaving the works of Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot into his performances, Mitchell said he is excited to exemplify this at the Mill.

“I have a kit of poems and bits of prose that I’ve collected over the years … I string them together in short interludes I call combinations, the idea being that the sum of the whole is greater than the parts,” he said. “I think it’s important to prepare a show as if it were a play. If not entirely scripted, at least a considered improvisation.”

Iowa Welcome Music Festival
When: 1 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15
Where: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington
Admission: $7

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