We like books. We like music. It stands to reason that we’d also like the Mission Creek Festival, Iowa City’s literary/music fest that’s been going strong since 2006.
It’s not just a misapplication of the transitive property driving that like. We finally made it out to celebrate independent publishing, independent music and indie culture this year, and, boy was it worth the trip to the heartland. Loosely paralleling SXSW’s walking/small venue format, shows were scattered around town, bringing some great stuff to the table: Jenny Lewis headlined the six-night festival, which also included appearances by Mitski, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Black Moth Super Rainbow, among others.
While the SXSW formula relies on overloading attendees with overlapping event schedules and impossible choices – a strategy employed by Colorado independent music festivals like Denver’s Underground Music Showcase and Fort Collins’ FoCoMX – Mission Creek takes a different approach. Instead of scheduling bands head to head in dueling, conflicting time slots, everything is programmed to allow visitors to attend the maximum number of shows. You’ll still need to make some decisions in the later, smaller-venue shows, but Mission Creek mercifully places its biggest shows square in the middle of its lineup and schedules around it. It was a welcome, and unfamiliar feeling to attend an independent music festival where you aren’t left feeling as if you’re forced to skip lion’s share of bands in order to see a choice few.
Iowa City, Iowa (AP style rules about dateline cities are pretty stupid, by the way) is a UNESCO City of Literature, so it stands that there’d be a solid, bookish underpinning to the event, too. The event featured a literary crawl Friday night, with readings at several venues. (Including an appearance by Jessica Hopper, reading Night Moves, a tome we really dug last year.) Saturday featured a book fair with a slew of independent publishers and a zine festival.
Iowa City proved to be a perfect location for this type of festival. With a downtown that emphasizes vertical construction, its city center has the feeling of a much larger berg. It’s great for atmosphere (and there’s a public library on the pedestrian mall that’s definitely worth a stop), it provides the practical benefit of keeping everything within quick easy walking distances.
Music festivals are an increasingly tired idea in 2019, but Mission Creek Festival’s spin on the formula was enough to keep things interesting and accessible for fans of independent culture.