Iowa City Jazz Festival 'a little cultural oasis'

Festival kicked off Friday, runs through Sunday

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IOWA CITY — Iowa City showed off its reputation as a music hub Friday night as the 26th annual Iowa City Jazz Festival took over the city.

“Iowa City is a little cultural oasis in the middle of Iowa,” said Mitch Towne, who travels as a recording jazz organist and was playing with the Steve Grismore Trio. “This is not just a run-of-the-mill music festival. It’s a very happening festival.”

Read more: Everything you need to know for the Iowa City Jazz Festival

The Steve Grismore Trio played on one of the side stages Friday, but it wasn’t simply a performance.

“It’s a reunion for us,” said Marc Gratama, who was playing drums with the band.

Grismore is a jazz instructor at the University of Iowa, and Gratama and Towne once played with him when they were his students in 1992. In their blast-from-the-past performance, Gratama played on the same drum set he used at the 1992 festival.

That one-day festival has grown to three days with major jazz headliners.

The Grismore trio was joined by a guest saxophonist, which, Towne said, is the beauty of jazz.

“You can play with people you’ve never met,” Towne said. “It’s a shared language.”

Thousands gathered at the Pentacrest and in surrounding areas for the festival, which kicked off at 4 p.m. and runs through the fireworks display Sunday night.

“It’s a very cultural experience,” Melissa Nies of Coralville said as she sat in the University of Iowa Pentacrest grass watching her husband and 3-year-old daughter dance by the main stage.

University of Iowa students Thomas Bowman and Brianna Hammer came out to enjoy the festivities. Bowman has been to the festival before, but Hammer was a first-timer.

“I’m excited to see the talent Iowa City has to offer,” she said.

The talent showcased at the festival is unlike some other jazz festivals, Towne said.

“Iowa City is a very jazz-centric festival,” Towne said, explaining that some jazz festivals bring in other genres. “Being an organ player ... I’m glad that they bring in at least one organ band each year.”

Genny Wright and Brandon Swenson of Coralville said they come to the festival to enjoy the music. Both were previously in bands themselves.

“We’re retired,” Wright laughed. “Now we just admire and enjoy.”

Swenson said the event is also nice because it attracts all age groups.

John Clark and Linda Clark of Coralville were accompanied by their grandson, Xander Clark, as they watched their son and Xander’s father, Christopher Clark, playing saxophone for Smith Studio Jazz on the youth stage.

“It’s a great opportunity to be in downtown Iowa City with all these great people,” John Clark said.

Some of those there Friday night come every year.

“How could you not want to be around the best thing that’s around?” said Davey Snyder of Iowa City.

Art, food and beverage vendors are also on site.

“I love dancing around downtown,” said Chad Johnson, who works for Iowa City Balloons, which had a booth at the festival.

Jazz Festival continues Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. both days. For a schedule, see Everything you need to know about Iowa City Jazz Festival.

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