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Summer concert series expand in Cedar Rapids, Cedar Valley and Iowa City
See where you can jam out through the heat
No matter what you call it — outdoor concert, block party, jam session — music events are booming across Eastern Iowa this summer.
As other cities continue their own widely successful variety of activities, downtown Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Waterloo are seeing more outdoor music this year, too.
See what’s creating the buzz and where you can find the beats this summer.
Cedar Rapids expands outdoor concert series
Last year, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance held its BLOCKtoberfest in partnership with the Fun Not Fancy Restaurant group — a street party with live music, food and beer. This year, the alliance is taking things a few steps further by adding three more events.
“With the success of BLOCKtoberfest last fall, we knew we had to do more of these concerts and are excited to bring different genres of music to appeal to a variety of crowds,” said James Klein, vice chair of the Downtown SSMID (Self-Sustainable Municipal Improvement District).
Starting May 19, four outdoor concerts will be taking over Cedar Rapids:
- Blues Night in the Park on Friday, May 19 at 6 p.m. in Greene Square, Fifth Street SE
- Jazz Night on Friday, June 23 from 6 to 10 p.m. on Second Street between Second Avenue SE and Third Avenue SE
- Dance Party in the Park on Friday, July 2 at Greene Square, Fifth Street SE
- BLOCKtoberfest II on Friday, Sept. 22 at Third Street SE and Second Avenue SE
Details on future events, including times and how to purchase tickets will be announced by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance’s Facebook page, website and calendar of events.
The kickoff event, Blues Night in the Park on May 19, will feature blues musicians Mathias Latin, Ken Valdez, The Keeshea Pratt Band and local artist Kevin “B.F.” Burt. These events join the return of the eighth Market After Dark on Saturday, Aug. 26 and the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Markets starting May 27.
Each open-container event will shut down portions of downtown streets, allowing attendees to hear music and buy food and beverages from local vendors.
After downtown declines in traffic, the new events are part of a broader, long-term vision to revitalize the core district.
“We wanted to share our vibrant downtown with those who may not have reason or occasion to come down very often. This concert might be that option to have them enjoy downtown, get to know downtown and eventually spend more time downtown,” said Klein. “We really want to show off the new downtown that has so much more than business. It has anything anyone would want or need.”
Before the pandemic, more than 10,000 people went downtown daily for work. Now with work-from-home plans contributing to traffic cut in half, organizers hope the nighttime events serve a few purposes and eventually translate to more daytime traffic.
The effort is planned in conjunction with the ongoing push of public art, like interactive sculptures and murals, to beautify downtown and attract visitors. Getting people downtown at the evening events is the first step in creating a buzz that spills over into the day, said Jesse Thoeming, downtown executive director for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.
“We wanted to attract as many different demographics as possible. A strong downtown serves everyone,” he said. “There’s so many folks who don’t come downtown anymore when they may have used to previously.”
They hope the Dance Party, for example, will get the under-40 crowd excited about the downtown core again.
University of Northern Iowa’s Gallagher Bluedorn Block Party series returns
For the third summer in a row, free neighborhood concerts will dot Cedar Valley with a chance for neighbors to gather, build community and experience local and regional talents together.
While the number of block parties remains the same in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, organizers are expecting more attendance. Since starting in 2021, demand for the parties has grown, resulting in a waitlist for neighborhoods hoping to host a party.
“We love doing block parties. When we see neighbors laughing and chatting it up, children running around blowing bubbles, couples dancing, and even friends singing along, it reminds us that the performing arts can connect people on many different levels,” said Jennifer Onuigbo, community relations manager at UNI’s Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. “Yes, we all enjoy the music, but hopefully the connections we make with one another at these events continue long after the last note is played.”
This year’s events, all free to the public, include:
- Friday, May 26, 6 to 8 p.m.: Milk and Honey at Cedar Falls River Place Plaza, 100 E. Second St., Cedar Falls
- Saturday, June 3 from 7 to 9 p.m.: Wonderful Smiths for the Alabar Hills Neighborhood at Becker Elementary School, 1239 Sheldon St., Waterloo
- Friday, June 30 from 6 to 8 p.m.: Doo Wops for the Ledges neighborhood at Union and Autumn Ridge Roads, Cedar Falls
- Saturday, July 8 from noon to 6 p.m.: North End Festival at Ferguson Fields Park, Waterloo
- Saturday, July 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.: Kevin Burt for the New Aldaya neighborhood at 7511 University Ave., Cedar Falls.
- Tuesday, Aug. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m.: HartSmith for the Walnut neighborhood, E. Fourth and Lime Streets, Waterloo
- Saturday, Aug. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.: Throwback Jack at Staker Athletic Complex, Fredericksburg
- Saturday, Aug. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m.: Fusion for the Audubon neighborhood at Partridge Lane and Carras Road, Waterloo
With self-supplied lawn chair seating, each concert features local artists performing on the Gallagher Bluedorn’s portable stage with state-of-the-art light and sound equipment.
“By bringing live music into the community, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can enjoy high-quality performances,” Onuigbo said. “The bands welcome the opportunity, and we love hiring talented young musicians. It’s definitely a win-win.”
Multiple concert series return to Iowa City
With Music on the Move, the Friday Night Concert Series, Northside Concert Series and Iowa City Jazz Festival, there’s no shortage of outdoor festivals to attend in Iowa City thanks to their Summer of the Arts program.
Music on the Move concerts start at 6:30 p.m. throughout the summer. Most dates are Tuesdays:
- June 6: Kevin Burt at James Alan McPherson Park, 1858 Seventh Ave. Court
- June 13: Blake Shaw at Lower City Park, 200 E. Park Rd.
- June 20: Miss Christine at Old Town Park
- June 27: Dave Zollo at Fairmeadows Park, 2451 Miami Dr.
- July 11: Kevin Burt at Mercer Park, 1317 Dover St.
- July 18: Annie Savage and Friends at North Market Square Park, 600 Fairchild St.
- July 25: Blake Shaw at Willow Creek Park, 1117 Teg Dr.
- Aug. 1: James Tutson at Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr.
- Aug. 8: Dave Zollo at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, 579 McCollister Blvd.
- Aug. 15: Miss Christine outside of Macbride Hall, 17 N. Clinton St.
- Aug. 17: James Tutson at Emma J. Harvat Square Park, 904 Walker Circle
- Aug. 22: Annie Savage and Friends at Upper City Park, 200 Park Rd.
- Aug. 29: James Tutson at Cardigan Park, 500 Huntington Dr
Friday Night Concert Series events at 6:30 p.m. are held at the Ped Mall Stage, 210 S. Dubuque St., through the end of September:
- May 12: Iowa Steel Band
- May 26: Savage Hearts with Liberty High MC’s and Free Strings
- June 9: BYOBrass
- June 16: Juneteenth Celebration
- June 23: Kid Logic
- July 7: Crystal City AND Subatlantic
- July 14: Avey Grouws Band
- July 21: Ryan Jeter’s Mind@Large
- July 28: Winterland
- Aug. 4: The Beaker Brothers
- Aug. 11: Sophie Mitchell AND Jordan Sellergren
- Aug. 18: Funkatude AND Jumbies
- Aug. 25: The Recliners
- Sept. 1: Brad & the Big Wave AND Saint Silver
- Sept. 8: Lou Sherry AND Worst Impressions AND Dolliver
- Sept. 15: The Zeffsterr AND Ivy Ford Band
- Sept. 22: Local Anesthetic with Ahzia, Ion Alexakis, Jim Swin and Alyx Rush
Northside Concert Series events are planned at Northside Market Place (at East Market Street and North Linn Street) once each month at 6:30 p.m. from May to September:
May 27: Uniphonics
June 24: Marc Janssen & The Locals
July 29: Slim Chance & The Can’t Hardly Play Boys
Aug. 26: Natty Nation
Sept. 30: We Funk
For information on the Iowa City Jazz Festival happening June 30 through July 2, visit summerofthearts.org.
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