Community spirit buoys 'newbo evolve'

Modest but enthusiastic crowds welcome new festival

CEDAR RAPIDS — No one may be more enthusiastic about Cedar Rapids’ newest festival called “newbo evolve” than Jill and Kent Hayworth.

The Cedar Rapids couple forked over $400 apiece for three-day, all-access passes days after tickets were released last winter, and they were among the first to collect their credentials and tickets Friday morning for the speakers, demonstrations and concerts making up the weekend.

“We decided to celebrate our 10-year anniversary of meeting as a staycation and using our money here to support our local community,” Kent Hayworth said.

Urgent care icon by Bridget Gahagan and police badge icon by lastspark from the Noun Project. Map by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

Newbo evolve kicked off Friday to eager but modest crowds, buoyed by community members hoping to see such an ambitious event succeed in Cedar Rapids.

“This is our first session but we liked what we saw,” three-day gold pass holder Tom Peffer, 65, of Cedar Rapids, said at the conclusion of the opening keynote address with Amy Newmark, editor-in-chief of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. “It’s just great for the community and we’ll see what happens.”

The daytime sessions were held at the Cedar Rapids Convention Center, while evening activities shifted to the New Bohemia District. Peffer first heard about newbo evolve through Aaron McCreight, a member of the Brucemore historic estate board of trustees and the president of GO Cedar Rapids, which put on the festival.

“We just wanted to support this effort,” Peffer said. “Really didn’t know what to expect — don’t know currently what to expect — but we’re supportive of whatever he is trying to do.”


Brian Brandt, 45, was contacted by GO Cedar Rapids organizers about four weeks ago to participate in newbo evolve as the moderator for MIT political science professor Adam Berinsky’s Saturday morning session on fake news. He got a complimentary pass.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for Cedar Rapids to showcase talents, to bring people together, to learn and grow,” said Brandt, an executive with the Principal Financial Group. “I would absolutely do it again. I hope that it’s a big success and we can make it an annual event.”

Predicted by organizers to draw 10,000 to 15,000 people per day over three days, Friday’s audience during the day was in the hundreds rather than thousands.

By the evening, though, crowds grew in the New Bohemia District, where free bands in the afternoon at NewBo City Market gave way to acts at the main stage.

Tom Slaughter, an owner of Tornados Pub and Grub, has invested about $20,000 this weekend between food and drink supplies, staff, a DJ and outdoor canopy.

Friday was pretty good business-wise, he said, understanding it being a work day slowed the crowd’s arrival. By 7 p.m., he had about 60 people inside and in the beer garden with hopes of bigger crowds Saturday.

“Look at it now, finally get to where you’d expect it,” he said about 7 p.m. “Hopefully tomorrow will be good all around.”

Kelly Clarkson headlined the evening on the festival stage with The Wallflowers and Radda Radda as openers.


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Clarkson burst onto the stage at 9:16 p.m., seamlessly melding “We Belong Together” and “Catch My Breath.”

She was in full anthem mode with the finely tuned pipes that made her the first “American Idol” in 2002.

Earlier Friday, a crowd of about 200 attended a panel discussion with fashion designer Christian Siriano and plus-sized model Candice Huffine in a ballroom set for 600 or 700 people. Siriano noted the “abnormally large conference room” for the event.

About 100 to 150 people attended the keynote address, and in smaller rooms about 10 attended an author interview with Heather Gudenkauf and about 30 attended a cooking demonstration with Chef Anthony Green.

“We always knew Friday was going to be a tough one,” McCreight said. “It’s a work day for a lot of people, so sure, we’d love if they came in a day early or took the day off work, but we knew it would be a little slower today.”

While the day started off slowly, McCreight, speaking after the Siriano/Huffine session, said organizers were ahead of where they thought they’d be with people checking in at registration, and it was going very smoothly.

“My phone hasn’t started blowing up, so that is a good sign,” he said, tapping the phone in his pocket.

Like several of the people that bought the three-day passes, the Hayworths envision a packed three days. They arrived early to explore the pop-up shops exclusive to passholders on Friday, visited Theatre Cedar Rapids Linge Lounge where the Early Bird was serving coffee, and had lunch at Osgood’s, 210 Third Ave SE.


The festival gave them a chance to rediscover the downtown of the community through a different lens.

Jill Hayworth noted they contacted GO Cedar Rapids to question ticket prices being dropped by $100 in June as the concert approached, and were invited to a meet-and-greet with Siriano after his presentation.

That, and the fact those who purchased tickets early got preferred seating over those who purchased discount tickets, made things right, they said.

Emily Irwin, 27, of Cedar Rapids, said her parents from Milwaukee had come in for the festival, initially drawn by the opportunity to see Maroon 5.

“We started looking at the lineup and said, ‘All of these people are going to be in Cedar Rapids,’” she said, noting they splurged for the three-day passes. She was looking forward to fashion designer Carson Kressley, a mixology session and the Kinsey Sicks drag show. “It’s a good deal.”

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Diana Nollen, Molly Hunter and Molly Duffy of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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