For almost everyone I spoke to, Cedar Basin Music Festival 2021 felt like a fresh start in some way. Musicians and audience members talked about how much they âneededâ live music and how they didn’t realize how much they missed it. A friend I spoke to described the weekend as “the start of the return to normal.”
Of course, it also rained a lot.
In a normal year, the Cedar Basin Music Festival takes place the last full weekend of June in Cedar Falls. It is also the same weekend as the Sturgis Falls Celebration, which commemorates the founding of the city. Originally called the Cedar Basin Jazz Festival, it has expanded in recent years to include other styles of music.
The last live music event I attended was on March 5, 2020, at xBk in Des Moines. IPR hosted the Ducharme-Jones Band on Studio One Underground, along with my friend and colleague Cece Mitchell. The next day, the annual South By Southwest conference and festival were canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus. The World Health Organization had not yet declared a pandemic. We all remember what happened next.
âPersonally, I felt relieved by the whole experience. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back at a show or what the emotions would be like. ‘was overwhelmed with joy was at everything, but the truth is it was just normal and good, and I think it’s actually even better. “
After seeing this year’s Cedar Basin lineup, I was pretty excited to check it out. I was fully vaccinated and, as a fully outdoor event, it was the perfect âback to schoolâ show for me.
I’m pretty comfortable going to shows on my own, especially in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area where I live, because I know I’m going to meet a lot of people I know. That’s what makes our favorite concert halls such great places, isn’t it? Either way, it turned out to be true once again. I saw people I hadn’t seen in over a year, including musicians and audience members. Already, the weekend was a smash success, and the music had barely started!
Friday night I arrived in time to attend sets from singer-songwriter Ben Rendall and local favorites Brad & Kate. Rendall is no stranger to big outdoor musical events, having performed as a member of the Twins and Stackhouse bands. Her performance at Cedar Basin was also the launch party for her excellent debut album, “The Self-Help Songbook”.
Brad & Kate have developed a strong clientele in the region. Their set consisted of a few cleverly chosen covers, as well as a solid set of songs from their own upcoming debut album, which is tentatively scheduled for release this year. In addition to being the band’s lead singer, Kate is also the band’s unofficial stage announcer, and she has repeatedly expressed appreciation for the opportunity to perform the band’s original songs.
On Saturday I caught Jordan Sellergren for the first time. The Iowa City-based singer-songwriter released an album last spring, but she only now plays it live. She played a solid set that included new songs written in her 40s, and she also got very real between songs on her personal experience with COVID-19. In a very relevant moment, she also updated us on texts she was receiving from her teenage son, who forgot she was playing a show.
The rain stopped during Sellergren’s set, but Anthony Worden and The Illiterati weren’t so lucky. As they were almost ready to start, the rain started, delaying the start of their set by about half an hour. Once on the way, however, it was worth the wait. Not only are they all highly skilled musicians, but they are natural performers. If they felt rusty after 16 months of being out, it didn’t look like it.
I closed my weekend with a band that I had the pleasure of hearing on several occasions: The Host Country, from Des Moines. They made their debut in Cedar Falls and were surrounded by many friends and family, including singer / keyboardist Diana Weishaar’s mother, who was celebrating her birthday. Like Sellergren, the host country released an album last spring that they were playing for the first time, and they even knew exactly how long it was since they had played a full concert: 470 days.
For almost all of the artists, it was their first show in over a year or one of their first. It was also the first live music outing for many in the crowd, and I spoke to several friends who told me it would likely be their only event of the summer. The 80/35 isn’t happening this year, and not everyone is mentally prepared for an event the size of the Hinterland. The pandemic, after all, is not yet over.
Personally, I felt relieved by the whole experience. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back at a show or what the emotions would be like. But once I was sitting in my lounge chair, with a beer in my hand and a food truck sandwich in my lap, listening to Ben Rendall and Your Favorite Band, it all felt very familiar. It was almost as if the last year and a half hadn’t even happened. I wish I could tell you how overwhelmed with joy I was over everything, but the truth is it was just normal and good, and I think it’s actually even better.
See you in Hinterland!