Mission Creek Festival 2024: Another Year of Fabulous Performers

Poet and professor Hadara Bar-Nadav

Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival celebrates its 19th anniversary with an adventurous lineup of music, literature, and community events from April 4–6. Highlights will include performances by Kentucky singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman, the recent winner of the Americana Music Association award for Emerging Act of the Year; multi-prizewinning poet and professor Hadara Bar-Nadav, the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; and the New York City-based hip-hop duo Armand Hammer, whose most recent album, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, made many critics’ best of 2023 lists.

SInger-guitarist Sunny War

These are my choices for highlights. However, Festival Director Brian Johannesen is most excited to see the California experimental rock band Osees and folk-punk-rock singer-guitarist Sunny War.

No doubt, all of the aforementioned shows will be exciting.

Neko Case is one of the headliners at Mission Creek 2024.

And they are not even the major headliners at Mission Creek. Those honors belong to indie rock legend Neko Case and poet, essayist, and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib. The fact that there are so many noteworthy acts shows how loaded the festival’s talent base is this year. One could easily make a case for other artists who will appear, including American-Brazilian rocker Indigo De Souza, who has been praised by a range of critics from the staid New York Times to the more adventurous Pitchfork; Yale Younger Poet prizewinner and MacDowell Fellow Cindy Juyoung Ok; and producer, vocalist, and sound artist from Cairo, Egypt, Nadah el Shazly.

There is much more happening at the fest, including a Small Press & Literary Magazine Book Fair, the 7th annual Iowa City Expo for Comics and Real Eclectic Alternative Media (I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M.) Zine Fair, and the annual Mission Creek Lit Walk that features several rounds of speakers at traditional performance spaces as well as local shops converted into venues solely for the festival. Mission Creek has blossomed in size and scope over the years and takes place all over the downtown Iowa City area. The Englert Theatre produces the three-day fest annually as part of its commitment to the arts.

Johannesen takes pride in both the plethora and multiplicity of talent on display. He notes that he and a crew of principals, including Artistic Director Andre Perry, Literary Programming Director Nina Lohman, and Programming Coordinator Elly Hofmaier, began meeting weekly back in June 2023 to select the 2024 performers. Johannesen notes that they get hundreds of submissions on the music side and a rash of offers from the literary realm.

“We reach out early to booking agents to let them know the details. Our reputation precedes us. Most agents are already familiar with Mission Creek and pitch us a slew of possible candidates at different price levels,” Johannesen said. Mission Creek is famous nationally for the caliber of talent it attracts and its engagement with the public. Its programs purposely challenge and comfort the audiences. Mission Creek helps promote acts that are independent and relatively unknown as well as more popular ones. Past notables include performers Laurie Anderson, Jason Isbell, Killer Mike, and Mitski, as well as writers Roxane Gay, Colson Whitehead, Aleksandar Hemon, Edmund White, and Amber Tamblyn. The range of talent has been, and continues to be, incredible.

Tisa Bryant from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program

This year’s opening ceremonies begin on April 4 at Hancher Auditorium. The doors and café open to the public at 4:30 p.m. Starting at 6:00 p.m., MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow Hanif Abdurraqib will chat with writer and professor Tisa Bryant from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Abdurraqib is on tour for his new book of reflections about basketball and growing up, There’s Always This Year. He is a veteran of Mission Creek, as is alternative rocker Neko Case, who closes the show from 8:50–10:00 p.m. Case’s latest album, Wild Creatures, offers a thoughtful look back at her entire career. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Taja Cheek, a.k.a. L’Rain, performs between Abdurraqib and Case, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Her latest album, I Killed Your Dog, has received rave reviews because of its surreal humor and expansive introspection.

“L’Rain is a discovery act,” Johannesen said. “She will bring a different flavor to the evening and will create extraordinary moments for the audience.” This is the second time Hancher has served as Mission Creek’s introductory venue.

Johannesen compared this year’s roster to last year’s, which featured writer Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast), Black Belt Eagle Scout, and Cat Power. Johannesen said the relatively obscure Black Belt Eagle Scout served as an especially good connector to the two other acts because of her talent and relative anonymity. People didn’t know what to expect and were pleased to find out about her.

In another context, Abdurraqib has said, “The gospel is, in many ways, whatever gets people into the door to receive whatever blessings you have to offer.” Mission Creek offers its own salvation by mixing the known with the unknown for audiences to be blessed by creators they may not have previously recognized.

As its website notes, “The festival’s impact extends beyond its duration, fostering a lasting appreciation for literature, music, and the arts in the local community.” This year’s festival again promises to enhance its reputation as a significant arts event that adds luster to the Eastern Iowa cultural community.

See MissionCreekFestival.com.


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