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Brianna Hobbs was in middle school when the then-new River Music Experience first opened its doors June 12, 2004, in the historic Redstone building at 2nd and Main streets, Davenport.

Now, the 28-year-old East Moline native is thrilled to join the growing nonprofit’s staff as new programs director, as the veteran RME leaders Bret Dale and his wife Kate transition out as education director and

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Brianna Hobbs is a 28-year-old East Moline native.

entertainment director, respectively.

“Bret and Kate’s impact on RME’s success cannot be overestimated,” executive director Tyson Danner said recently. “They each contributed a wealth of knowledge, experience — and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears — to keep RME on the right path for more than a decade.

“Through their dedication and passion, they brought RME to its next phase of growth, and they helped to build a foundation that is now the launch pad into our future success,” he said.

The beloved husband-and-wife team (she’s been with RME 13 years and he 11 years) moved to northern Minnesota in early May and have been working remotely during the transition.

“We are all very excited for them to move on to this next chapter in their lives, but it is bittersweet to say goodbye (for now) to two very important, wonderful people who have made such an impact on RME and our community,” Danner said by e-mail.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Tyson Danner is executive director of River Music Experience.

“We took this opportunity to move forward in our strategic plans for the future, which involve viewing our educational programs and concerts as two parts of a unified whole,” he said of Hobbs’ new leadership position. “For too long, we have neglected an opportunity to approach our live music offerings as true community programs, beyond what we offer for ticketed shows in the Redstone Room.

“As the past year has shown us with the dramatic success of our Curbside Concerts program, there are many ways to reach people with fulfilling, community-centric music experiences,” Danner said.

“Brianna, as programs director, will guide all of RME’s community live music experiences and educational opportunities. Brianna brings great experience and perspective to our team — particularly in the area of arts program management — and a commitment to inclusion and access that will ensure that we are unrelenting in removing barriers to musical participation for all our fellow Quad Citizens.

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“We tripled our community impact during the past year of the pandemic, thanks to hard work and innovative ideas from our amazing staff,” Danner said of the number of people RME programs reach. “If we can do that in the midst of the pandemic, the sky is the limit moving

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Bret and Kate Dale moved to northern Minnesota in early May.

forward. We are deeply passionate about the power of music to make our community great, and we’re thrilled to have Brianna on our team to add fuel to that fire.”

Hobbs, a cultural administrator originally from the Q-C, is a United Township alum with a passion for the arts that began at an early age. She has worked in the arts sector through various roles as a nonprofit manager, fundraiser, educator, and ceramicist. She holds an M.S. in Arts Management from the University of Oregon and a B.S. in Arts Education and Studio Arts from Illinois State University.

“As a dedicated listener and bridge builder, Hobbs is thrilled to take on a visionary role within RME’s team and looks forward to expanding our inclusive programming and community partnerships,” according to her bio.

“Her education and experience are great, but just her perspective on things is wonderful,” Danner said. The new position combines some of what Bret and Kate did, into alignment with each other, he said. But compared to the Dales, Hobbs will not directly deliver education programs or book musical acts at RME.

Back in Q-C since 2020

Hobbs was attracted to the RME job in part because of the organization’s educational emphasis, and there are gaps in Q-C schools that can be filled by RME.

“When I was teaching, my students were seeing me once a week for 45 minutes and to me, that’s just not enough,” Hobbs said recently. “Also, my own journey – I grew up in a time when it was very normal not to have art education in the schools. I didn’t have art education until high

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Brianna Hobbs is the new RME programs director.

school.”

RME offers the opportunity to open students’ eyes to what is available in music education and arts programming, she said. “A lot of people walk into musical or artistic spaces, and there’s a sense of othering, a foreign place. To us, who are in the arts, it feels so much like being human. It’s making sure people have that access early on.”

“RME definitely recognized there’s a need in our community and supported kids coming through,” Hobbs – who moved back to the Q-C last year from Portland, Ore. — said.

All RME’s school programs are offered for free, because they know schools don’t have the resources, Danner said.

“If schools had the resources, they’d already have a music teacher in the room, and they don’t – or they have fewer and fewer, every year that goes by,” he said. “We try to make it as easy as possible. It’s hard enough for them to find time in their day.”

Schools all see the need for the experience, and RME works to align programs with their curriculum, so it makes sense, he said. “It’s not just a fun concert they need to make an hour for,” Danner said, noting it includes creative writing, American history, social studies.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

River Music Experience is a nonprofit that completely pivoted its programming during the pandemic.

Hobbs’ new position is “really the leadership piece, in programs we offer with live music and education, Brianna will provide more vision and leadership for all those programs,” he said. “Having one person to drive those programs forward is really helpful – building new relationships with school districts and buildings, so that we can reach more kids.”

At the Portland Art Museum (the 7th-oldest in the nation), Hobbs was part of the fundraising team (where they had a recent $150-million capital campaign), in charge of memberships.

“A lot of the work I was doing as a fundraiser was related to programming, talking to our education team,” she said. “My main role was to bring in operating funds, but as in any nonprofit, I was doing a lot.”

As an undergrad at Illinois State, she was interested in why the arts sector was so fragile, and why programming was focused mainly on larger cities.

“There’s an understanding and love for arts throughout the country, so my grad school was an opportunity to understand the arts sector from a larger perspective,” Hobbs said.

After first into painting, she got interested in working with clay as “a meditative process” and fell in love with it.

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“I have a very detail-oriented, inquisitive brain, so I think my programming, nonprofit management side allows me to use that side of my brain,” Hobbs said. “But I also need to slow down and dive into a creative practice to balance myself, so I think that clay has offered that balance.”

She taught art in grades K-5 in Jane Addams and Logan schools in Moline from 2014 to 2016, and had two summer teaching internships in Chicago. Hobbs worked to really understand where kids were coming from socio-economically, and what their needs were.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Kate and Bret Dale (married since 2016) in a Music Lab episode from their former Moline living room.

“I always enjoyed teaching and I was naturally drawn to it, but my inquisitive brain and the curiosity side – I had done work with Quad City Arts and understanding the cultural programming, there was more available in the arts sector,” she said.

“It was hard to leave Moline; I gained relationships with students and I put so much time and energy into the Golden Apple scholarship,” Hobbs said. “I would like to return to teaching in some capacity in the future.”

Work she did in grad school at Oregon was trying to be authentic in hearing the community’s needs and building partnerships.

“Trying our best to listen in a way that is intentional,” Hobbs said. “Then building programming from there. I think cultural programming – not just in the Quad-Cities, but the U.S. – historically has done the opposite, saying here is the need and we’re gonna fill it, and there’s this disconnect.”

“It almost feels like telling you what you need to do, instead of, we’re here and what do you need?” she said. “The way I approach nonprofit

management is oriented to trying my best to be a bridge-builder and take a step back and let the community lead the way.”

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

RME, which opened June 12, 2004, uses the slogan “Music Changes Lives.”

RME is moving away from the organization just within its walls, more and more into the community, Hobbs said, exemplified over the past 15 months.

“That level of innovation showed the potential,” she said. “It’s just a starting point; we have to switch gears in how we can show up for people living here. One thing that’s exciting is, what’s it gonna look like when we really sit down and have time to understand what’s happening in the Quad-Cities?”

The goal is to build something in a new direction, great timing in coming out of the pandemic, Hobbs said.

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“The RME has been heading in a new direction since Tyson stepped in,” she said. “This role will just help support that.” Danner has headed RME since spring 2019.

Hobbs’ husband is Mike Firth (they married in March 2020), who since last year has been swim coach for UTHS and is aquatics manager for the city of East Moline.

She is excited to make a bigger impact in a smaller metro area, while also saving a lot of money, with a much lower cost of living compared to Portland.

Leaving on high note

Bret and Kate Dale – who met at RME and married since 2016 — moved near the Canadian border, and are spending some time with family over the summer.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Bret and Kate Dale each worked for RME for more than a decade.

“We’re kind of taking a little pause and figuring out where we’re going to land eventually,” Kate said recently. “It’s still to be determined.”

“It’s so peaceful up here,” Bret said. “I lived in Tucson, Ariz., for seven years and moved to the Quad-Cities in 1997,” during high school, Bret said, noting he graduated from Davenport West in 2000. He lived in Chicago for 10 years before coming back to the Q-C.

“Our departure isn’t a reflection of what’s wrong with the RME – it’s quite the opposite of all that,” Bret said. “After 13 and 11 years working there, the RME has never been in a better position as an organization than it is today. It just gave us an opportunity to reflect on what our future is and what adventures we want to take.

“After a year of the pandemic, working remotely, we realized we can still work for RME remotely during this transition, which is great,” he said. “Because the RME’s doing excellent – and Tyson is an awesome leader, and the new staff we have is just full of ideas, all the legwork of the last 17 years of the organization kind of just laid the foundation of the growth that the RME has in the community and it’s incredible.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Kate and Bret Dale jamming out at their former Moline home for Music Lab.

“It’s continuing to grow,” Bret said. “That just gave us the opportunity to think about, we’ve been talking about how we’re going to eventually exit the RME, when that’s gonna happen. Then Ellis passed away, and we had some boss turnover, and we had a flood, and then we had a pandemic.”

Now, “the light is just shining bright and why not leave on top?” he asked. “It’s just kind of a beautiful story. We’re lucky to be able to leave a job that we could still work for, for the next 10 years and be happy doing.”

They’re in a different position, since they were directors of a nonprofit who happen to be married, Kate said.

“Maybe it’s a good time to exit together,” she said. “And realizing what kind of a gap that’s gonna leave for Tyson and the rest of the organization to figure out, we wanted to give them as much lead time as possible. We’ve been working with Tyson on this for a couple months and giving him as much transition time as he needs, to make sure the transition is smooth and they’re good to move forward this summer and beyond.”

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They sold their house in Moline and will have this summer to travel, see family they haven’t seen in over a year, and figure out a plan for their next phase in life, Bret said.

“We’re open to anything; we’re open to coming back,” Kate said, noting the slate is blank and they’re excited. “I’ve never not lived in the

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Kate Dale has been RME director of entertainment for 13 years.

Quad-Cities, personally, other than my four-year stint at the University of Iowa. So, it excites me a little bit to try and live in a different community. Then again, I love our community, too. There’s a reason we stuck around for so long.”

“We’ll always have a home base there, no matter where we land,” she said.

“Part of the reason of leaving the River Music Experience now, for me, when everything’s going so great, was to have the opportunity to still be involved in the RME in the future,” Bret said. “Being a small player in watching the development of all the youth of the Quad-Cities, and the development of the organization itself, I always want to be part of that – no matter where I am.”

“You might be able to take me out of the RME, but you’ll never be able to take the RME out of me,” he said. “That’s what great about its mission statement – it’s not tied to downtown Davenport or the Quad-Cities. To be able to spread its joy, its success story to other people wherever we go, that’s something I plan on doing forever.”

RME is the only professional job Kate (a Moline High alum) has ever had. Even with the Redstone Room closing throughout the pandemic, she was busier than ever.

“The plan is to resume shows in the fall, to give people more time to get vaccinated, make it safer, so we don’t have to have any capacity restrictions,” she said. “Through most of the pandemic year, I’ve been kicking the dates down the calendar.”

“Mostly what our calendar will be in the fall is rescheduled dates from 2020,” Kate said. “We started the Curbside Concerts series, where we

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

An example of one of the Curbside Concerts RME presented throughout the Q-C in 2020’s warm months.

took a lot of our local musicians to people’s driveways, backyards, socially distanced opportunities, and as soon as it got cold, we did Curbside Caroling, where the staff went out and caroled for people.”

She helped organize 350-plus concerts from March through December 2020, and helped Bret with his livestreamed Music Lab every weekday (mainly done from their living room).

“We kept busy; it wasn’t a sleepy year by any means,” Kate said. “We just had to get creative with our programming so that we stayed relevant and provide our mission to the community, which I think we did successfully.”

This spring, RME changed the format for new Curbside Concerts, which are still going on, more on demand. There’s a list of musicians who are participating, and you can sign up for them at http://rivermusicexperience.org/Live-Music/Curbside-Concerts.

“A lot of the musicians are back to work, so they have less availability,” Kate said. “Also, the way we structured it last year, we had say, Alan Sweet was scheduled for one day and he had a six-hour block of time. He might fill two of those slots or fill all six, but he had to reserve that whole night.

“Now with everything changing, we knew the demand would be lower, so it didn’t make sense for artists to reserve an entire night if they

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

RME extended curbside concerts into caroling over the holiday season.

wouldn’t get any signups,” she said. “It’s different now, since people are more antsy to get back to their routines, being out and about.”

Many times, people who got Curbside Concerts had not come to RME before.

“That was why it was so successful, because it brought River Music Experience, its programming and even its name to people’s front door, who had never been through ours before,” Bret said. “It was incredible. That’s when we noticed the reach of this program was going way beyond what our normal scope of patronage was.”

Kate said they did a lot of neighborhood concerts, where a whole block or cul-de-sac came out with lawn chairs to listen. “It became a community event for them, to bring back that neighborly feeling that a lot of people don’t have anymore,” she said. “Because we’re all so busy and have different schedules. That was really neat to see the neighbors come out with their kids, or adults, just a general community – really warm and welcoming.”

Many people were also generous with tips for musicians and made donations to RME, Kate said. “We were very thankful for that, especially for artists who lost a year of gigs and were really struggling. Those five and ten-dollar tips really add up and help feed their families and pay their bills.”

Bret said those concerts weren’t meant to replace Redstone Room shows, but to help musicians who lost their livelihood across the Q-C. “The community really rallied around them; it was great,” he said.

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“Part of the decision of leaving is, we know what’s next and let’s get some fresh blood in to do it,” Bret said.

“We’re very grateful for the River Music Experience, because we both started out as entry-level positions there, and they took a chance on us and allowed us to grow,” Kate said. “To move up the ladder in the organization, and we feel very proud of the goals that we’ve accomplished.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Ben Schwind, left, and Bret Dale, performing for a virtual Music Lab at River Music Experience.

There’s also an element to it, we love the idea of a new generation and a new staff to have that same opportunity we did.”

Education coordinator Ben Schwind is picking up Music Lab (a half-hour weekday program) and the weekly RME Radio Hour on WVIK.

Kole Shuda, who has joined the education staff, and Sam Jenkins, a sound engineer intern, have both gone through RME programs.

“It’s really cool to see them on the other side of it,” Kate said. “They have their passions with music and they turned them into careers. That’s just very neat.”

Schwind has been part of about half of the 300-plus episodes of Music Lab, Bret said. “These last couple months, Ben has been doing it by himself during this transition period,” he said.

Of Hobbs, Kate said: “This new person will do more behind-the-scenes organizing of the programs, and Ben and other programming staff take over actual execution of the programs. Bret would do both all the time.”

“The RME reaching out to the whole community was the next evolution of its growth,” Bret said. “Having somebody to be in charge of that with Tyson is key, because it’s not a one-person job.”

Growing up with RME

Schwind started with RME programs (like the former Rock Camp and Winter Blues Camp) in 7th grade, and became a camp counselor in 2009, joining the staff after the death of RME co-founder Ellis Kell in December 2016 at age 61.

“Watching Ben grow, hearing the stories of Ellis talk about when Ben was younger was incredible,” Bret said. “It’s a perfect example of what

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Schwind, RME’s education coordinator, playing for a Music Lab episode.

Kate said about RME allowing people to grow, all the way through its camps, through Ben working with me in programming. I couldn’t do any of it without Ben.

“When Ellis passed away, I was in such shock that Ben never got a proper training,” Bret said. “I knew I needed him and we would run programs together. I just kind of pushed him through the door and let him become who he needed to become in front of kids, instead of what I expected him to be.

“I already knew he was gonna be perfect,” he said. “He’s grown so much and he is the perfect person to work for the RME. The kids trust him, and as soon as I’d stand next to Ben, I was just an old fly in the way of Mr. Ben and the kids wanted to leech on to him so fast.”

“The hardest thing about Music Lab for me was my own brain getting in the way,” Bret said of switching to online teaching after Covid hit in March 2020. “I was extremely worried that because we were running Music Lab through Facebook Live, we’d be reaching so many people who had no idea what the River Music Experience was,” Bret said, noting he was nervous doing it remotely.

“The best thing to do with Music Lab was to have fun and enjoy the idea, everybody’s watching on the other side of it, I realized this was just another entity of what the River Music Experience does,” he said. “The pandemic doesn’t take away all the work we’d done in the past 16

years at the time. It’s only another evolutionary step.”

Now, it’s here to stay, “and you’d have to pry it away from us kicking and screaming,” Bret said. “It’s because of the reach we have – just like Curbside Concerts, for people who have never heard of RME before. That’s the blessing behind it.”

Compared to typical school programs, Music Lab has been able to reach many more people, far beyond the Q-C borders. Kate said people from 23 states and three countries have tuned in.

“As hard as virtual is to get used to, it’s a nice alternative for people that want the content and maybe can’t fit it into the 30-minute segment of the day we do it,” she said, noting people can go back and see archived episodes online.

“Honestly, the adult sector – it’s shocking – they really like to have fun and just experience 30 minutes of carefree joy,” Bret said. “It’s good for everybody.”

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RME Radio Hour, on Saturdays at 6 p.m., is another invaluable community outreach, that’s been going seven years.

“To actually have an hour’s worth of programming, where we can discuss RME programming on all sides, and have fun playing great music,” Bret said, “they’ve really allowed me to grow and experience something special, which is radio. But Mr. Ben is taking that over and it only

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Ben Schwind will take over hosting the Saturday night RME Radio Hour on WVIK, 90.3 FM.

makes sense.”

Schwind’s father was a radio DJ for years. “It just made sense and I was really happy that Ben said he was interested and he really got excited to do it,” Bret said. “He’s gonna do really well and I’m really excited for the evolution of RME Radio Hour.”

“Now that a lot of goals were met of Ellis’ and a lot of my goals were met of mine, there’s a really great foundation for somebody to come in and really just elevate the programming to what its new goals are – which is to reach quality programming to every kid in the Quad-Cities, which is gonna happen,” he said.

“A lot of my finest memories are surrounded by Ellis,” Bret said. “Just having one-on-one conversations in his office that were extremely personal and really just life-changing. Those are moments I’m grateful for because they got me here today. I wish he could see me today, compared to five years ago.

“I have so many questions for him that I want him to answer,” he said. “I still ask those questions.”

“One of the biggest things we gained by working at RME was a relationship with the Kell family,” Kate said, noting the longstanding Karli

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

A huge tribute wall in honor of RME co-founder Ellis Kell, who died in December 2016, is outside the Redstone Room on the second floor.

Rose Kell Scholarship Fund (named in honor of the 17-year-old daughter who died in a 2002 car crash). “They will always be a special part of us.”

A huge tribute wall to Ellis Kell outside the Redstone Room was completed in early 2020, important to show people his key role in starting and growing RME.

The legendary blues singer/songwriter and guitarist was at first RME’s membership, operations and special events manager, and at the time of his death was the director of programming and community outreach.

The RME “wouldn’t be where it is today without the hard work and dedication that Ellis put into this place,” the wall tribute says. “He believed in RME’s mission more than anybody – that no child should be denied the access and opportunity to play or enjoy music, and that music is a key component to our world’s history, compassion and community.”

“To be honest, we as an organization have caught up to what Ellis was always all about,” Danner said. “Ellis was about getting musicians together, creating community, teaching kids. As an organization, historically we’ve put a lot of energy into maintaining this building, getting people to come to ticketed shows, and our focus is finally solidifying around more community outreach – which is what he always wanted.”

That kind of outreach is part of RME’s strategic plan, getting away from focusing on the building, he noted. “When the pandemic happened, that just propelled our strategic plan like three years faster than we thought it was going to. But what else were we going to do?”

Looking back on highlights

Bret loves the history of RME’s All Sweat Productions tribute shows, organized by Davenport’s Al Sweet. Ellis and Bret were among 25 players and singers in the first All Sweat show, in May 2016, performing the classic 1969 album “Abbey Road” in its entirety, plus other Beatles covers.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

A new recording studio as part of the recently opened Underground Economy on the second floor of RME.

All Sweat and RME will return to do another “Abbey Road” concert Saturday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. at Rock Island’s Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

Bret was able to come back last weekend to play with the All Sweat Clapton tribute at the Adler Theatre, and so they got to join the big June 4 open house at the Redstone building, coinciding with the first Friday Live@Five of the year in the RME courtyard (which attracted more than 300 people).

“One big highlight for me was figuring out how to deliver our programming to kids,” Bret said of his tenure. “It was just by being myself.”

He recalled meeting with kids from Spring Forward Learning Center, stopping after talking about American roots music and losing their interest.

“I said, I’m new at this and I really don’t want to waste your guys’ time, and I don’t want you to waste my time,” he said. “I have to be here for 33 weeks in a row; that’s a lot of programming to figure out. I don’t want you to get bored and I don’t want to get bored, so I just started offering alternatives of how we could

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

At the June 8 “Paint the Town” event at RME, all six partners of the Quad Cities Cultural Trust (including the Quad City Symphony) offered information and activities.

start learning for the next year.”

They loved it and they agreed on what to talk about, and because Bret gave them control, they taught him how to be himself and to best deliver the programming.

“Every group is different and from that moment on, we’ve reached thousands of kids in outreach,” Bret said. “I’m doing that wherever I go – I’m teaching you the same thing; I just might be doing it in a different way, that’s better for both of us.”

Looking back, as booking agent, Kate treasures so many concerts at Redstone Room, and the level of talent they’ve been able to secure – including Johnny Winter and Leon Russell.

One of her highlights was booking Fitz and the Tantrums on a Monday night in February 2011, and she sold out the room. “I was like, what just happened? This is amazing,” Kate said. “Now, they’re huge; they’re one of the biggest bands ever.”

“That was a turning point, not just for you but for the RME,” Bret said. “Something happened from that concert on – this trusted relationship with the RME and potential unknown artists coming through. Kate really did her research.”

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“I remember it, because I was managing the Redstone Room and everything was pretty cool and great. It was a lot of repeat bands through the region that were coming,” he said. “All of a sudden, there were national bands coming through that were up and coming she did a ton of due diligence and research on. If you trust me, buy this ticket on a Wednesday night, you’ll thank me, and next thing you know these bands

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

The RME table at “Paint the Town” June 8 featured Lauren Crew, left, director of the new Echo website; Kole Shuda, RME program assistant, and Ben Schwind, RME education coordinator.

were just taking off and our audience was growing.

“The agents Kate was working with were sending her bigger names, because they started trusting her, and it was this big snowball effect,” Bret said.

“The whole game with agents, it’s a big relationship game,” Kate said. “They trust us to send their bands through, we’re gonna take care of them, we’re gonna promote them well, we’re gonna do the best we can to get people there. I think overwhelmingly, we’ve had a really good response. The artists enjoy playing the Redstone Room; we take care of them, and they report back to their agents, that this is a really good place to play.”

Kate said she was able to build that web of trust, among fans, bands and agents. “I’m thankful to be given that opportunity and that trust,” she said.

“The Quad-Cities is in this perfect sweet spot between all these major cities,” Kate said about booking artists on tour in the Midwest. “We’ll often get a really good one-off Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday for bigger artists, because

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The 2021 Live@Five series of free Friday concerts started at 5 p.m. June 4.

they just want to have a shorter drive on the pass through. So, because we have a smaller capacity, they have to play for less because we can only afford so much on the ticket.”

“We’re competitive – we don’t skimp on paying artists,” she said. “I really work hard with my bosses to build the budget up, but we’re trying to get people a living wage, because this is what they do.”

Kate said the new location of Zeke’s Island Café in the restaurant space will be a great addition to downtown. “I think it’s a perfect fit for the RME – they’ve got health-conscious food the artists are gonna love,” she said. “What a great fit, we’re excited for that.”

The first Live@Five June 4 outside was packed, with at most 325 people in attendance, compared to limiting late last summer (in an abbreviated season during Covid) to 80 each time, in socially distanced pods.

“Usually, we would do 125 to 150 in the courtyard,” Danner said of pre-pandemic Live@Five nights. “It’s a different beast when you get people in there hugging, talking, partying.”

More changes to come

Before Covid, the RME started Jesse Ricke in a new position —  community engagement coordinator – in February 2020. She manages community relationships and fundraising efforts, strengthening RME’s ties with the community and developing resources to grow programs.

“We didn’t have a fundraising department, let alone a fundraising person,” Danner said recently. “You have to have that dedication to grow

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Jesse Ricke is the RME community engagement coordinator.

that and it’s been a priority for RME to grow community support, financially and otherwise.”

They were able to create that position in part with a grant from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation.

“They were able to give us that rocket boost to get that position going,” Danner said. “Jesse’s focus is fundraising and development, and community relationships.”

“This year has been crazy; none of us has ever gone through a year like this,” Ricke said in January 2021. “Literally, right after I started, it became difficult to engage with anybody, let alone the community. So it’s been quite a challenge, but it’s been wonderful. It just forces everybody to think outside of the box and kind of take a step back and not be afraid of making any changes.

“Being a new staff member with that was awesome, because I was able to bring my knowledge and experience with other nonprofits, I was able to bring to RME and given a chance to implement it,” she said. “It’s been pretty cool.”

Ricke has been working with other nonprofits to help sponsor programs, as well as businesses and individuals, stressing the two-way relationships instead of just grant requests, Danner said.

“Our approach has to be relationship first, and how do we work together to create something wonderful?” he asked. “Adding that position was big for us.”

“She’s had a hell of a first year,” Danner said of Ricke. “She’s finally getting to meet people in person she’s wanted to meet for a long time, to build up those relationships.”

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Through the new Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, the RME has applied to get reimbursed up to 45 percent of lost earned revenue the previous year, which for RME includes admissions, bar sales, and rental fees.

“Ours is significant – it’s $190,000 we’re eligible for, assuming we did it right,” Danner said. “That makes a huge difference in our ability to invest in growing programs. We don’t know when we might have it.”

Kidstock (formerly Rock Camp) this summer will be capped at 15 students per camp, in three one-week sessions, for kids age 8-18. Pre-pandemic, they typically had 30 students in two two-week sessions culminating in a live performance.

“We’re keeping our numbers low, we’re still going to social distance the kids in the rooms for their bands,” Bret Dale said. “It’s just the

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Josh Graves moved The Underground Economy to RME last March.

comfortability of the families for what they want their kids to be part of. We’re not just gonna restrict to kids who have had the vaccine, ‘cause that’s hard to do.”

RME still will have a concert at the end of each week in the Redstone Room, just for immediate families, he said.

Many students involved in Kidstock haven’t had access to the vaccine yet, so they are being more careful, Danner said. He said the new Underground Economy, run by Josh Graves on the second floor, will give great opportunities for students and local musicians to record music.

“We’re really excited with the new recording studio, to partner up with Josh so the kids can go in there and cut a couple tracks while they’re here, because they’ve never been able to do that before,” Danner said.

“They get the experience of building a track – they can do a re-take,” he said. “It’s giving them a whole different experience we’ve never been able to give them before, which is kind of important to have if you want to be a musician.”

Graves is also interested in offering a class in audio engineering, Danner said.

RME will contract out the talent buying that Kate Dale did, Danner said. The Redstone Room will not restart regular concerts until August, at full capacity.

“It’s more about the audience’s experience. We could have done shows,” he said. “We could have done them, if we wanted to, programmed shows in January.”

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

The Underground Economy, launched in August 2018, does video and audio production, among many other services.

“The experience as an audience member – if you’re one of 50 people in a room that’s built for 300 – is not the same,” Danner said. “We wanted to make sure when we did Redstone Room shows again, they felt like they’re supposed to – good energy, a good crowd.”

“There’s so much stuff going on outdoors; everybody wants to be outside,” he said of the summer. “It’s more about us trying to meet people where they’re at. And it gives us a little breathing room to get through the summer.”

However, the long-running Polyrhythms Third Sunday Jazz Workshop Matinee Series at the Redstone Room did restart last month, and the next one will be June 20, with a performance from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with Christopher’s Very Happy Band (Chris Merz, Mike Conrad, Drew Morton andv  Dave Tiede).

Admission for the concert is $15 for reserved seating. Seats are limited and you may pay at the door, but it’s suggested that you call and reserve a spot, at 309-373-0790 or nate@polyrhythms.org.

Late last month, RME also introduced a new music website – TheEchoQC.org – in partnership with Visit Quad Cities.

The Echo is a new, digital music publication showcasing how music is an integral part of the cultural identity of the Quad-Cities. Using contributing writers from the Q-C area, the content featured throughout this new publication will highlight events, artists, promoters, sound engineers, and more happening as part of the music scene in our community.

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Another resurging part of RME is the Bix Beiderbecke Museum and World Archives, on the building’s lower level (which also houses RME offices).

A $12,000 project will make it possible to permanently display Don Murray’s tenor saxophone and Bix’s tuxedo jacket and traveling trunk during the Paul Whiteman years in the museum. The saxophone was donated to the museum last year by Don Murray’s great-nephew, Justice Tom Harris Jr., and the tuxedo and trunk will be on permanent loan from Bix’s great-nephew, Chris Beiderbecke.

Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday

Bix Beiderbecke (seated center) shown performing with Don Murray on clarinet (behind him). Murray died at 24 in a freak car accident in 1929.

Funding for this project will cover the needed costs of cleaning and restoring the gold-plated 1923 saxophone, fabricating casements to house the new objects, and creating new signage in the exhibit.

Renovations are expected to be completed in July, just in time to celebrate the 50th-annual Bix Jazz Festival this Aug. 5-7 at Rhythm City Casino, Davenport.

Museum director Nate Kraft said Friday they need to raise more than $1,000 and they are still accepting donations, to complete the project by late July. “We are planning to complete the project regardless of if we reach the donation goal or not, so any public support is appreciated,” he said.

The free tribute to the Davenport native Bix (1903-1931) has seen a major increase in visitor traffic in the past couple of weeks, as life has gotten more back to normal, Kraft said. “The generous donations from these visitors have been going to help fund the project as we are looking to reach the goal, so anyone who visits the museum and leaves a donation are helping fund this project,” he said.

“The museum is also looking to have extended hours throughout the summer that will be coinciding with events at the RME and our other partners,” Kraft said, noting that during the June 11 Live@Five, the museum was open until 8 p.m.

“We’ll be adding more of those dates throughout the summer — the next one planned is June 25th for that Live@Five event,” he said.

For more information, visit bixmuseum.org, and rivermusicexperience.org.

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Davenport-based River Music Experience In Transition on 17th Birthday
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.