Quad-Cities Year In Arts: Reflecting On A Year Like No Other, Personally and in the Arts
Saturday In The Arts is a comprehensive weekly feature looking at a trend, personality, or major subject involving the Quad-Cities arts and entertainment scene.
Making it through nearly five months of a paralyzing pandemic was bad enough, but for those of us in Iowa and the Quad-Cities, Aug. 10, 2020 and the days that followed seemed especially cruel.
I’ll never forget that Monday afternoon, working on my laptop in the basement, a prisoner in my home trying not to go insane during a crazy year. The power suddenly went out, as a freak inland hurricane (or “derecho” – duh-RAY-cho – as everyone learned) quickly swept through the Midwest.
In the grand scheme of things, our household (including two sons home from March to September) was relatively lucky compared to those who had much worse property damage and lost power for six or seven days. We got our electricity restored by Wednesday night at 9 p.m., but the intervening time was staggeringly frustrating – usually glued to my phone and computer for work, news and entertainment, so going without was truly monk-like.
The only car charger was in my wife’s car, so we took turns charging our phones. The depressing feeling summed up most of this relentlessly bleak, loss-filled year – powerless. If I ever write a memoir of 2020, that will be its title.
And yet…so many wonderful things emerged out of this nightmare of a year. This week, I surpassed 300 stories I have written for QuadCities.com, which has been a true lifeline and life-changer for me and an ideal outlet to feature the extraordinary people, artists, businesses, and cultural organizations that make this such a great place to live.
One of those stories emerged directly from the derecho. The 100-mile-per hour winds that pummeled the Q-C on Aug. 10 produced more than power outages, downed trees and other damage. The fast-moving, devastating storm gave wood artist Steve Sinner of Bettendorf an
The 78-year-old native of Omaha, Neb., is an internationally acclaimed woodturner and one of his latest projects turned a chunk of a large tree trunk downed in Bettendorf, into a beautifully polished vessel.
A month later, on Sept. 10, I wrote about how Sinner found the hard maple trunk along Devils Glen Road, ideal for his use since the pieces he needs have to be as close to the center of the tree as possible.
Sinner (who also produces and sells woodturning equipment) is but one of countless examples of people and places this year who took lemons and made delicious lemonade from them. And the unending grief and chaos caused by Covid-19 has left us with so many lemons.
Over and over since March (after I unexpectedly lost a job that I loved, at the local daily newspaper), I have been bowled over by this area’s generosity, creativity, courage, resilience, strength, perseverance, and willingness to try something new in the face of often insurmountable obstacles.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite stories from this year, as we all look forward to brighter days ahead in 2021.
Sharing music in a new way
“Through it all, we’ve been bringing the music to you. With Music Lab, Curbside Concerts, JAM Sessions and other livestream shows, and support for other music organizations and venues, we’ve worked hard to make sure that music thrives in our community,” it said.
Since the Redstone Room had to shelve its 2020 concerts at RME, the nonprofit teamed with local musicians ingeniously, to bring music out in the community through Curbside Concerts, then during the holiday season, with Curbside Carols.’
“A lot has changed in the past six months, but our mission hasn’t: The life-changing power of music is more important than ever,” RME said in a Sept. 30 story.
- Music brings people together when it seems like everything else is tearing us apart.
- Music brings creative joy to young people, helping them find their voice.
- Music teaches life skills: confidence, public speaking, self-expression.
- Music builds our economy, creating jobs, generating tourism, and retaining a talented workforce. Music improves our lives and our community. When music wins, we all
In the midst of the pandemic, RME has continued to invent creative new ways to bring music to the community:
- MUSIC LAB: Bringing education and creativity directly into homes through daily livestreams (weekdays at 10 a.m.) and Mediacom broadcasts, led by Bret Dale and Ben Schwind, reaching more than 25,000 viewers from March through September. Viewers have tuned in from more than 25 states and the United Kingdom.
- CURBSIDE CONCERTS: Employing local musicians to deliver live music to more than 5,000 audience members in neighborhoods throughout the Q-Cs since April.
- STREAMING LIVE MUSIC: Popular free series like Solitary Sessions and J.A.M. Sessions have reached more than 4,000 and generated financial support for local musicians.
The J.A.M. sessions started Sept. 4 with the Avey Grouws Band, with free, high-quality livestreamed shows, recorded from Dustin Cobb’s Joy Avenue Media studio in Bettendorf.
“We think the most value in the streaming shows is helping build support for the bands,” RME executive director Tyson Danner said. “We try to encourage the virtual tip jar for the bands, and that seems to be going really well for the bands. They’ve got their regular fans and they’re
meeting new people online.”
RME said the Curbside Carols program was the perfect way to cap off the year. “Audiences expressed their gratitude for the holiday cheer. And — despite frozen fingers and toes — we had a blast sharing the joy of music with our fellow Quad Citizens,” they posted.
Like so many area musicians, Davenport jazz pianist and singer Freddy Allen had to scramble this year to figure out how to get his music to people and still earn a living. He’s been a professional musician for 37 years.
After spending most of his career in Chicago, Allen moved to Davenport three years ago to be close to family and become a part of the vibrant Q-C music scene.
In addition to limited outdoor and indoor gigs this year, he took the online route like many artists, playing from his home on Facebook for tips. In October, Allen launched a series of online concerts, “Freddy and Friends,” where he and some of his favorite musical colleagues performed from an empty venue, streamed live from Facebook, and all tips were shared equally among the performers.
“Knowing the cold weather that’s coming with fall and winter, we’ll be very limited in indoor performances. Over the summer, I could play outdoors,” Allen (who makes his living as a full-time musician) said in an Oct. 16 story.
“Also with the Covid numbers being so high in Iowa, we’re scared. I am,” he said. “I am very, very cautious. I wanted to create something, we could do this online, to help all of us, to perform and bring good live music to our listeners, and they could stay inside in the comfort of their homes. We could still make some extra money through virtual tips.”
The series featured music from two of his favorite venues, Davenport’s The Grape Life and Rock Island’s Hauberg Estate, with the most recent – a holiday special Dec. 19 – the biggest yet. Allen performed with saxophonist Neal Smith, percussionist Josh Duffee, trumpeter Manny Lopez and singer Chris Castle.
The beautiful Hauberg setting was dazzlingly lit with a fully decked Christmas tree and the music was wonderful.
On the same night, Davenport’s First Presbyterian Church also presented a special Christmas concert online. Unfortunately, Covid forced their beloved 80-voice Sanctuary Choir to be benched, so the pre-recorded program featured solo and small group performances from 39 of FPC’s adult and youth choir members — and it remains available on Facebook from the “Music at First Pres” page.
Allen recently posted on Facebook: “When I created the series, my goal was to provide great music and good vibes for folks at home during this pandemic. I wanted to feature some very talented, local musicians, and help generate a little extra income through virtual tips. With musicians struggling, I hoped this might help compensate for all of our cancelled performances during these challenging months. I am so
very grateful to everyone who tuned in, commented and shared the videos.”
“Your kindness has been overwhelming, and appreciated beyond words. A special thanks to Diane and Kevin Koster from The Grape Life, and Deb Kuntzi from The Hauberg Estate for hosting us during off hours at your beautiful venues,” he wrote.
“Of course my heart is full of gratitude for these amazing musicians. What a joy it’s been for me to work with them through all of this craziness. The pandemic is not over, so neither is my mission to continue bringing great music to you in the safety of your own home. I will continue Freddy and Friends into 2021, and feature your favorite local musicians.”
Virtual choirs offer music from a distance
As a longtime church piano accompanist (at Davenport’s Zion Lutheran since 1999), I have terribly missed playing for services since mid-March. Like many churches, Zion has offered abridged online services, with music mostly recorded from home – and a Christmas service
with me and organist Keith Haan playing separately, alone in the church.
I did several stories on how both vocal and instrumental ensembles in the area still found a way to come together during a challenging year.
With the new school year, I did this Sept. 19 comprehensive look at how several high schools and colleges throughout the Q-C were taking individual, thoughtfully considered approaches to continuing their music and theater programs. While indoor performances for the public were unlikely for most, several schools creatively found ways to still provide performing arts outlets for students.
I was especially impressed with the care, research and detail taken by Nathan Windt and Nicholas Enz, heads of St. Ambrose University’s
choral and band programs, respectively, to offer music safely.
While most theaters and choirs canceled performances, the Nova Singers found a way to come together in person, to bring some much-needed peace, love and joy into our lives.
Under the direction of their fearless, passionate founder, Dr. Laura Lane, the 20-member vocal ensemble presented its first livestream event on Dec. 12. On Facebook Live, “Peace, Love, Joy!” featured solos, small group performances, and songs by the whole ensemble, with commentary by the amazing Lane, director of choral activities at Knox College, who started Nova in 1986.
Typically offering concerts throughout the year in the Q-C and Galesburg, Nova in late August recorded in a gazebo at Galesburg’s Lincoln Park, with each member performing in special singer’s masks.
In May, Lane and 36 members of the Knox College Choir (which had its spring European tour canceled) worked individually to create a virtual choir video – of “Locus Iste” (which means “this place”) by Paul Mealor, edited by Knox Professor Pierce Gradone.
Everyone recorded their part individually from home, without the benefit of accompaniment. You can watch it HERE.
(Personal aside – my super-talented son Josh, 20, also felt the sting of Covid by having to leave Grinnell College March 13, to study from home, and also had his spring 2020 choir tour canceled. They were to sing in Vienna, Prague and Budapest, and the Grinnell Singers too, took the lonely task of recording individually from home to make this touching wordless video for the holidays. Again, fitting for 2020, there are no words…the music starts at 1:17.)
Augustana College, Rock Island, put together a similar virtual choir in August. First-year students fittingly performed “Hope Lingers On” after taking a virtual class with conductors Jon Hurty and Michael Zemek this summer. Augustana invited members of the Class of 2024 to take a free virtual summer class as a way to meet new friends and professors before arriving on campus.
Hurty, Augie’s director of choral activities, also bravely pursued virtual rehearsals this fall for a totally reconceived Handel’s “Messiah. My Nov. 14 story looked at the challenging process.
About 50 members of The Augustana Oratorio Society, originally named the Handel Oratorio Society, have been rehearsing since early October on Zoom, and the fervent prayer is to sing it with about 150 voices total (including the Augustana Choir and Augustana Choral
Artists) on May 2, 2021, as part of the Easter season.
Talk about having faith, and aiming for a musical, societal resurrection. It must be frustrating for singers and conductor both to rehearse virtually, since everyone has to take part alone online. Hurty has played a recording of the masterwork as they sing their part, but he can’t hear any of them and they can’t hear each other.
There’s really no way to realistically have a choir sing simultaneously on Zoom, without it being a sonic car crash. That heartbreakingly defeats the thrill of a choir in the first place – singing together.
One of my favorite choir stories this year was July 23, when I spoke with a Q-C woman who was part of an astoundingly huge virtual choir. Lynne Stukart of LeClaire can’t sing the praises of that global gathering loudly enough. But that
makes sense, since for Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 – with 17,562 singers from 129 nations – they literally were told to “Sing Gently.”
At a time when we could all use some peace, togetherness and harmony, Stukart, a veteran flute teacher, was overjoyed to be part of the online musical project. She’s a big fan of Whitacre, the popular choral composer and his ambitious virtual choirs – a project that started in 2010 with individual videos from 185 singers from 12 countries, blended to perform a piece of his in perfect harmony. Previously, he’s done five of the virtual choirs (performing existing pieces), each one bigger than the last.
I cannot imagine the time and patience it took to assemble so many voices together in this simple, transcendent, comforting piece – so it all sounds seamless. That also embodied the conundrum of Covid – having to be alone at home, yet seeking connection with others and producing something so beautiful that can offer us solace while we’re alone.
Theaters explore other means to adapt
As a huge theater fan and past musical accompanist, I was devastated March 13, 2020, when Quad City Music Guild canceled the spring production of “The Secret Garden,” two weeks before opening, and after I had spent five weeks rehearsing for my Guild debut.
I was pained to see how other local theaters either shut completely or struggled to adapt to constantly changing state restrictions aimed to stop the spread of Covid. As of this week, it has claimed the lives of about 328,000 people nationwide – including 374 in Scott and Rock Island counties.
In one of many Circa stories, on Aug. 25, I wrote about the 43-year-old dinner theater’s plans to reopen Sept. 9, and other alternative entertainment during its closure. I was ecstatic to do a rare in-person interview for this Oct. 1 piece on how Circa’s Speakeasy pulled off a reimagined October tradition, “The Rocky Horror Show.”
After its four-actor comedy, “Savannah Sipping Society,” in early November, Circa was forced to close again because of the Illinois ban on indoor dining. It’s the first holiday season (always special at Circa) they’ve been closed in theater history.
“Winter Wonderland” – which was to run Nov. 11 – Dec. 30 – is a heartwarming new musical, written by head Bootlegger Brad Hauskins and performed at Circa in 1995, is about a dad’s wish to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas. The children’s musical “Seussical” was supposed to run Nov. 27 – Dec. 27; Circa doesn’t expect to reopen until March 2021.
Davenport Junior Theatre shifted to offering a ton of classes online this year, and in this Oct. 31 feature, I wrote how the new artistic director supervised the first virtual production in the 69-year-history of the program.
After 11 years, Daniel Sheridan was succeeded this year as artistic director of the nation’s second-oldest children’s theater by Ben Gougeon, a 43-year-old actor-director who helmed “Snow White 2.Zoom” – a free online production. They plan to continue in the virtual world for their second show, “Alice in Wonderland,” in February.
Being an artist means being creative and adaptable, and no one knows this more than longtime Q-C theater veteran Lora Adams, whom I greatly admire. This Oct. 2 piece looked at the small, affecting plays she was able to stage (with limited casts and audiences) for a limited time.
Co-owner of the Black Box Theatre, 1623 5th Ave., Moline, she was the first in the area to reopen for an indoor production during the Covid-19 pandemic, on July 16 with Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw,” starring Matt Walsh and Kayla Jo Pulliam (wearing clear face shields), with Walsh playing four different characters.
The Spotlight Theatre, 1800 7th Ave., Moline, hasn’t staged a major musical since last February’s “The Wedding Singer,” but it also has done a lot of alternative programming – both in-person and online. This Nov. 24 story told some of that, highlighting co-owner Brent Tubbs creating a video with other theaters, meant to be shared with the hashtag “#savetheartsqc.”
Q-C efforts to lift each other up
With so many people hurting – financially and emotionally – this year, it would be very easy for us to retreat and totally withdraw from the world. But I was overwhelmed by how many in the Q-C made the extra effort to reach out and support others at this time of immense pain and suffering.
The first that leaps to mind is the generous musician Donovan Gustofson, who created QC HIVE to help others hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, but had little idea how it would grow and flourish.
The Facebook group formed March 23 and attracted over 6,800 members, raising $70,000-plus through late September to support local musicians, artists, bars, restaurants and other small business owners struggling to make it after Covid devastated the economy.
Gustofson — bassist in the Q-C band Funktastic Five, assistant music director at Davenport’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, and adjunct music teacher at Black Hawk College, offering private piano, guitar and bass lessons – disbanded the HIVE after six months.
“It’s been going for so long now, there are still so many people, businesses that people should be visiting, patronizing,” he said in this Sept. 22 piece, noting the need to donate remains. “I think the donations on our end in the last couple months have been slowly dwindling. Sustaining this, I had no idea how long we’d be doing this when we started. The need is still there, but the group has run its course.”
Gustofson would pick a local artist or business every day and ask people to donate at least $1 and share the post.
“There are people out there I know personally who have no income. That’s where the idea came from,” he said in late March. “It’s such a giving community here, if we had enough people collecting for one person or one business a day, we could reach out a helping hand and pull them up.”
ways to cope and thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cannon has shown enormous heart by making hundreds of lunches last month for overworked medical staff at UnityPoint Health – Trinity and Genesis hospitals.
Originally planned as an “Adopt a Nurse” program, she asked customers to spend $10 per employee, for Oh So Sweet to make and deliver individually boxed lunches consisting on one of their popular sandwiches, a giant cookie, chips and a pickle.
On Nov. 17, Cannon had over 300 sandwiches delivered to Trinity campuses in the Quad-Cities, and on Nov. 20, they delivered 540 boxes for the ICU, Emergency Room, Medical Pulmonary Unit and Medical Telemetry staff at Genesis West, East and Silvis.
In a May 6 story, I profiled the indefatigable working mom, Stephanie Soebbing of Rock Island, an expert in multi-tasking and time management.
In the spring, she was especially busy during the coronavirus crisis, homeschooling her six-year-old daughter, caring for her then-three-month-old daughter, and with her husband Adam, running their business – which has a key role in making masks used around the nation.
Soebbing is founder and owner of Quilt Addicts Anonymous (QAA), a quilt shop specializing in modern and contemporary fabrics.
QAA supplied fabric for thousands of people making masks, across the country. It gave away twist ties that are used in the nose bridge of the
mask, that make it fit better. Soebbing put out a video asking if people needed them, and by May, she donated 400,000 of them (only charging for shipping and postage).
“We’re not making any money on it,” she said. “We feel it’s important to help support a community and help slow the spread of the virus. We’re supporting them that way, and they in turn are supporting us by ordering other things.”
QAA also has sold hundreds of mask kits for people to make masks. Soebbing said quilting fabric blocks out up to 78 percent of all airborne particles. “That is the preferred fabric everybody is getting to make these,” she said.
Locally, QAA gave away more than 700 yards of fabric to help with mask-making efforts in the Q-C. Soebbing put together a 42-minute video (https://www.quiltaddictsanonymous.com/2020/04/how-to-start-a-mask-making-group-in-your-community/) late last month on how to start mask making in your community, interviewing two mask makers and distributors in the area – Shelli Eng and her daughter Erica, and Stacie Kintigh.
On a larger level, United Way Quad Cities and the Quad Cities Community Foundation have been outstanding in raising funds both to offer Covid financial relief, but also for a new United Way “United for Equity” fund that will offer grants to help reduce racial disparities in the area.
In this Oct. 30 story, I noted that in 2019, spoken-word artist Aubrey Barnes and singer-songwriter Delores Westbrook-Tingle partnered to make a new song that summarizes what United Way of the Quad Cities is all about – “Together.”
That inspiring song – which kicked off the July 2019 unveiling of United Way’s African-American Leadership Society (AALS) and was part of the September 2019 launch of “Amplify Quad Cities: The Soundtrack” – was this year made into a new five-minute video (produced by dphilms of Rock Island) to support the nonprofit’s racial equity effort.
“We need to stand strong – walking together in this community,” sings Westbrook-Tingle. “Walking hand in hand, we can make a change.”
On April 6, I wrote about Rock Island mom Lindsey Munson (who with her husband adopted two kids from Ethiopia). She donated half the sales of two new books she wrote about her family – “Munson Marvels: Our Forever Family” and “Munson Marvels: My Peach Family” – to Rock Island’s Center for Living Arts.
There are other examples, including the generosity of local residents who contributed to vital fundraisers held by just about every major cultural organization in the area – such as the first virtual Festival of Trees for Quad City Arts — who need the support now more than ever.
Showing museum changes in statewide project
Museums in the area took varied approaches to dealing with Covid restrictions. As a part-time reporter also for WVIK (the Q-C NPR station), I was honored to be part of a new statewide effort in Illinois to track how museums were grappling with the crisis.
The Prairie State Museums Project began in April 2020 as a grant application to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Coronavirus News Collaboration Challenge. In partnership with local media journalism across Illinois, this project elevates the stories of “Prairie State” museums and their inherent community and economic value as they faced the Covid crisis.
In June and July of 2020, the project worked with 13 news outlets across the state, employing 16 journalists – I was the only one in the Quad-Cities, and contributed four stories, that are available on the project website.
To inform the critical and timely news coverage of this collaboration, the Prairie State Museums Project partnered with Arts Alliance Illinois, Illinois Association of Museums, the Midwest Museums Association, American Alliance of Museums, and the International Council of Museums to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on museum institutions in Illinois as well as the sector at large.
Three of the many museum stories related to Covid I did over the course of the year were on July 22, April 11, and July 31. The Putnam Museum & Science Center was the last major museum in the Q-C to reopen (in July), with a new entrance and visitor area, with a relocated gift shop, and I recently got to do a major piece on its planned overhaul of the permanent Q-C exhibit.
Since museums are natural repositories for a community’s history and culture, both the Figge Art Museum and Putnam are working on collecting artifacts from the public during this decidedly unique, traumatizing year. Both are seeking photos, documents and items that reflect what 2020 has been, while the Putnam is collecting for perpetuity, the Figge has a new “2020 Vision” exhibit that recently opened, to run through mid-February.
Addressing major losses and in-depth features
Of course, 2020 has been a year of incalculable losses and having to grapple with a different way of grieving. Our family had to absorb the May death of my 93-year-old mother-in-law, with a strange, small (no extended family or friends) graveside service in Naperville, Ill.
Part of my chronicles for the year included these difficult tributes to very well-known local figures who died in 2020 (here with the date of the story):
- Geneseo actor John VanDeWoestyne, March 26
- Bettendorf High teacher and paper-cutter Keith Bonnstetter, Sept. 16
- Music Guild director Bob Williams, Oct. 5
- Retired Augustana English professor Roald Tweet, Nov. 5
- Former Q-C visitor bureau CEO Joe Taylor, Dec. 4
- Q-C historian Curtis Roseman, Dec. 20
Another difficult loss was recounting the hope, history and gradual demise of the quirky, cool Bucktown Center for the Arts and its parent
Midcoast Fine Arts. The closing of the art galleries and studios in downtown Davenport was planned a few months before the onset of Covid, but its collision with the health crisis deprived the priceless nonprofit a proper public farewell.
My 6,200-word tribute to Bucktown and Midcoast was on June 3. A different kind of loss was seeing St. Ambrose in Davenport cut its award-winning theater major, despite massive public opposition. I talked to some SAU alums (for this Oct. 27 piece) and noted how the move seemed a public-relations disaster that will undoubtedly affect future giving.
The Bucktown story led indirectly to creation of a weekly series I’ve been able to do since mid-June, I dubbed “Saturday in the Arts” (a play on the Chicago hit “Saturday in the Park”). Each week, I get to delve deeply into a cultural issue, subject, person, organization, or other trend that is worthy of greater attention – most all with a Q-C connection.
My first was on June 13, headlined “Major Quad-Cities Concert Venues Warily Eye Reopening.” I have had many favorite Saturday features in the six months since, but here are some of those (to last you through the New Year):
- The film version of “Hamilton” and local fans’ reactions (July 4)
- Disney World performers with Q-C connections (July 18)
- Emmy-winning costume designer and SAU alum Brian Hemesath (Aug. 8)
- The 100th anniversary of U.S. women’s suffrage (Aug. 22)
- The 10th anniversary and impact of Living Proof Exhibit (Aug. 29)
- The new Quad City Music Academy and founder Hannah Holman (Sept. 5)
- Quad City Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary (Sept. 12)
- An examination of Netflix’s “Social Dilemma” and our media addictions (Oct. 3)
- Profile of Steph DeLacy and Megan Warren, and their musical theater podcast (Nov. 7)
- The history of Davenport’s Renwick Mansion and its role in entertainment and special events (Nov. 21)
- Pleasant Valley High’s theater department and achievements of alumni, students and friends (Dec. 5)
- A tribute to composer Ludwig van Beethoven on his 250th birthday, celebrated here and around the world (Dec. 12)
Since 2020 has been a combination of bad and good things (well, like any year), there’s some bittersweet news to share on a couple of these
The amazing Nathan Meyer (a North Scott alum) lost his job at Disney World this fall, among 18,000 fired at the Orlando, Fla., area theme park, and 28,000 Disney employee layoffs in October alone. He and his wife Whitney pivoted right away and started their own business, Amazing Grey Designs (their cute son is
They create beautiful custom wall signs and ship all over the United States; also specializing in organizing your clutter, and refreshing your home spaces. On Dec. 3, Nathan posted an adorable photo of him holding Greyson, next to their Christmas tree – “Just think about how many smiles I would have missed if I hadn’t lost my job,” he wrote. That is accentuating the positive!
Like many Quad City Symphony musicians, principal cellist Hannah Holman is a busy private teacher as well. She and the nimble QCSO made it through a perilous 2020, as they pulled off a perfectly planned Riverfront Pops at LeClaire Park in September, and offered digital access to their fall Masterworks concerts – including playing with reduced forces and in an empty Adler Theatre in November and December.
The slick videos are powerful and professionally produced. (The Beethoven “Eroica” — paired with a Bach keyboard concerto,
Holman’s launch of the new Quad City Music Academy had a happy holiday gift with this month’s announcement of a lease of the historic Deanery at Davenport’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. One of the best livestreams I saw all year was this past Wednesday, when she and some of her colleagues and students shared their plans and some beautiful music from the empty living room at 1103 Main St.
You can see the hour-long video at the new Deanery School of Music Facebook page, and please consider donating – since they need to raise $50,000 to match a Hubbell-Waterman Foundation grant for building renovations.
The passionate, exuberant dancers with Ballet Quad Cities also proved to be especially gifted on their twinkling toes, bringing performances outdoors at Davenport’s Outing Club, and even managing limited-seating indoor holiday productions for Halloween and earlier this month, featuring dinner and cash bar.
Four extraordinary women triumph in an extraordinarily terrible year
A quartet of other features that hold a special place in my heart this year spotlighted women with Q-C links who faced remarkably daunting
challenges this year (some unrelated to Covid) and emerged brighter and stronger. That’s partly because they were all tough and tenacious to start with.
- Kim Findlay – the former Putnam president/CEO – shared her story June 10, about Harley, her beloved 10-year-old Golden Retriever. With Harley, Findlay and her husband Rick set out July 7, 2019 in their new RV for a cross-country adventure, all west of the Mississippi. They put 12,000 miles on the motor home, gave Harley the time of his life, mourned his death, endured changes due to the Covid-19 crisis, and by the time they arrived home in May, Findlay wrote and self-published her first children’s book — retrieving golden memories of their canine and delivering important life lessons on the way.
“It was the first time I’ve had butterflies in my stomach in I don’t know how long,” she said of releasing “Harley’s Great Adventure: “Meeting Change With Courage and Kindness” on Amazon (available free on Kindle and $9.90 as paperback).
The book’s message also can apply to Covid and adapting to that reality.
“The abrupt change in lifestyle,” Findlay said. “Whether children are in school and now not physically in school, preschool or daycare all of sudden, grandparents can’t come over and hug you. You can’t play on playground equipment. This is what it’s about, meeting change.”
- I got to feature the internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Lissie Maurus, a Rock Island native, in two revealing, heartwarming stories – 19 and Dec. 11. The first highlighted peace and unity in a new music video, and the second focused on her latest EP, “Thank You To The Flowers.”
Each song on the EP was recorded as a form of therapy, using Lissie’s powerful voice to infuse each track with her own emotions to simultaneously lift her spirit and celebrate the women that inspired her to do so.
In addition to “Wrecking Ball,” the record features “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” (Martha Wainwright), “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” (Paula Cole), “Change” (Lana Del Rey),” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” (penned by Prince but made famous by Sinead O’Connor).
The new EP follows her other popular covers, including ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Bad Romance’ by Lady Gaga, ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’ by Kid Cudi and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica, which have collectively amassed 57 million streams.
It’s been an epic, challenging year for everyone, in so many ways, and Lissie used the new record to both find and offer comfort and solace.
- The biggest star I interviewed this year was this month with the singular, sensational Margo Price, an Aledo, Ill., native who’s made it big on the country/Americana scene while speaking out on many progressive causes.
Even though artists’ tours shut down this year (and who knows when they’ll return), Price has done many livestream shows and has been a busy voice this year on social media and several media outlets nationwide – addressing urgent issues like racial injustice, Covid-19 financial relief, political polarization, public health and how to get out of this endless pandemic alive and sane.
As a fiery opponent of President Trump and his enablers, “I know I’m losing out on money from people who are far-right,” Price told me in this Dec. 17 feature. “Every hero I ever had stood for something and was not afraid to speak their mind when it mattered. I’m not worried about the money; that’s not why I got into this in the first place. I just want to make good art and honest art. Hopefully, people appreciate that.”
“I think with social media, the dangers and the evils there in that world, with that comes great responsibility,” she said. “You do have a platform for what you say, and what you do, that influences people – whether you want to or not. I don’t want to be a politician. I don’t even like politicians.”
“I do want a world that is safe for my children to live in. That is the Catch-22 that I find myself in,” Price said. She and her husband (singer-songwriter Jeremy Ivey) live outside Nashville, Tenn., with their kids Judah, 10, and Ramona, 18 months.
When I pointed out that one of her favorite songs of the year, Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul” (about the JFK assassination) could have been even more timely by reflecting on the George Floyd murder, Margo said that was “a great correlation” and my heart leapt.
- Closer to home, for my birthday on Dec. 14, I had the great gift of doing a profile on Emma Benson, a lovely, inspiring 29-year-old Sherrard native who prepared for a first Christmas without her father and the baby boy he never got to meet.
Christmas has always been a highlight for Emma’s family as her father, Bob Williams, the beloved Quad City Music Guild director who died suddenly Oct. 4 at 61, from a heart attack, absolutely loved the holiday and stitched intricate, detailed stockings for his family members.
Two consecutive Christmas Eves (in 2013 and 2014), Emma was hospitalized in Iowa City for anorexia, and treasured the times her father and family visited. Thirteen days after Bob died this October, Emma gave birth to her second child, Zeke, and she’s dealing with a lot of bittersweet emotions.
They had a funeral outdoors at Trimble Funeral Home in Moline, with about 30 people.
“It’s so hard, with this happening during a pandemic, but that was kind of a gift in and of itself – because it was just our family and our closest friends from Music Guild,” Emma said. “Just being able to have this intimate service, we were all able to laugh together and weep together. There wasn’t the anxiety of having to greet hundreds of people coming to see him and pay respects. It was so special.”
All four of the kids performed songs in honor of Bob, and Emma read from Man in Chair’s closing monologue in “Drowsy Chaperone” (a musical she choreographed in 2011 for a production he directed). “The service was very Dad; it was a celebration of his life, but it was very hard,” she said.
Celebrating the holidays differently
Lastly, I wanted to share excerpts from a December newsletter from Quad Cities Cultural Trust executive director Jen Dobrunz, who nails
how different 2020 has felt for us all.
“Over the last nine months, like most out-of-the-home working parents, my worlds have completely collided,” she wrote. “My laptop is coveted as I seem to open it at the office in the morning and at home most nights. The kids and I now work together at the countertop most evenings as I juggle first grade seesaw, second grade story writing and fundraising webinars.
“My silos have broken down and now everything co-exists together. It’s now normal to hear my girls use words like ‘relationship-building,’ ‘collaboration’ and ‘virtual meeting’ while playing Barbies downstairs. You can hear the girls demand that Alexa play artists from Elvis to Willie Nelson thanks to the RME Music Lab.”
Dobrunz said the Putnam’s annual Polar Express pajama parties are one of their favorite holiday activities. Her two daughters and toddler son knew they wouldn’t be able to do that in person this year.
“But with the perfect Polar Express Kit from the Putnam, we were able to remake the perfect memory at home,” she wrote. “Our pajamas were on, hot coca warmed with extra marshmallows, golden tickets in hand, surround sound on high, and of course Henry was excited to make his first bell.”
Like many others, Dobrunz also has been a fan of the Figge’s online art classes, the RME curbside concerts, and QCSO’s online concerts.
Two years ago, her mother learned she had breast cancer, and Dobrunz’s kids knew she was a warrior and beat cancer. They joined RME this year at a special curbside concert in front of the Genesis Cancer Institute, Davenport. “Singing our favorite holiday tunes really took on a new meaning that day. I was so humbled to watch my girls sing with such love and joy knowing they were doing it in honor of their Mimi,” she wrote.
The QCCT director also noted how three years ago, she began taking her daughters to Quad City Symphony concerts each holiday season. “We would dress in our very best outfits, go out to a fancy dinner and enjoy a night of ‘fancy music’,” Dobrunz wrote.
When the QCSO performed their December concert, her family bought digital tickets and made it a similarly special affair, even from home.
“Dressed in our best, even our little toddler got to attend the concert. I made a special dinner and we even drank out of fancy cups. It was a great night,” Dobrunz said.
There haven’t been a lot of great nights this year, but from invaluable healthcare workers, first responders, grocery stores’ staff, restaurants and other struggling businesses, to the innumerable artists and cultural groups that make the Q-C what it is – we’ve been lucky enough to survive 2020 and look forward to a much better 2021.
The Cultural Trust tagline is “Culture Matters Here,” and that’s taken on even greater resonance and importance this year. For anyone around the world during quarantine, music, theater, dance, art, and film have provided priceless comfort, joy, distraction, entertainment, inspiration, wisdom, encouragement, and vital outlets for our deepest desires and talents.
To everyone in Q-C arts endeavors, thank you all for helping me make it through this year, as we work to make QuadCities.com the best source for arts and entertainment coverage in the area (spoiler alert: I think it already is). Please keep reading and support the arts!!