Alternating Currents, the mega two-day festival that kicks off Friday in downtown Davenport, wouldn’t have worked here just a year or two ago.
Trying the model this year is still “very much a gamble,” said Kyle Carter, executive director with the Downtown Davenport Partnership, which organized the fest.
Carter and his team consider this weekend’s conglomeration of more than 100 comedy, film, music and art events a necessary risk and the “obvious next step” in declaring the Quad-Cities a destination place.
“We’ve graduated to a point where we can do this, because we have the venues and the talent,” he said. “This weekend is really a testament to how far we have come.”
This weekend, for fest-goers, also aims to serve as a grand reintroduction into a changing and growing downtown.
And Carter, who calls Alternating Currents a "choose your own adventure festival," has one piece of advice: "Just get down here and discover it all."
A downtown showcase
Alternating Currents is much more than a new music festival.
As its organizers say, it’s a sample of the best of what’s here: Three concert venues, two of which opened within the past two years, that draw top-level touring bands and packed crowds weekly, the underground independent cinema and comedy scenes, new retail shops and restaurants as well as painters, artists, creators and makers of all trades — everything from craft beer to T-shirt designs — who call the Quad-Cities home.
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Anchored by a Ben Folds concert on Saturday at the Adler Theatre, the fest includes 25 ticketed shows at the Redstone Room, Daytrotter, Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel as well as a host of free comedy showcases, film screenings, live music and arts festivals happening all at once at more than a dozen spots around downtown Davenport.
"Nothing of this scale has ever been tackled with this much variety here," Carter said. "It's hard that to communicate because there's just so much going on."
Alternating Currents stands out from other multivenue festivals, such as Daytrotter Downs and GAS Feed & Seed in Davenport, because it has pulled together a broad team of Davenport’s influencers and tastemakers to put a spotlight on several art forms.
Plus, "it's utilizing what’s already downtown,” said Paige Underwood, social media and marketing director for Daytrotter, the independent music platform whose Brady Street venue is hosting 13 shows this weekend.
“The Quad-Cities is ready to be introduced to something like this,” she said. “It’s like an entire weekend to showcase everything that’s always downtown.”
“I think this is needed,” Daytrotter’s longtime illustrator, Johnnie Cluney, added. “It’s a reflection of what’s going on all year long."
It's also a reflection of what's new to the downtown landscape.
The Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel, which opened in March, and The Current Iowa hotel with its rooftop bar, Up, which opened in July, are both Alternating Currents official venues.
“From when I got here 20 years ago, there is so much more happening,” said Rick Palmer, executive director of the Adler. “It’s night and day.”
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Another example is Crafted QC, an arts and crafts studio and shop that opened about two years ago at 217 E. 2nd St. Owner Mary Talbert is hosting her first-ever vintage fair, called OMG BeckyFest, within the Alternating Currents weekend, which she says will “bring fresh energy into the downtown.”
“When you talk about the indie craft and vintage fairs, there’s something so fun about it,” Talbert said. “There’s a great energy and vibe when you get all these makers together.”
‘Not just beer, ribs and classic rock’
The gamble of Alternating Currents is that it's a departure from what the Quad-Cities has come to expect from the Downtown Davenport Partnership: an outdoor rock festival with well-known headliners on the riverfront.
“So many people are disappointed that River Roots is gone,” said Cluney, who works at Daytrotter. “This is catered to a wider audience, but at the same time, it’s kind of isolating because a lot of these bands people have never heard of, and that’s what is different about it than River Roots. They are really starting from square one with this fest.”
To Cluney, it's a move in the right direction.
"River Roots Live was surface level," he said. "This is art and music of substance. It's not just beer, ribs and classic rock."
Carter acknowledges it will take time for Alternating Currents to grow. He doesn't expect its first year compare with the 25,000-person attendance that River Roots Live often reached.
And, financially, it doesn't have to. There's no huge outdoor stage to build or worry of weather washing out attendance.
"There's a lot less risk involved with this since we're using these established venues and businesses," he said. "Plus, that money goes back into the downtown."
In the future, Sean Moeller, co-owner and booking manager at the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel, said Alternating Currents has the potential to surpass the size of River Roots Live.
"While River Roots tried to cater to as many people as possible, I think Alternating Currents is a lot more digestible to a lot more people," Moeller said. "When you divide it into comedy and film and everything, it should, if people are educated about what’s happening and people know what’s going on, it should be a bigger draw because you don’t have to like just music."
Moeller and others involved agree: Alternating Currents could just put the Quad-Cities on the map.
“I want people to come here like they go to Austin for the weekend and think it's the coolest,” Cluney said. “This is the festival that could do that for Davenport.”