A football game and family time were the initial reasons for my trip to Austin, Texas, last week.
But after hearing so much about the city’s booming music scene, I made it my mission to go to a show one night when I was free.
A friend recommended I visit the Continental Club, which opened in 1955 and has subsequently been billed as the “granddaddy of all local music venues.” Looking on its website, I saw an artists’ name I recognized: Whitney Rose.
I knew her name because of a story I wrote back in March about some top players in the Quad-City music scene who were voyaging to Austin for South By Southwest, or SXSW, the annual multi-day music festival. Area booking managers and venue owners have long taken notes about Austin’s scene and have tapped some of the acts that regularly sell out shows there -- such as Rose -- to perform here.
For that story, I interviewed Rose as she geared up to play SXSW and then travel to Davenport the following week to perform at the Village Theatre. She’s also scheduled to perform next month at the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel.
When she’s not touring, Rose and her band perform a free show at the Continental Club every Thursday. And if last week’s gig was any indication, she typically draws a packed crowd.
After going to her show and exploring Austin, I can see why the leaders and makers of our scene look to that city for ideas and inspiration. The Downtown Davenport Partnership modeled our Alternating Currents after Austin’s SXSW.
That’s what Quad-City Times editorial cartoonist Leo Kelly pointed out in his latest cartoon, which was captioned “Is Davenport the new Austin?” (It was funny timing to see that when I got back into town on Sunday.)
It’s true that Austin is an inspiring place.
Wandering down South Congress Avenue there, I passed a corner that served as a permanent hub for food trucks, several eclectic retail shops and a line of artists selling their T-shirts, jewelry, paintings and poems.
My mom and I spent about an hour in Allen’s Boots, a store housing aisles and aisles of cowboy boots. We decided between about 10 recommended restaurants for lunch and later stood in line to get our photo in front of the “I love you so much” mural made iconic on Instagram.
The Continental Club itself is something to aspire to — the venue hosted two shows, one free and one for $10, every day last week.
This is the stuff that makes a great scene.
But here’s the thing — that’s their scene.
We could never replicate what’s happening in Austin or Nashville or Des Moines or Chicago. And why would we want to when we could build our own scene?
That’s sort of the thought behind a T-shirt I’ve seen making the rounds here that’s emblazoned with this quote: “Davenport, IA, Worst Town in America.”
Just stay with me for a second.
Dan Bush, the Davenport-based entrepreneur who designed the shirt, based it on a quote published in 1903 in the Chicago Record Herald, to show love for Davenport with a “self-deprecating sense of of humor."
“There’s nothing less cool than saying you’re cool,” Bush said. “I really like looking at Davenport as a work in progress. We're at this point where we shouldn’t be flying a ‘mission accomplished’ banner, but we should be excited about where we’re at.”
Bush, co-owner of Analog Arcade Bar and the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel, came across that unflattering reference to Davenport in “A Brief History of Bucktown: Davenport's Infamous District Transformed,” a book released last year by Jonathan Turner, a reporter at The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus.
The T-shirt, which Bush has shipped to buyers across the country since July, serves as a reminder that Davenport has come a long way and as a “humble” approach to where we are now, Bush said.
“Davenport naturally has a chip on its shoulder because when people think of Iowa, they think of Iowa City or Des Moines and we kind of get forgotten,” he said. “I think we need to embrace that we’re doing our own thing and not model it after any other place. I would rather see us do us and have fun with it.”
When it comes to our scene, progress is being made all the time.
While I was in Austin, the new “Welcome to downtown Davenport” mural, which seems very Instagram-able to me, was unveiled. Last month’s Alternating Currents was a hit and two multi-day music festivals — GARP at Codfish Hollow and GAS Feed & Seed in the Village of East Davenport — are still on the calendar this year. If you want to see live music, there’s a show nearly every night at venues such as Daytrotter, the Redstone Room, Rozz-Tox, Baked Beer and Bread Company, the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel and the Rock Island Brewing Company. As evidenced by Alternating Currents, our art, comedy and film scenes are vibrant, too.
Before moving here, I didn't know of Whitney Rose or her style of Ameripolitan music. I probably wouldn’t have even thought to seek out live music while on vacation.
Our scene has introduced me to some of my new favorite bands and singers, has been the source of great nights and memories and has taught me it’s more than OK to go to a show alone or go to a show if you aren’t familiar with the band or its genre.
It’s like Rose told me during our March interview: “In Davenport, it seems like there's people tapped into that underground scene," she said. "There are people paying attention to new artists that are up and coming. They're digging a little deeper.”
I didn't expect it, but I was reminded of that in Austin. Plus, I got to watch Maryland University's football team, where my brother is a coach, pull an upset against the University of Texas.
So, yes, we have a long way to go before our venues are packed with people every night. As is, however, our scene is inspiring and our scene is only getting bigger. And the best part? We're doing it in our way.