Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming & Pam Whisenhunt
When I saw that the "Is For Lovers" festival was coming to Stir Cove I was super stoked. With a stacked lineup of emo and punk rock bands over two days (August 19-20), it's the closest thing to When We Were Young Festival the Midwest will see this year. I ended up having a work commitment Saturday the 19th, so Pam Whisenhunt stepped in at the last minute to capture all the action of day one. I was able to attend day two and it was pure magic. Check out our photos and make sure to leave a comment about your favorite part of the festival! ~ Spencer Fleming
DAY ONE - Pam Whisenhunt
When I first got the call to cover day one of the Iowa Is For Lovers festival, I was down with it. Then I checked the forecast and started questioning my decision. Harrah’s Stir Cove in Council Bluffs, IA opened its doors at noon Saturday under an excessive heat warning. The temperature
was 95 degrees F with a real feel of 109. We had clear blue skies and no wind. To say it was hot would be an understatement and it would be the theme for the day.
Once I got into the festival area, I found a sliver of shade along a casino wall shared with about 20 other concertgoers. That sliver of shade faded fast. The crowd was thin but I was impressed with the small number of fans on the rail kicking off the event. The first band Bouquet started just after 2pm. It was pretty slow going, they had a little hiccup with a set list change, but did well under the conditions.
Proper took the stage with the front man Erik Garlington dressed in a leopard print onesie. Garlington made it through the first three songs of the set before he stripped down to a t-shirt and underwear. “I hope everyone got their photos” he said. “I thought I was built different but I guess not”. The heat was too much to bear in his jammies. Garlington mentioned they released a new song and the album was coming out soon but it was too hot to play any of it.
I made my way back to the dwindling shade when I spotted Travis Wilson of Hosting Monsters. I waived him and his wife over to say hi. I don’t know a lot of emo/punk rockers so it was nice to see someone I knew. He mentioned he was there for Silverstein and Bayside, so that got me even more pumped for the rest of the show.
The Forecast, another Midwest indie rock band was up next. The sun still blazing, they powered through their set.
Emery was an unexpected surprise. Toby Morrell (lead vocals) said they were asked to headline, but they declined. Morrell said they wanted to be out in the blazing heat with all of us. Emery, considered an elder emo band, claimed we/they aren’t old, just “older”. I loved watching keyboardist Josh Head with his silver mane and mean unclean vocals. The whole band was full of energy but Head could hardly stay behind the keyboard and at one point made his way into the crowd. Emery made a new fan out of me.
The festival hosts Hawthorne Heights came out, welcomed the crowd and claimed us all (Midwesterners) as their people. Hailing from Ohio, JT Woodruff announced he understands us and feels connected here. Woodruff joked he wasn’t going to complain about the heat because “We’re Emo” and “That’s not what Emo’s do, right?”. Woodruff talked quite a bit through out the set and connected with the crowd reminiscing back to their Emo youth days when there was plenty of disappointment, sadness and heartache (parents in particular), reaffirming it wasn’t “just a phase” it is who we are and still are.
Silverstein was up next opening with “Ultraviolet”. I didn’t think I knew this band, but I definitely knew Ultroviolet. The crowd had probably quadrupled since the first band and they were loving Silverstein and for good reason, they killed it. High energy, start to finish, heaviest band so far and introduced the second mosh pit of the day (Hawthorne Heights had the first).
I’d love to say the evening started cooling off, but it didn’t. It was 8:30 and we were still struggling through a real feel of 106 degrees. The shade made its way over most of the grounds and Stir Cove was doing a great job keeping people hydrated and cool. Jugs of ice water stayed stocked and staff kept the crowd dowsed with water from the hose.
The sun was setting and punk rockers Bayside took the stage. Midway through the set they played their newest song “How to Ruin Everything” a collab with Ice Nine Kills, one of my favorites of the set. Bayside was grateful for the strong showing. For a band that’s been around for 20 plus years, they got around the stage easily and Jack O’Shea still shreds a mean guitar. I shouldn’t have surprised, but there were quite a few people that left after Bayside’s set. It had been a long day to this point so I get it.
Saturday’s headliner The Story So Far took the stage around 10pm. The sun was down and it was still hot and humid but The Story So Far put on a show for the remaining “Lovers”. The crowd was into it, singing along to all the songs.
DAY TWO - Spencer Fleming
Day two was a scorcher! This dang Midwest heat just wouldn't let up. My schedule said music at 2:00 so I panicked a bit when I pulled up at 1:45 only to hear loud music playing. I hurried in so I could catch the first band. I later found out both Bouquet and Proper played ahead of the 2:00 start time. I missed Bouquet but I caught Proper. They were a lot of fun. Unlike Saturday front man Erik kept all his clothes on this time.
After Proper I took in some scenery, including the Bloodrush Haunted House booth. Check out these scary dudes and dudettes!
Next up was Salt Creek from right here in Nebraska. They sounded really tight and did the metro proud!
After Salt Creek the band Winona Fighter from Nashville melted our faces. These guys had energy for days! They did a spirited cover of "Self Esteem" by The Offspring and had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. It was a great time!
Spitalfield followed Winona and they brought the original Emo heart. Their jangly guitars over heartfelt sing-along melodies had the crowd swaying. Check out the dude rocking the rail belting it out!
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus brought their patented pop punk jams including a killer cover of "All The Small Things". This is probably the closest many of us will get to Blink 182 these days with the hundreds of dollars in ticket costs. Remember the days of Warped Tour? All day for like $40, ah those were good times.
After Jumpsuit riled up the crowd the festival hosts Hawthorne Heights hit the stage to rock our elder emo faces. JT and crew did an awesome job curating this festival and lifting the crowd's spirits during the crazy heat. He said "You're only as old as you feel, and right now I feel so invigorated. We're going to be the Emo Rolling Stones, we'll play forever!" It was a great sentiment and the crowd felt it, with cheers and whoops. I've seen Hawthorne Heights like seven times over the years and they still sound awesome. It was a really fun set.
Between Hawthorne Heights and Anberlin I got to hang with my new buddies in the Good Life Podcast and get some behind the scenes shots from their taping with Alex from Mayday Parade. The Good Life is David Taylor and a guy you may have heard of Jason "Spicoli", formerly of 89.7 The River. They've hit the ground running with some awesome guests. Their episode with Alex is available now so click here to check it out!
After the podcast taping it was time for one of my favorite bands of all time, Anberlin! I had seen Anberlin one time before but it was a radio festival and they played first so it was only 20 minutes. But that performance left a big impression on me. I started following Anberlin and still listen to everything they put out. One of their newer releases Silverline is incredible. Now I'm a little biased, but I really think Anberlin stole the show. Their energy was off the charts and they played all the good stuff, ranging from their earlier works like Never Take Friendship Personal to their newest E.P. Convinced. Stephen and the boys had the crowd on their feet singing and clapping along, it was superb. Before the closing song "Feel Good Drag" Stephen surfed into the crowd! It was such an awesome set. I still have my fingers crossed for a headline date in the next year or two. If I have to drive to KC or Minneapolis I most certainly will.
After the set I was able to snag a group shot and a pic with Stephen. What an awesome day.
Mayday Parade had the biggest crowd of the night. Their upbeat pop punk tunes had the crowd smiling and singing along like one giant party. As soon as the first song started the crowd surfers made their way to the front and over the rail. Things got pretty hectic and I had to scoot out of the way a couple times. Clearly these guys have staying power in the game, with their 20 year anniversary right around the corner. Look for new Mayday Parade music coming soon and an upcoming tour with Simple Plan (sorry only in Europe though).
With the Stir Cove still on fire the muggy air was thick as Thrice took the stage. The crowd had thinned a bit, but there were plenty of die-hards on hand to rock out with these Emo veterans. Unless I caught Thrice during Warped Tour (which is highly likely) I believe this was my first Thrice show. Unlike some of the more pop sounding bands earlier on the bill, Thrice was dark and brooding. Their crunchy guitars and pounding drums ripped through the thick summer air as the crowd pushed forward hoping to get a better glimpse. The Stir Cove security showered everyone with water hoping to cool things down for the final stretch of music. Thrice did a great job closing things out and left everyone wanting more.
On my way out I got to chat with JT from Hawthorne Heights for a few minutes and tell him how thankful I was for bringing such an awesome festival to the Midwest. The Iowa Is For Lovers festival is the only date on the tour that got two days and I couldn't be more grateful. I really hope JT and Hawthorne Heights can continue bringing this tour out for many more summers to come.
Huge thanks to Monica Seide-Evenson and Stir Cove for photo access!
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