Legendary Iowa City venue The Mill will live on with a new concert series that will bring its former frequenters to a new stage directly across the street.
Instead of entering the now-demolished brick building at 120 E. Burlington St., concert-goers are invited to enter the La Wine Bar & Restaurant at 180 E. Burlington St.
Instead of spaghetti, viewers can eat Korean BBQ.
But they can hear well-known Iowa artists, including singer-songwriter Dave Zollo and Iowa bluesman Scott Cochran, over several weekends throughout December to recapture the spirit of The Mill and expand opportunities in the local music scene.
The Mill Revival Showcase Series is the brainchild of Bobber Hall, a drummer who has worked with numerous local bands including Illinois John Fever and Scorched Earth Policy – which, according to their Facebook page, have been revived since the 1990s to the present day.
Through conversation, Hall discovered that people continue to feel absent from The Mill for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the music, watching a game there, or attending the quiz nights.
“It was sort of a community club, I can really see why people miss The Mill a lot,” he said.
The mill closed in 2020, decades after it opened in 1962. The venue has regularly been the site of concerts, theater performances, fundraisers, presidential candidates and generations of Iowa City residents.
Marc Moen, owner of The Mill property in Iowa City, told Press-Citizen in January that the site will house a new restaurant, bar and events venue.
More:What’s next for The Mill in Iowa City? The owner envisions a new restaurant and venue
Hall had been thinking about this revival concert series for some time, starting with where?
What downtown spot could be transformed into a place where the sense of community that The Mill offered could be recreated?
The ongoing global pandemic hampers any immediate action.
When Hall was contacted earlier this year to help organize regular live music at La Wine Restaurant, he immediately saw the potential of the space and likened it to a blank canvas.
Wanting feedback from working musicians, he invited Zollo to explore the restaurant with him and get his thoughts on the idea.
“We realized where we were when we had this conversation about this local music potential. We realized we were about 30 feet from the old mill stage,” Hall said.
They had an aha moment, Hall said, and decided to revive the spirit of The Mill and invite a few local bands to perform in the space.
‘It’s been a home away from home for many of us’: Who’s Performing at the Mill Revival Showcase Series?
Ryan Bernemann and Ben Schmidt will be performing at La Wine Bar & Restaurant this weekend as part of The Mill Revival Showcase Series.
Bernemann told Press-Citizen in an email that he’s probably performed at The Mill at least 200 times over the past two decades.
One memorable performance as a musician, he said, was at a 2008 Halloween band cover show, where he and his band Shame Train performed Neutral Milk Hotel’s album “In the Airplane Over the Sea” cover to cover.
“There were almost 500 people crammed into the mill that night,” he said, adding that he thinks they’ve lost count. “It was crowded, it was hot and it was beautiful. Everyone sang along to all the lyrics while we played. It was as close to Beatlemania as I’ll ever get.”
There were numerous great shows that Bernemann remembered. This included all the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band performances, open mic nights hosted by J. Knight when songwriter Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt) performed during his ‘Terroir Blues’ solo album tour, and more.
When Bernemann first heard about The Mill’s closure, he figured it was only a matter of time before it reopened. It was a place where he spent so much of his early adult life, he said.
When demolition began earlier this year, it eliminated any possibility or hope of reopening.
“It wasn’t just a place to perform, watch shows or eat, drink,” he said. “It was a second home for many of us. It felt like being part of a special club, but also that everyone was welcome.”
Mill Revival Showcase Series Schedule:
- Lightning in a panDecember 2 at 7:30 p.m
- David Helmer3 December at 7:30 p.m
- Ben Schmidt & Ryan BernemanDecember 9 at 7:30 p.m
- Hogs & Clovers with Illinois John FeverDecember 10 at 7:30 p.m
- Scott CochranDecember 16 at 7:30 p.m
- David Zollo, December 17 at 7:30 p.m
Anyone interested in performing at La Wine Bar & Restaurant can contact Hall. He can be reached via social media or by contacting La Wine Bar & Restaurant.
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Hall’s history with The Mill stretches back almost 40 years, he said.
As a teenager, he worked for the original owners and recalled how they cultivated a family-like experience for employees.
Illinois John Fever strives to play at The Mill every three months, Hall said.
When Hall reached out to musicians about this revival series, the response was largely positive, although some people’s connection with The Mill colored their reaction with mixed feelings.
It made sense to Hall.
After all, there will never be a mill again, he said. But there’s room for more live music, as evidenced by the fact Hall has booked artists through early next year.
Hall believes the live music scene at La Wine Bar & Restaurant will stand out from other options across Iowa City, including Gabe’s, Elray’s Live and Dive, and Trumpet Blossom Café, the latter of which he repeatedly complimented for its support of local music.
Owner Shanshan Kong doesn’t charge an entrance fee, instead inviting people to enjoy the music and maybe grab a bite to eat.
“She’s really investing in the local music scene,” he said. “So if we take a risk for ourselves, we take a risk for them and hopefully we can all pick ourselves up a little bit. The fans, the musicians, the restaurant and the staff there.”
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. You can reach her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.