Iowa is known for a lot of different things—though music isn’t necessarily one of them. Despite the state’s rich musical history, visitors are always surprised by the way that music is still inexplicably embedded into the culture of Iowa. There are a number of places that offer more education on Iowa’s musical past, with a handful of cities and towns that still actually host their own events to celebrate it. Here are five places to celebrate Iowa’s musical past.
River Music Experience
The River Music Experience performing arts venue in Davenport is one of the most special stops for tourists in Iowa, as it celebrates the culture and music that helped to mold the state into what it is today. The museum features displays which honor Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, the famous jazz soloist of the 1920’s. The venue also offers more than 150 shows each year. For more information, visit www.rivermusicexperience.org.
Music Man Square
Mason City native, Meredith Willson—a composer and playwright—is the brains behind one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, The Music Man. Her achievements are commemorated at Music Man Square, where guests can embrace the musical culture of the city and visit the Meredith Willson museum too. For more information, visit www.themusicmansquare.org.
The Surf Ballroom isn’t just an iconic venue for the state of Iowa—in fact, it’s regarded as a historic spot for any music buff or industry aficionado. Located in Clear Lake, the venue once boasted unforgettable music stars like Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens—all of whom actually performed their final shows at the 1959 Winter Dance Party. To celebrate the space, the city hosts an annual Winter Dance Party for one weekend each January. Even all these years later, the 1950’s charm of the Surf Ballroom and Clear Lake area is still an ever present part of the area’s culture. For more information, visit www.surfballroom.com.
Andy Williams was regarded as one of the most prominent and influential voices in music back in the day—and he got his start in the charming town of Wall Lake. Williams was a 1960’s pop singer and variety show host, who recorded 17 gold-certified albums. Today, the town honors the legendary musician with a number of odes and celebrations for him throughout the year. For more information, visit www.traveliowa.com.
Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum
Those who love big band music, know that Glenn Miller is a master of the genre—and a particularly important icon in Iowa history, as well. His legacy is commemorated at the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum in Clarinda, and the town also hosts the Glenn Miller Festival in June each year. The event celebrates music in all of its forms, and features local talent performing alongside all-star big band lineups.