The first local Mission Creek Festival took place in Iowa City, Iowa, in 2006–but its roots stretch all the way back to San Francisco. 20 years ago, artist/thinker/community activist Jeff Ray conceived the idea of Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival (MCMAF) in San Francisco, creating a late-spring/early summer festival that celebrated the musicians and artists of the Bay Area with a particular focus on emerging talent and underground artists.
Over the years his small festival blossomed into an annual, city-wide event that takes over San Francisco’s music venues and art spaces. With the slightly more mainstream festival Noisepop (takes place in late-February/early-March) already existing in San Francisco, Ray maintained a sharp focus on presenting experimental and underrepresented artists. The two festivals now complement and supplement each other with many bands fitting into the Venn diagram crossover of both festivals. Likewise, national bands like the Dirty Projectors and The National – who both played MCMAF in 2005 – often become the types of bands that later play Noisepop in future years. Furthermore, both of those festivals embrace the idea of showcasing the cultural geography of San Francisco. By hosting events all over the city, festival audiences not only see great shows but act as tourists in their own town as they race from venue to venue to enjoy new events over the course of a week.
San Francisco’s literary-focused fall festival, Litquake, operates much in the same way. In the early 2000s, Ray became friends with Andre Perry through the Bay Area music scene. Ray invited Perry to become a producer for MCMAF. Perry jumped at the opportunity and worked closely with Ray’s team in shaping the annual festival. In August 2005, Perry moved to Iowa City, Iowa. (As MCMAF continued to develop in the Bay Area its focus shifted to Oakland where the underground scene became more prominent in the wake of San Francisco’s housing market boom.)
Arriving in Iowa City in the late-summer of 2005, Perry quickly immersed himself in the local music scene, attending as many shows as he could. He soon connected with Tanner Illingworth, a native Iowan and a guitar player. They started playing music together but also considered the possibility of bringing something like Mission Creek Festival to Iowa City–an idea that Ray had suggested to Perry before he left San Francisco.
Excited by the close proximity of venues and art spaces in downtown Iowa City, the energy of both the University population and the local residents, and the intimacy of venues which made for special performance experiences, Perry and Illingworth decided to take a shot at starting an Iowa City-based Mission Creek Festival. The idea was not to copy their sister festival in San Francisco but rather to take Ray’s idea as an inspiration while building upon Iowa City’s intrinsic artistic strengths: a healthy underground/experimental music scene, a strong tradition of folk and Americana music and a vibrant literary culture. In March 2006, they launched the first Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City funded by the sparse funds in their own bank accounts.
The first festival was a success: it brought together a wide range of musicians, writers, and fans to downtown Iowa City for four energetic days. Since 2006, Mission Creek Festival has grown into an annual, week-long event featuring hundreds of artists, attracting 10,000 fans, inhabiting countless venues and non-traditional art spaces, and creating an undeniable energy that makes Iowa City come alive for arts enthusiasts and casual observers alike.
Becoming a Friend of Mission Creek helps the festival continue to offer incredibly diverse programming at affordable ticket prices. Additionally, your support helps us to expand and improve our free offerings, like the annual literary programming, our family events, and educational outreach. As a Friend of Mission Creek you get invited to special events and access to some special perks. You can become a friend for annual donation as low as $50 (under $5 / month!)