ia: The best of Iowa arts and culture
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
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Decorah’s annual Nordic Fest takes over downtown July 28-30 with live music, arts and crafts, a parade, and more. Hotels are still available for the weekend but are filling up fast. Photo: Kathleen Ernst.

Embrace Your Inner Viking in Decorah

All directions point Norse. That’s the tagline for the all-Scandinavian festival held each July in Decorah in the northeast corner of the state. And even if your ancestry doesn’t include a Viking surname, there are plenty of reasons for a day trip or weekend. Here are seven reasons to head to the picturesque town with Nordic roots for this year's festival, July 28-30.

1. Authentic eats. Order your fill of Norwegian meatballs, kringla (soft buttermilk cookies) and lefse; plus you can learn how to make the tasty potato flatbread. On Saturday morning, there’s an all-you-can-eat pannekake breakfast (aka pancakes).
2. Live entertainment. All sorts of genres perform in town at the free stages. Brush up on Scandinavian waltzes and polkas, American roots, rock, bluegrass, accordion bands and more, including folk dancers accompanied by the Nordic Dancers Orchestra.
3. Arts and crafts. With the Vesterheim—the National Norwegian-American Museum & Folk Art School anchoring the west edge of downtown, you can expect top-notch artisans inside and outside the campus. See live demonstrations of blacksmithing, forging, leatherwork, woodworking, rosemaling, knifemaking, weaving and spinning.
4. Contests and games. There’s a contest here for pretty much any competitor. Active types can rent a canoe and life jacket for $30 to race on the scenic Upper Iowa River; brave eaters can see how much lutefisk they can consume; gym-goers can discover how far they can throw rocks; and tailgaters can show off their bag-throwing prowess.
5. Beer and other beverages. Home to Toppling Goliath and Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., the town is beloved by beer fans. Take a break from the action at Pulpit Rock’s patio (walkable from downtown) or check out the family-friendly beverage garden at the festival to see what’s on tap.
6. Fun for the kids. Families can go on a hike, play giant Jenga, search for gnomes and ride Troll’s Trolley. Plus, there are art and craft stations, balloon artists, puppet shows and photo ops with Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.” 
7. Viking encampment. We can’t promise Thor or Loki, but you can see other costumed warriors demonstrating their best combat moves.

Find more information, including a schedule of events, here. And in typical Nordic orderly fashion, the town is planning ahead. Mark your calendar (and book a room now) for next year’s event, July 27-29.
The 2022-23 anniversary season at Iowa City's Hancher Auditorium begins Aug. 26. An impressive lineup of performers, speakers and shows including one from the American Ballet Theatre (pictured) will celebrate the auditorium's long history. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

Hancher Auditorium Announces 50th Season Lineup

The Iowa City performing arts venue Hancher Auditorium is celebrating its 50th season, aptly titled “Hancher’s Golden Anniversary – We All Rise.” With a big anniversary, you can expect some big names coming by to mark the occasion. Leslie Odom Jr., Patti LaBelle and Yo-Yo Ma are among the list.

The season’s title comes from the Jazz composition “All Rise” by award-winning musician Wynton Marsalis. The composition will be performed in Hancher by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on Oct. 22. Other highlights from the coming year include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 29 and the American Ballet Theatre May 6.

Since its inaugural season in 1972, Hancher Auditorium has become a nationally recognized performing arts space, bringing in names like Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash, Elie Wiesel and Aretha Franklin. After a flood destroyed the original building in 2008, performances were briefly hosted in other surrounding venues and stages. A new facility was completed in September of 2016, where top performers, speakers and productions now take place.

Tickets for the general public go on sale Aug. 15. To see Hancher Auditorium’s complete schedule of performances, click here.
Who needs a beach? Children play in a sandbox full of corn at last year's Sweet Corn Days in Elkader. Photo: courtesy of Sweet Corn Days.

Food for the Iowan Soul

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

All kinds of Iowans celebrate all kinds of traditions, but none is more quintessentially Iowan than the small-town sweet corn festival. It’s our heart and soul and stomach.

During Elkader’s Sweet Corn Days, July 28-31, you can actually sit in a sandbox full of (field) corn before feasting on the good stuff, for free, at Founders’ Park. In between, watch the parade, hail the Sweet Corn Royalty, enjoy the carnival, listen to live music, swim at the pool, and compete in the golf, softball or doughnut-hole eating tournaments.

“Just soak in the moment and enjoy yourself,” volunteer organizer Danielle Shea says. “You’ll feel welcomed as soon as you arrive, and when you leave, you’ll think, ‘I really love Elkader. Let’s come back.’”

In Adel, the Sweet Corn Festival on Aug. 13 coincides with the city’s 175th anniversary, so expect even more revelry than usual—a historical exhibit, parade, car show, volleyball tournament, street party and, of course, free sweet corn until it’s gone.

Both Elkader and Adel are part of designated Iowa Great Place regions, with authentic cultural events year-round. Elkader also boasts a popular annual arts festival, Art in the Park, Aug. 20.  

So the locals know the answer to a recent comment on the Adel festival’s Facebook page: “Any way to order online?”

Nope. You just gotta go.
A quad explorer can seat up to four people for exploring the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, while a tandem explorer seats two. The bikes can also be linked together for larger groups. Photo: courtesy of Rail Explorers.

Rail Explorers Comes to Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Calling all nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers! Rail Explorers’ first Midwest location will open at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad on July 21, kicking off tours of the Des Moines River Valley in a 12.4-mile round trip. Guests are encouraged to bring refreshments. A halfway stop near the banks of the Des Moines River makes the perfect lunch spot.

Rail Explorers is a national eco-tourism company that offers railroad tours via pedal-powered rail bikes. With a guide leading the pack, tours ride along stretches of unused train tracks, allowing the peddlers to take in the surrounding scenery.

Rail vehicles like these pedal bikes date back to at least the 1850s. Railroad maintenance workers used handcars and early versions of these bikes to travel the tracks, bringing crews and materials for train maintenance and repairs. Now, these bikes make the perfect passenger vehicle for sightseeing – no steering required! To learn more about Rail Explorers and to book a tour, visit their website.
Ryan Adams has released 20 albums over the span of his career, plus three more with former rock/alt-country band Whiskeytown. He will perform at Stephens Auditorium in October.

Broadway Musical and More at C.Y. Stephens This Fall

Football isn’t the only reason to head to Ames this fall. C.Y. Stephens Auditorium has a host of events and shows lined up for the season. Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

Oct. 4 – “Anastasia”: The Broadway musical makes a tour stop at Stephens for a night. Based on the 1997 animated film of the same name, the story follows a young woman, Anya, on an adventure with an ex-aristocrat to discover the truth of Anya’s mysterious past while being chased by a Soviet officer.

Oct. 14 – “Whose Live Anyway?”: The current cast members of the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” are embarking on a live tour. Some audience members will even be asked to participate, as the group bases their improv skits and songs from live guest suggestions.

Oct. 22 – Ryan Adams: American singer-songwriter Ryan Adams will be at Stephens Auditorium in late fall for a stop on his U.S. tour. The former Whiskeytown band member will perform songs from his two newest albums, “Chris” and “Romeo & Juliet,” along with other favorites.

To see the full fall schedule, purchase tickets and stay updated on any changes, check the events calendar here.
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In the heart of downtown Pella, the Royal Amsterdam Hotel offers a deluxe Iowa staycation option. There are four suites for an ultimate getaway.

Book a European Escape Without Leaving Iowa

There’s still time to experience a slice of Europe this summer—without having to deal with the inconvenience and expense of air travel.

Located on the Molengracht in downtown Pella, the boutique Royal Amsterdam Hotel has just 38 rooms and puts you within a short walk of the Dutch town’s coffee shops, cafes, bakeries and shops. It overlooks the town’s canal, and the windmill is just a short walk away.

Park your ride under the hotel and experience the city on foot. The historic Pella Opera House is nearby. Upcoming shows include “The Little Mermen: Songs of Disney” on July 19 and the Malpass Brothers on Aug. 18. Find more details here.

Back at the hotel, enjoy dinner at Liberty Street Kitchen on-site, which serves lunch, dinner and drinks. On the lighter side, order Iowa corn chowder or a farro salad bowl with feta, baba ganoush and green goddess dressing. More substantial dinner options include pastas, seafood (salmon, scallops, yellowfin tuna), and duck breast or bison short ribs. For dessert, try a cobbler with seasonal flavors and vanilla gelato.

Visit for more information.

The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. Photo: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Cedar Rapids Museum Hosts Annual 'Hody' Feast

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

A popular Czech and Slovak festival called Hody, or “the feasts,” rolls through many villages and towns every year from May to November. It often coincides with the feast day of the local church’s patron saint.

Here in the New World, in Cedar Rapids, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library will host its second annual Hody this weekend, July 15-17. It opens Friday with a concert of guitar, mandolin and lute-like domra music by the Czech guitarists Vladislav Blaha and Tanja Drobysh. Saturday features a piano master class; a presentation about American, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian women composers; and a related recital by Katelyn Bouska from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. And Sunday offers free admission to the museum, with a spread of goodies inspired by traditional street food. (There’s talk of a cherry kolache sundae.)

This year’s Hody celebrates the 10th anniversary of the museum and library’s reopening in 2012, after work crews hauled it uphill following the flood of 2008. The higher, drier institution is now a Smithsonian Affiliate and a Cultural Leadership Partner supported by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and continues to attract visitors from around the world.
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