Musician William Elliott Whitmore enjoys playing concerts close to home.
"Iowa shows are the best," he says. "I get a particularly good feeling when I play in Iowa."
Fans of the Lee County native won't want to miss his free outdoor show this Saturday at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML).
"I'm really looking forward to the show," says Whitmore, calling from his farm in Lee County. "I especially like the idea of playing in unorthodox spaces and embrace that when I can. I'm interested to see the museum as I've been through Cedar Rapids a number of times and have never stopped."
Whitmore has made a name for himself in the folk, blues and alt-country communities. He's toured with Chris Cornell, City and Colour, The Pogues, Clutch, Lucero, Converge, Modern Life is War, Frontier Ruckus, Frank Turner and The Low Anthem. His 2009 release, Animals in the Dark, reached Number 50 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
He's an impressive one-man-band, writing his own lyrics and strumming the banjo. "You could call it rustic soul music, or hillbilly music," he laughs. "But I try to take great pains with my writing to present it in the most poetic way I can."
"People should come expecting a good time," says Whitmore of his show on Saturday. "You can dance if you want, just enjoy the music however you want. I like to think it's well rounded so that old folks and young people can enjoy it. I like the idea of bridging the generations."
Generations of musicians in Whitmore's family-including his parents and grandparents-have influenced his career, in fact. He says he's been playing music his whole life. "I've always been around music so as soon as my hands got big enough to hold a guitar I started playing."
The idea of being a professional musician didn't take hold, however, until Whitmore was about 19 or 20 years old. "That's when I started taking it seriously and jumped in a creative direction."
Whitmore admits he used to play anywhere anyone would let him-from nursing homes to bonfires with friends. Later he played in Iowa City and ended up going on tour with a friend's band. That led to a record contract and the fame Whitmore has achieved today.
Still living on the "old family farm" he grew up on, Whitmore is spending his summer close to home. "I'm writing and recording a new album. And the best way for me to get inspired is to be at home. I sit on my porch, work in the garden, keep the chickens fed and work on some new tunes."
His childhood, the farm life and the environment figure heavily in his work, he says. "Growing up on a farm shapes your worldview. It hands you lessons about life cycles that happen. And all those farm themes prevailed in the music I write and still do."
"I'm really proud of it so far," he says of his new songs he'll be recording soon in Iowa City. "I'll probably even try out some of those new songs on the 12th to see if they work."
Fans who show up for the free concert this weekend surely won't mind.
- Katie Mills Giorgio
IF YOU GO:
William Elliott Whitmore's free outdoor concert at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library on July 12 is part of the NCSML's 40th anniversary celebration.
Whitmore will take the stage at 7 p.m., following a day of events including free admission to the Museum all day; face-painting, balloon artists and other family activities. All events are free. For more information, go to Ncsml.org
Here's a full schedule:
9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Free admission for all visitors, plus extended gallery hours.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Free family activities indoors and outdoors, including chalk mural, bubbles, folk dance, juggling lessons, and ethnic make-and-take crafts.
11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.: Grill and beverages by Hy-Vee Wilson Ave. available outdoors.
1 p.m.: History of Czechs and Slovaks in Cedar Rapids discussion on NCSML's Naxera Terrace.
2 to 4 p.m.: Wedding Anniversary Celebration in WFLA/ZCBJ Heritage Hall for couples who have had their wedding ceremony or reception at the NCSML. Includes cake and a professional photo. Wedding items from the NCSML's artifact collection will be on display all day.
6 p.m.: Beer garden featuring Lion Bridge Brewing Company opens outdoors.
7 p.m.: Free outdoor concert by William Elliott Whitmore (no coolers or large bags, please). Beer garden available.