FEaST: The Englert’s collaboration with Feed Me Weird Things

Back in 1981, Sun Ra Arkestra opened the Chicago Jazz Festival under the starry skies of Grant Park. The band might as well have been playing among those stars, ascending through glittery costumes and equally glittering sounds of brass. Around 30,000 attendees ascended with them. Among them was Feed Me Weird Things creator Chris Wiersema at his first-ever concert.

A little over a year old at the time, Wiersema, of course, has no memory of it. But regardless, a boastworthy first concert and an enticing narrative: Wiersema booked Sun Ra Arkestra to play at The Englert Theatre on Nov. 4th.

One could call it a full-circle moment, or as Wiersema puts it, “all roads lead back to Sun Ra,” both musically and narratively.

A central influence between the worlds of electronic music and jazz, Sun Ra Arkestra will play as part of Wiersema’s annual FEaST festival, with nine other performers across 4 days and multiple venues. Joining Sun Ra at The Englert is tuba player Theon Cross, thanks to collaboration from Hancher Auditorium.

In its second year, FEaST is all about freeing up possibility. To Wiersema, the word festival frees attendees from a single show they’re obligated to go to, rather a larger experience of a show-adorned long weekend. The festival concept also frees up standard show programming. Instead of working around convenient tour routes, Wiersema starts with bucket list artists.

“With a festival, you always want to bring the artist nobody thought they’d ever get to see in Iowa City in such an intimate capacity, while introducing them to somebody they’ve never heard before,” Wiersema said.

Sun Ra Arkestra was one of those bucket list artists, a grandfather of avant-garde jazz stretching back to the 1950s with their iconic lore and costumes. Surrounding Sun Ra on the FEaST bill are jazz and electronic artists that populate spaces Sun Ra carved a path for.

The loose theme of the festival is the active dialogue between jazz and ambient music. Citing the rise of study lo-fi music and years of COVID isolation, Wiersema seizes on a breakthrough moment in the jazz ambient scene. To name a few represented in the FEaST lineup, Kalia Vandever weaves electronic sounds with her trombone, techno-producer Laurel Halo will perform an ambient piano piece, and Lea Bertucci is both a saxophonist and an sound designer.

Jazz and ambient are talking to each other at FEaST, across countries from Tel Aviv Jaffa, Israel through the band El Khat, to Scottish-born musician Drew McDowall—and even outer space—as is the case for Sun Ra. Above everything, whether an individual goes to an individual FEaST show or buys a festival pass, Wiersema hopes for audience discovery.

“I don’t need people to love every band or quit school and follow Feed Me Weird Things shows,” Wiersema said. “But I do need to live in a community, in a town, in a state, in a country, where we’re always just engaging and emotionally open to another viewpoint and something that seems strange to us.”

Wiersema will also co-present an upcoming show with The Englert through his listening series Feed Me Weird Things. Mary Lattimore, performing with Jeremiah Chiu at The James Theater Oct. 24, marks the second time bringing Lattimore to Iowa City through this unique partnership.

“This is one of the important things that building an audience does. You can always get artists to come once, but it means something when they’re coming back,” Wiersema said.

Lattimore last played a sold-out intimate show on The Englert stage in 2021, limited to 50 attendees. A classically-trained harpist, Lattimore experiments with effects through a pedal harp to create a transcending live experience.

“I think people have a general misconception that when you’re a programmer, you want to sell out shows, but that means that somebody couldn’t get in and couldn’t experience it. To me, that’s disappointing,” Wiersema said. “To get a chance to bring her back, and to do it in a larger space at The James is a chance to get it right again, and to allow more people to share in that experience.”

Buy festival passes and individual show tickets for FEaST (Nov. 1st – 4th) at feedmeweird.com. 

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