John Pemble

Arts and Culture Reporter

John Pemble is the Arts and Culture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. In 1989, John began his Iowa Public Radio career in Fort Dodge as a program host for jazz, classical, and contemporary instrumental music programs. He joined Iowa Public Radio’s news department in 2008 to produce arts and culture stories.

John spent ten years as an adjunct professor for Iowa Central Community College’s broadcasting department teaching production and operations classes.

John's favorite public radio program is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.


Arts and Culture
5:00 am
Fri February 14, 2014

Modern Folk in a Classical Music Environment

The OK Factor’s Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Hahn demonstrate techniques used to create their modern folk music at Luther College’s Dorian Orchestra Festival workshop. They graduated from there last spring and just released their first album “Water Street”.
Photo by John Pemble

Last May when violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn graduated from Luther College’s music program, they had already formed the modern folk duo The OK Factor.  But to move their musical goals forward, they decided to move to Minneapolis where they developed their songs and made recordings at a friend’s studio.  Some of their concerts dates brought them back to Olivia’s home town Cedar Falls as well as the Iowa State Fair.  By the autumn, Olivia moved to Memphis where she took a day job in an office and Karla to the Atlanta area living with her parents and teaching music lessons.

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Arts and Culture
5:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Nontraditional Collection of Traditional Music

Max Wellman records jazz standards in a Des Moines venue for his 2014 monthly subscription service of music titled “The Songbook Project”.
Photo by John Pemble

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.

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Year in Review
2:24 pm
Mon December 30, 2013

Top IPR Reporter Picks of 2013

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

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Arts and Culture
12:12 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Adapting a Christmas Classic to a Comic Book

Jonathan and Sean Eike compare sketches during the monthly drink and draw at the bar Goodsons. This month they published their first comic “The Night Before Christmas at the Comic Book Shop”, an adaption of the 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas”.
Photo by John Pemble

Classic stories are often updated to fit modern times and this year a Des Moines family has adapted an old holiday tale to a digital comic book.  

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Arts and Culture
3:55 am
Sat November 2, 2013

Returning home to say thank you with Wicked

Tim Baudler visiting his home state to see Wicked for the 30th time at the Civic Center. He celebrated his annual “life day” with friends & family that helped him in the 80s and 90s overcome his life struggles by sharing this musical with them.
Photo by John Pemble

This week the musical Wicked is celebrating ten years.  Former Iowan Tim Baudler returned to Des Moines to see this show at the Civic Center with close friends and family to thank them for helping him overcome struggles in his life. 

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Arts and Culture
8:08 pm
Mon September 2, 2013

Iowa / Hungary Percussion Project Debuts in the United States

Gabor Palotas and Matthew Andreini commissioned 3 Iowan and 3 Hungarian composers to write music for the “Iowa / Hungary Percussion Project”. In June they completed a Hungarian tour and for one week in September they are performing the new music in Iowa.
Photo by John Pemble

Last week a performance combining the musical culture of Hungary and Iowa made its American debut in Cedar Falls.  It was organized by two recent music school graduates specializing in the performance of contemporary percussion music. Today they will share these new works with more Iowans as their short tour across the state resumes.


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Talk of Iowa
3:00 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

2013 Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair averages more than one million visitors each year.
Photo by John Pemble

Guest hosts Katherine Perkins and John Pemble go to the 2013 Iowa State Fair.  They introduce us to a legally blind painter and a famous quilter.  They watch fairgoers shear sheep and clean fish.  They attend an Ecumenical church service for fair attendees and visit a memorial to honor fallen Iowa soldiers.

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Arts and Culture
2:22 am
Wed August 14, 2013

Portable Memorial Honors Iowan Veterans

Bill Williams started the veteran memorial project “Remembering our Fallen” with his wife in 2011 to honor soldiers killed in action since September 11th, 2001. They plan to create an exhibit for every state by the year 2015.
Photo by John Pemble

Two years ago a memorial honoring Iowa’s fallen veterans began traveling around the state. This week it’s getting its biggest audience yet while on display at the Iowa State Fair.  This new memorial is part of an effort by two Nebraskans who want to make exhibits like this for every state. 

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Arts and Culture
3:07 am
Sat August 10, 2013

The OK Factor’s Classical Ties to Folk Music

Violinist Karla Deitmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn perform a combination of folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music as “The OK Factor” at the Iowa State Fair in 2013.
Photo by John Pemble

One of the musical performances this weekend from the Iowa State Fair is the new band “The OK Factor".  Violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn combine folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music. 


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Arts and Culture
2:29 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Disabled Painter Demonstrates Work at Iowa State Fair

Because Elsie Monthei is legally blind, she gets as close as possible to her color palette while mixing oil paints at the Iowa State Fair. She is part of Very Special Arts (VSA).
Photo by John Pemble

Elsie Monthei is a blind painter who for more than thirty years has painted landscapes.  This week she spent a day at the Iowa State Fair demonstrating her talent for Very Special Arts (VSA), a group with the mission of highlighting the artistic abilities of people with disabilities.

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Arts and Culture
1:02 am
Fri June 21, 2013

"Scree Stage" Premiers at Des Moines Art Center

“Scree Stage” is a new sculpture by British artist Phyllida Barlow. It’s assembled for the first time in the Des Moines Art Center’s I.M. Pei Gallery for a summer exhibition featuring many of Barlow’s large works and her paintings.
Photo by John Pemble

A new sculpture weighing more than twelve tons has been under construction at the Des Moines Art Center for two weeks.  It’s titled “Scree Stage”, named after the debris of fallen rocks found at the base of a mountain. It’s the center of an exhibit opening this weekend. Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble visited the Art Center as this massive new work of art began to take its final shape.


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10:30 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Spring 2013 Iowa Floods

Water gushes out of the Coralville Reservoir and into the Iowa River which is now at a moderate flood stage 24.74 feet. Major flood stage is at 25 feet. The record flood level for the Iowa River in Iowa City was set in 2008 at 31.53 feet.
Credit Photo by Dean Borg



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Arts and Culture
4:45 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

H.D. Harmsen’s first release on vinyl “Papoose”

Dustin Harmsen has been in bands since he was a teenager but now this 25 year old Des Moines musician works under the name H.D. Harmsen. Harmsen says he relied on his musician friends to record his new album “Papoose”.
Photo by John Pemble

One of the biggest changes for the music industry is the shift from publishing music on CDs, to downloadable music files.  There are still artists who prefer their music be available on a tangible medium, even one as old as vinyl.  In Iowa the two year old label Maximum Ames Records, publishes all of its titles on vinyl, including H.D.

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Arts and Culture
1:00 am
Sat March 30, 2013

Sculpture of Norman Borlaug Nears Completion

Benjamin Victor stands next to his clay sculpture of Norman Borlaug at the Iowa Historical Building. Soon it will be cast in bronze and in 2014 installed in the United States Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall collection.
Photo by John Pemble

In the second half of the 20th century, native Iowan Norman Borlaug developed wheat seeds that increased crop yields in third world countries.  His work in agriculture led him to a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, and next year he’ll be remembered with a statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection housed in the United States Capitol.  South Dakota artist Benjamin Victor is commissioned to create this sculpture and brought his work in progress to the Iowa Historical Building for a two week artist in residency to get the final details right.


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Arts & Culture
5:52 am
Mon October 29, 2012

Inaugural Tuk Tuk Goose Race

Matthew Smith is the organizer of the first “Tuk Tuk Goose” in Des Moines, Iowa and gives teams instructions for their race challenge.
John Pemble

In India, motorized rickshaws serve as taxis for short trips. In America, these vehicles are rare but over the weekend you could see them in Iowa albeit for a different purpose. A Des Moines businessman organized a rickshaw race, called “Tuk Tuk Goose”.

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Arts & Culture
6:25 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Ballet Des Moines Adds Full Time Dancers

The six full time dancers hired to perform for the entire Ballet Des Moines 2012-2013 season
John Pemble

Ballet Des Moines is trying something new this year: hiring dancers for a six month residency.  It’s the first time Ballet Des Moines has six full time professional dancers to perform modern and classic productions for an entire season.

Arts & Culture
10:17 pm
Sun October 7, 2012

Audio Description for Blind People

Iowa Radio Reading Information Service (IRIS) volunteers Bobby Bailey and Dorothy Hockenbery read audio description for Les Miserables backstage at the Civic Center.
John Pemble

An assistive service began this weekend in Des Moines allowing blind people to hear descriptions of what’s happening on the stage of a theatrical production. The Iowa Radio Reading Information Service, or IRIS, is providing audio description for blind patrons attending shows during the Civic Center’s Broadway series.

Arts & Culture
2:08 am
Mon October 1, 2012

Des Moines Symphony’s 75th Anniversary Commission

“Symphony In Sculpture” composer Steve Heitzeg standing inside the sculpture “Nomad” in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

This weekend the Des Moines Symphony performed new music commissioned for their seventy fifth season inspired by art from the city’s two block sculpture park.

Video version of this story.

Arts & Culture
3:52 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Parlours First Full Length Record “all is here”

Dana Halferty is the founder and lead singer for the Des Moines band Parlours.
John Pemble

Early last year the Des Moines based band Parlours released their music on a 5 song EP.  Less than 6 months later one of their songs was used in a prime time television program.  This national attention helped give the band the resources to record a full length collection.

12:58 am
Mon August 20, 2012

Burlington School Named After Voyager Project’s Chief Scientist

Ed Stone speaks in his hometown Burlington during the Edward Stone Middle School dedication.

A Burlington Middle School is now named after a key scientist in NASA’s Voyager program.  Today the Edward Stone Middle School opens for classes and Ed Stone returned to the hometown where his journey as a space scientist began. 

Talk of Iowa
10:29 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Iowa State Fair 2012

The Grand Concourse during the 2012 Iowa State Fair
John Pemble

We're at the Iowa State Fair, and we're taking you with us. From the grand concourse for a Zumba lesson, to Pioneer Hall for a classic radio play, to an outdoor stage for square dancing...and monster arming wrestling to butterfly tagging. Join us for this special edition of "Talk of Iowa".

5:50 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Iowa State Fair Food and Healthiest State Initiative

The 2012 Iowa State Fair begins with a ZUMBA dance on the Grand concourse.

This morning the Iowa State Fair began with activities promoting the one year old Healthiest State Initiative.  It’s also the first day a dozen new food items high in fat or sugar are available, including the double bacon corn dog. 

Arts & Culture
2:04 am
Sun July 8, 2012

Nate Logsdon Rotates in Three Bands

Nate Logsdon performs with the band Mumfords during the 2012 80/35 music festival in downtown Des Moines.

It’s common for musicians to collaborate in several bands.  This weekend at the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines an active musician found himself playing in three bands during one afternoon.  Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble followed this busy artist from one stage to the next.

Arts & Culture
2:20 am
Sat July 7, 2012

80/35 Music Festival’s Fifth Year of Alternative Music

80/35 Music Festival Project Manager Amedeo Rossi heads up the 5th music festival in downtown Des Moines.

This weekend the annual alternative music festival Eighty Thirty Five marks it’s fifth consecutive year of bringing national acts like Avett Brothers and Death Cab for Cutie to Des Moines.  For some these are new and unusual bands and festival organizers say this is one of the key reasons they put together this music event.

Arts & Culture
1:24 am
Fri June 22, 2012

Iowa Opera House Project

Sam Knudson on the opera house stage at the Weiting Theater in Toledo Iowa.

In the early 20th century Iowa had close to 1,000 opera houses but now only a few hundred are still standing and many of them are abandoned.  This summer an Iowa musician is doing a series of performances in restored opera houses highlighting these building’s historic value while showcasing contemporary musicians. 

Arts & Culture
9:15 pm
Sun June 10, 2012

Cedar Rapids Mural Reveals Post Flood Optimism

Tom Torluemke and his mural "You Know, We're all in this Together" in a gallery at the CSPS in Cedar Rapids.

Last Friday a new painting was unveiled in Cedar Rapids titled “You Know, We’re all in This Together”.  The work features dozens of optimistic community members in a scene about a city still recovering from the devastating flood of 2008.

6:57 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Grinnell College Choir Commissions Work

Composer Mohammed Fairouz, working with musicians at Grinnell College.
Grinnell College

A young composer who is seen by many as an up-and-coming talent will soon have his new piece performed on the East Coast.  His work was written for and premiered this spring by the Grinnell College choir.  It combines the unlikely pairing of Irish poetry about Iowa with biblical passages about an apocalypse sung in Arabic.

Arts & Culture
5:00 am
Fri March 30, 2012

Christopher the Conquered Releases New Album at Mission Creek Festival

Christopher Ford, from the band “Christopher the Conquered”, sitting in downtown Iowa City during the 2012 Mission Creek Festival.
John Pemble

Des Moines based indie rock musician Chris Ford is trying out a new venue for releasing his new CD. Instead of a typical release party or concert, he’s unveiling the work at a venue that brings musicians together with authors and visual artists during a weeklong event -- the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City.


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