The Maximum Ames Music Festival took place over the weekend. It featured 100 bands from the around the country and Iowa. It’s organized by two musicians who also run a record label under the same name. They started this event four years ago to expose the label’s Iowa based musicians to larger audiences, but now they’re changing their strategy.
In the Octagon Center for the Arts in downtown Ames, about 175 people are listened to the festival’s headliner, Low; a band from Duluth Minnesota, a town with a similar population to Ames. Low is an alternative band that’s been a cult favorite in the indie music scene since the 1990s.
Alan Sparhawk is the band’s guitarist and shares vocal duties with his wife. They know a thing or two about nurturing a small Midwestern town’s music scene. Music is how they make a living. Sparhawk said all it takes to get something like this started is a couple of people who love their community and are willing to sacrifice a lot of time.
“That sparks things and creates the opportunity and makes an easier path for a next generation of people who are creative or have an inkling to do something different,” Sparhawk said. “If there’s already a community… that’s magic, that’s flipping on the switch for some kids.”
For Ames, Nate Logsdon and Chris Lyng are two of those people sacrificing a lot of their time.
“The scale that we’re talking about is a lot different than Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo where there’s a giant stage and Elton John is up there playing a million dollar piano,” the festival's co-director Nate Logsdon said. “It’s not like that… we draw extremely reputable talent to our town and we put that talent in very, very intimate and engaging environments.”
In addition to working with the festival and the label, Logsdon is a local musician and manages a music club in Ames.
Logsdon says the idea for the Maximum Ames Music Festival and the label wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t booked the band Christopher the Conquered.
At the time, Christopher Ford was an electrical engineer and music was just a hobby. Ford said he spent a lot of his lunch breaks with Logsdon talking about how they could release Iowa music on their own label.
“There are so many amazing songwriters and some people I’m convinced they’re so good and then the album production is not quite there and it’s not anybody’s fault,” Ford said. “It’s just nobody has money to make records and you’re learning as you go.”
There’s no genre associated to what bands Maximum Ames releases. Ford said it’s more about the energy and effort the bands put into their art. Ford said their early goals seemed simple enough.
“There are 3 million people in the state of Iowa,” Ford said. “How do we get 500 of them to buy a record? That’s a very, very small percentage that should be so easy but it’s not at all.”
Ford said the most any individual album has sold is less than one thousand copies, but the festival still gives their new label the most visibility. After focusing some much energy on four music festivals, they want to concentrate more on the label portion of Maximum Ames.
“Everything we’ve done so far now has been more of niche in terms of the scale of we’re doing it, we’re still going to do that,” Ford said. “As well as reissues and small market sort of things but we’re also looking for those Iowa artists that merit a much bigger investment.”
Ford and Logsdon said they’ve put their finger on a model that works for the label and the festival. Now they just need the capital to keep Iowa’s music scene growing.