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COVID & the Arts: Avey Grouws Band

Darren Schultz
the Avey Grouws Band

Even though 2020 has been a rough year for many bands, it's been a very good year for the Avey Grouws  Band, and it’s getting better all the time. 

The Quad-Cities-based blues rock band (whose female lead singer lives in Decorah, Iowa) hit the top 10 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart for its debut disc; is nominated by Blues Blast Magazine for best Debut Album New Artist; was a semi-finalist in this year’s International Blues Challenge, and is the inaugural artist for a new online series presented by River Music Experience and Joy Avenue Media.

The new J.A.M. Sessions – starting at 6 p.m. Friday with the Avey Grouws Band – aim to present high-quality, free livestreams of the best Quad-Cities bands, providing safe live music to the community. Tips and donations to the band help cover production costs.

The Avey Grouws Band is Chris Avey, Jeni Grouws, Bryan West, and Randy Leasman, and often with Nick Vasquez on keyboard. RME executive director Tyson Danner said there are so few opportunities for the public to hear live music right now and RME has worked with sound engineer Dustin Cobb at Joy Avenue Media for years, and he's been a great supporter of its mission.

Band member Jeni Grouws is equally thrilled to have this new outlet, in a professional, Covid-safe studio in Bettendorf.

“That’s why we’re excited about this Friday, with Joy Avenue Media – Dustin and the RME, who I just found out is partnering with it, which is exciting. Because it means all of us are getting together, to be together in one room, all five of us even. And Dustin is safely on the other side, in an entirely different room, listening to us, and managing the sound, and we get to stream live Friday as a full band.”

The new series lets RME continue its mission – as it has done for months with Curbside
Concerts and the current Live@Five series outdoors in the RME courtyard (through September) - - providing live music, even if it’s not in-person.

Within a year of forming in 2017, the band won the Iowa Blues Challenge and played its first IBC (sponsored by the Blues Foundation) in Memphis, Tenn., in January 2018. It also was back for the worldwide competition last January, both times earning a spot as semi-finalist – in the top 40 of 250 bands. The guys in the band had participated in the IBC many times before. 

Grouws says they recorded their first full-length album, “The Devil May Care,” at Catamount in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was released internationally March 20, and they had big plans for an album release party and tour. Then the pandemic obliterated their nationwide tour schedule.

“We understand why; it absolutely makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It absolutely makes sense. So because all our touring was completely canceled and because of our concerns with what’s happening with the pandemic, we’ve stayed pretty quiet in terms of being out in public.”

Last weekend, they did their first live show back as a full band and will do one this Sunday in Kellogg, Iowa, two hours west of the Quad Cities.

“We know we have a responsibility as musicians, that if we are bringing people together, we are doing so in a responsible way. We also are trying to find ways to continue an income and continue making music.”

The last live show they did before the shutdown was March 13 in Prairie Du Chien, Wis. On Aug. 29, they returned as a band in the Q-C to play outside the Meat Market in Davenport, and Aug. 30, Grouws, Avey, and West went to Iowa City to join the 2018 International Blues Challenge solo winner, Kevin Burt, from Iowa City, to perform outside at Big Grove restaurant.

Since March 20, they have been doing Facebook live streams as a trio from Brian and Chris’ Bettendorf apartment Fridays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at noon.

“In some ways, the live stream is nice because we can see what they’re saying, but it will never make up for what it’s like to be in front of an audience of people that are smiling, or clapping, or showing a response of some sort, whatever that response is. The depth of human emotion comes out in a concert – sometimes you make people cry, sometimes you make people laugh and dance.  That’s why live music is so valuable – we can never bottle up and recreate what happens between an audience and a musician. It’s magic; it’s special.”

Grouws quit her radio station job last fall to do music full-time, after having worked as manager of KDEC-AM and FM in Decorah, formerly owned by her parents, for 16 years. She and her husband have three teenage daughters.

People can vote for the Blues Blast awards until Saturday and for more information on the group, visit aveygrouwsband.com. Tune in Friday for the J.A.M. Session at the Joy Avenue Media Facebook page.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.