Glory Reitz—Staff Writer
Though known for its Dutch culture, the college town of Sioux Center strums and sings beyond the borders of the Netherlands at its annual Pork ‘n’ Bands fundraiser. The indie rock, bluegrass music, and jazz is a cultural outlet for Northwest Iowa.
This year’s Pork ‘n’ Bands, hosted on Saturday Sept. 18 in the Fruited Plain Cafe’s parking lot, marked five years of music and smoked pork for Covenant Christian Reformed Church’s “Legacy Plan.” The plan is a partnership between the church and several local Christian schools where Covenant provides financial support to help reduce out-of-pocket tuition for students in their congregation.
Laremy De Vries—owner of the Fruited Plain, adjunct philosophy professor at Dordt Univeristy, and a member of Covenant CRC—says the event is a worthy fundraiser because it diversifies the education fund’s giving pool.
Pork ‘n’ Bands began when Dordt English professor Luke Hawley started a band called the Ruralists with De Vries and three others in 2016. The Ruralists wanted to create a “mini-festival” as an opportunity to play for an audience and to unveil a newly renovated portion of the Fruited Plain. They reached out to Covenant to turn the event into a fundraiser. A “win-win-win” scenario secured the deal: the church got a fundraiser, the Fruited Plain got catering, and the community got a new opportunity to gather.
De Vries and Hawley hope Pork ‘n’ Bands, and the Fruited Plain itself, will provide space for new musicians to join and create.
“This city’s great. There’s a lot of wonderful reasons to live in Sioux Center. There’s not always that much independent art culture,” Hawley said. “We want college kids to know… if they want to ask their buddies to start a band, there would be a place for them to play.”
The evening began with a group of teenage girls—several of them the daughters of the Ruralists—singing pop and rock songs. They were followed by eight more bands, including four Dordt students who played bluegrass music and a group led by a recent Dordt graduate, Damon Groen.
Groen, a worship arts major who graduated in the spring, started the Tone Def Lozers over the summer. He recently released an EP and works as a worship coordinator but formed the rock-inspired band with four friends as a separate creative outlet.
“Here, it’s so much different,” Groen said. “There’s such a life to it at Pork ‘n’ Bands. [The] people that have been here in the community for a while have just created this culture of valuing having fun and being able to let loose sometimes. I think it’s a good thing and it doesn’t happen enough.”
Groen said the Lozers practiced just four time before their set because of scheduling difficulties. Another band, the Flatland Hillbillies, formed a year ago, practiced only twice before Pork ‘n’ Bands.
“There has been like no time.” said Caleb Hoke, the band’s mandolin player. “At all.”
Parks Brawand, the Hillbillies’ fiddler, wasn’t sure instrumental bluegrass would appeal to the Pork ‘n’ Bands crowd. But the southern style is close to the Hillbillies’ hearts, and they were excited to see what reaction they would get. When they did take the stage, on the heels of the Ruralists’ rock set, the crowd stuck with them.
The Hillbillies weren’t the only ones to consider their music’s appeal. As professors, De Vries and Hawley knew the Ruralists’ music might not appeal to every audience member. De Vries calls their style “Prof Rock” because their university jobs are part of who they are. It bleeds into their music.
“There might be a student who’s like, ‘I don’t really understand that.’” De Vries said. “But there are people who listen to love songs even if they’re not in love… That’s us being honest of who we are.”
Throughout the evening, Dordt students flowed in and out of the Fruited Plain parking lot. Some just grabbed a bite, but a large group clustered around the show stage, clapping and dancing to each performance. At one point during the Ruralists’ performance, the wooden frame around the stage swayed from the movement.
“I feel like the Fruited Plain is a place everybody can kind of come and be themselves,” said Abi Schescke, a senior. “I like the artsy-ness of it.”
Though the live music draws a crowd, De Vries said the pork pulls too. Emily Kramer, chair of Covenant CRC’s Christian education committee, had the job of managing the event. Her husband smokes the port every year.
For the first Pork ‘n’ Bands, Kramer said her husbad smoked all the pork on the event weekend—an estimated two pork butts. This year, Kramer’s husband spent three weekends before Pork ‘n’ Bands smoking and subsequently freezing around twelve butts.
“I grew up in a city, and we didn’t always have things like this,” Kramer said. “So, it’s just fun to draw people from all over town and bring them all here to one spot.”
At the end of his set, De Vries announced the Fruited Plain’s upcoming “battle of the fake bands” where participants will form a new band and write an original song. The event is set to occur in the winter.