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University of Iowa News Release


June 4, 2007

New UI Press Book Documents Iowa City Music Scene In Photos

Photographer Sandra Dyas moved to Iowa City in 1987 and began documenting the area's vibrant live music scene with its distinctive combination of folk, blues, roots/Americana and rock sounds. Sixty of these photos are now available in "Down to the River," a new title from the University of Iowa Press.

The book is available directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at, and is also available June 15 from bookstores and online retailers. In the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, contact Eurospan by phone, +44 (0) 1767 604972, by fax +44 (0) 1767 601640, or online at

Dyas's photographs present both the sweaty intensity of live performances and the more contemplative moments of individual portraits. They are complemented with an essay written by UI Writers' Workshop alumnus and faculty member Chris Offutt.

The book includes a companion CD with 18 tracks by Iowa singers and songwriters including Dave Moore, Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, David Zollo, Joe Price, Radoslav Lorkovic and Pieta Brown.

"Sandra Dyas' photos capture Iowa's middle landscape, the one where human habitation has made a place for itself between the mechanization of the prairie and the collapse of the family farm," wrote folk culture scholar Robert Cantwell, who earned his doctorate at the UI. "This is the Iowa that gets lived in and sung about.

"You might catch a glimpse of it at deep twilight, on some nameless county road, where you'll find a guitar picker or fiddler or steel player: a mere mote on a blanket of soybeans and corn. Like every farmer or elevator operator or grain dealer who's at home in the idea of moving on, Iowa's musicians put down roots where they are. You really can't miss the resemblance in these photos -- wanderers who came to make a life and like it or not succeeded at it."

Veteran musician Dave Alvin commented, "From the melancholy genius of Bix Beiderbecke to the prairie visionary poetry of songwriter Greg Brown, Iowa has produced more than its fair share of great musicians and songwriters. Photographer Sandy Dyas has captured the rough and sweet uniqueness of many recent Iowa artists in beautiful images that make you want to dance in a hot bar on a summer evening while singing along with their every word. . . . Sandy's honest photographs reveal as much about the artists as any historical/biographical book could."

And Writers' Workshop alumna Thisbe Nissen, a New Yorker who chose Iowa City as her adopted hometown, wrote, "These photographs bring to life a world very dear to me, through the eyes of a photographer whose love of that world is palpable on the page. You can hear the songs in these photos: in the stage lights, in the landscapes and barscapes, and in the faces of the people who make my favorite music in the world. I will read and reread this book with gratitude; it's a vehicle -- a hard-driven, hard-rusted, hard-loved farm truck! -- driving me right into the music, and there's nowhere I'd rather be."

Dyas received her Master of Fine Arts in intermedia and video art from the UI in 1998. She teaches photography at Cornell College and has a thriving freelance photography business. Her photographs have been published on and in numerous CDs, websites and magazines including No Depression, Vogue, Acoustic Guitar, and the New York Times.

Offutt is the author of "Kentucky Straight," "Out of the Woods," "The Good Brother," "The Same River Twice" and "No Heroes." His stories and essays have been published in Esquire, GQ, the New York Times, "Best American Short Stories" and "Best Stories of the South."

"Down to the River" is part of the Bur Oak series from the UI Press. Recognizing the richness of the Midwest's heritage, this series of original and reprinted books is named after the state tree of Iowa. These books represent the UI Press' dedication to preserving the literature, history, geography, and the culture of the region.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013;