Foreword author(s)

In 1987 photographer Sandra Dyas moved to Iowa City and began documenting the area’s vibrant live music scene, with its distinctive combination of folk, blues, roots/Americana, and rock sounds. The sixty photos in Down to the River capture her twenty years of photographing live music venues and shooting portraits of musicians in and around the city, resulting in a collection of images as compassionate and honest as the music itself.

Dyas’s photographs present both the sweaty intensity of live performances and the more contemplative moments of individual portraits. They are complemented by Chris Offutt’s empathetic essay, which also encapsulates the experience of connecting with a new home through its music. A companion CD with eighteen tracks by Iowa’s finest singer/songwriters, including Dave Moore, Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, David Zollo, and Pieta Brown, add up to an unmatched perspective on Iowa music and musicians.

CD Tracks

Iowa Crawl, Joe Price

Poor Back Slider, Greg Brown

Parnell, David Zollo

#807, Pieta Brown

Wheels of Steel, Radoslav Lorkovic

Down to the River, Dave Moore

Lucy and Andy Drive to Arkansas, Kevin Gordon

Chuck Brown, Mike and Amy Finders

Nobody But You, Joe Price

Earleton, BeJae Fleming

Ceremonial Child, High and Lonesome

Sidetrack Lounge, Bo Ramsey

On the Edge, Pieta Brown

One Wrong Turn, Greg Brown

Not in Iowa, Kelly Pardekooper

Living in a Cornfield, Bo Ramsey

’57 Chevy, Tom Jessen’s Dimestore Outfit

Roll on John, the Pines


“When you look at Sandy Dyas’s affectionate portraits of musicians, you think you are there, in the presence of old friends, and certain that you can hear the sound of their voices.”—Sylvia Plachy, author, Self Portrait with Cows Going Home  

“Sandra Dyas’s 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. 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.”—Robert Cantwell

“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. Even though this is not an all-inclusive, academic history of Iowa musicians and songwriters, Sandy’s honest photographs reveal as much about the artists as any historical/biographical book could.”—Dave Alvin

“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.”—Thisbe Nissen, author Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night

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Publication Details

Publication Date
88 pages
Trim size
9 x 9½ inches
60 photos, CD