Stranded in Iowa - A GREAT Place to Be!
- Pete Looney, Music Writer & Correspondent for the Cedar Rapids Gazette & The Hoopla
I Love Good Music.
Do you like 70/80/90’s classic rock? Would you like to hear it performed brilliantly? Then check out “Stranded in Iowa,” who play all over eastern Iowa, and beyond. This band is not stranded anywhere – they choose to make great music right here in the Midwest.
When we first went to hear them, back in 2008, the name was familiar. I’m sure I’d heard of them. Or was the song by Manfred Mann familiar? Didn’t matter. Went and saw them play, and we were blown away. Five experienced, talented musicians, nailing every note. A week later, we went a second time to see them play, and it wasn’t a fluke – these guys are GOOD. I leaned over to my wife and said, “This might be the best band in town!”
A Name or a Sentiment?
I soon asked band member Billie Tessendorf about the name. “Yes, we are respectfully parodying the Manfred Mann song - but 'Stranded in Iowa' is as much of a name as it is a sentiment, especially for those of us who hail from this region of the world. In many ways, it’s a subtle connotation – we choose to live here in the wholesome, hard-working, Midwestern environment that many 'outsiders' often ridicule for the small-town feel and rural traditions. But what better way to reveal the surprising amount of artistic and musical talent that our area has to offer, than to 'spoof' our humble origins?”
Stranded in Iowa now has the reputation for its high energy rock performances, offering a surprising depth of capabilities in covering hit songs from a wide range of artists, including Journey, the Pretenders, Eddie Money, Van Halen, Styx, Bon Jovi, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Boston, Head East and many more.
Who’s Making the Magic?
This is a band that took several years until they found the ideal mix. Stranded in Iowa was officially founded in the spring of 2008, and has undergone a few personnel changes, due to various circumstances (the infamous Bryan Adams lyrics - “Jimmy quit, Jody got married”). Founding members, Patrick Harrison and Billie Tessendorf remain, having welcomed Brien Burke in 2010, and John Hall and Adam Beck in 2011. All of them had played in various bands in the area. This is an optimum line-up, truly a “one-of-a-kind fusion” of some of the area’s most respected and well-liked talent.
Billie provides intricate harmony vocals, and works her magic behind a rack of keyboards, adding important elements to the sound.
Billie has been “Stranded in Iowa” since her birth in Dubuque, although she spent her formative years in northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin. She relocated to the Cedar Rapids area in 1997. Billie’s passion for all-things-musical started when she began taking piano lessons at age 4, followed with participation in school choirs, jazz and marching bands and community theater. She has worked as a church organist, and accompanist, and has played keyboards and sung professionally for other band projects, including The Pulse, Shades of Gray, and Flashback.
Patrick is one of the Iowa's premier guitarists, and will blow you away with his dead-on rhythm, and amazing lead playing. And he supplies additional background vocals as well.
Born and raised in the Decatur and Bethany, IL area, he has been playing the guitar since he was 10 years old. By the time he was 21, Patrick was creating his own music, doing a lot of songwriting, and working in a recording studio. He worked as a full-time musician for the central Illinois band Joker X-Press from 1989 to 1993. Patrick and his family came to Cedar Rapids in 1998, co-founding Stranded in Iowa in 2008.
Anamosa native Brien Burke provides the beat.
“I received my first drum kit for Christmas in my early teens. When I was in high school in Anamosa, Iowa, the band director always said, 'Just improvise,' and I have just kept on improvising.” During those high school years, he started a band called Hard Road, which, after a couple of personnel changes, became Graffiti. Graffiti played a wide variety of music from country rock to rock, and several years later, evolved into the band Alternate Route.
“Alternate Route was together long enough that we played for several weddings and then their divorce parties!” During the 90’s, after taking some time off, he joined a band called the Pawns, and did some fill-ins with local bands such as MB Bluz and the Gary Gibson Band. Next came hard rock band Concrete Blanket. Stranded guitarist Patrick had heard Brien drum with Concrete Blanket, and approached him when the drummer position opened up. His response? “Hell yeah!”
A rock band is nothing without a solid bottom end, and John Hall on bass brings it together with experience and creativity.
After winding his way across the country, via Memphis TN, and via Macon GA, John brought his music and his teaching skills to Cedar Rapids. He has been the orchestra director at Kennedy High School for 10 years, and he is a former bass instructor and clinician at UNI, Augustana, and Cornell College. Teaching is a passion, and he was selected as the Iowa String Teacher Association Studio “Teacher of the Year” in 2009.
Here’s a fun fact - John once auditioned with the Allman Brothers Band! Now perfectly fitting in with Stranded in Iowa, he also can be heard with Orchestra Iowa, Summitt and Funk Stop bands.
Eastern Iowa's Adam Beck on lead vocals and occasional guitar, completes the line-up perfectly.
This 36-year-old Maquoketa native honed his chops in Dubuque, where he also earned a Bachelors degree in Vocal Performance from Clarke College. After singing and playing in several Dubuque-area bands, he relocated with his family to Cedar Rapids 5 years ago.
Adam is a sought-after performer, and has opened for many national acts, such as Billy Dean, America, Kansas, The Outfield, Rick Springfield, Tone-Loc, Fastball and Tesla. Adam has also worked with Nine Days, Vertical Horizon, Stroke 9, C.C. Deville, Sebastian Bach, Danny and the Juniors, Peter Noone, Richard Marx, Edgar Winter, Blessid Union of Souls, Wang Chung, Tyler Hilton, Ryan Cabrera, the Neville Brothers, Sister Hazel, Gaelic Storm, Bob Magrath of Sesame Street, and even Weird Al Yankovich!
Adam continues to work regionally as a solo artist, as well as singing and playing for both Stranded in Iowa and Street Talk.
Enough Talking. Go See Them Perform.
Stranded in Iowa has performed at many regional live music venues and continues to entertain audiences from Cedar Rapids to Dubuque to Waterloo, and many areas outside and in between.
They have played in some extraordinary places, from rock clubs, to the rooftop of a houseboat at MidRiver Yacht Club, to an historic farmstead on the back-roads of Elberon. They have also been on the scene at many different events, including summer festivals from Williamsburg to Monroe, WI. In 2011 Stranded shared the stage at the huge 2011 Rockfest in Cadott, WI with Ted Nugent, Tesla, Jackyl, Stone Temple Pilots and several other national acts.
These guys are professionals – they know exactly what they’re doing. This isn’t cold, calculated “corporate” rock, these are excellent musicians - they know what sounds good, and have the talent to pull it off. They’re not playing 3-chord rock - any musician in the crowd will notice that they play plenty of challenging songs – and the average music lover will notice that every song sounds excellent. There’s a nice, thoughtful progression between songs. And they're fun! It's simply not unusual to see the crowd applaud after every song – so many times, bands are just “background music.” Not these guys.
Stranded in Iowa. Check ‘em out – see what you think.