Meet the Artist: River Breitbach

“Meet the Artist” is a series of interviews with the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellows.

River Breitbach has been playing music nearly all his life. Born in the Four Mounds Estate Historic District in Dubuque, he started taking violin lessons at age two and has never looked back.

Today, at 28, the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter is one of five new additions to the Iowa Arts Council’s Artist Fellowship Program. Created in 2014, the program supports professional Iowa artists who are exceptionally creative and contribute to artistic excellence and innovation in our state.

During the next year, the fellows will share their work in communities across the state and visit with Iowans about the arts. Each fellow will also receive career-development training and a $10,000 grant to support new work.

We’ve asked each fellow to share a bit about their background, work and thoughts about the arts in Iowa.

Our Q-and-A series started in July with Ames artist Jennifer Drinkwater, whose interview you can see here. So let’s continue with River, who is playing a steady stream of original folk-pop tunes across Iowa and the Midwest, from music festivals and concert halls to biker bars, night clubs, farmers’ markets and coffee shops.

Where do you live?

I currently live in the Dubuque area; part-time in the house where I grew up, in Rickardsville, and part-time with my sister and her family in Dubuque.

What is your artistic medium of choice and why?

Music is my artistic medium of choice. I was home-schooled and began Suzuki violin lessons at age two, so music was a big part of my early education and remains prominent in my identity as a person. My original music blends elements of folk, pop, rock, blues and hip-hop, and draws on the traditions of conscious lyricism and political relevance. I am an entertainer by nature, and I create art that is message-driven because I believe strongly that music can serve as medicine.

What themes does your work explore?

The lyricism in my songwriting tends to be as diverse as the eclectic influences that comprise their grooves and progressions. Like many artists, I write love songs, breakup songs and songs about drinkin’, but I find myself drawn to writing about current social and environmental issues, as well as the celebration of death and the loss of love and family as a natural part of life.

What are you currently working on?

I have two big projects in the works for the coming year — the creation and recording of my third studio album and the launch of a video series that will focus on Iowa musicians. While I am unable to share the theme of my new album at this time, I can say that it will feature many of the wonderful Iowa artists whom I know and love. Regarding the video series, the project will be called “Songs of Friends.” In this mutually supportive project, I will partner with Iowa musicians to create and release videos in which we cover each other’s songs, thereby exposing our respective audiences to another Iowa artist while encouraging our fans to support the other artist by purchasing their music and attending their live performances.

What do you enjoy about being an artist in Iowa?

One of the biggest reasons I enjoy being an artist in Iowa is stated right on our welcome signs — “Fields of Opportunity.” I have been performing in every corner of Iowa for over two decades and have found that there’s ample room to grow and create one’s own path when necessary. For me, as an artist and entertainer, I have found that when I cannot seem to find my audience following the well-paved paths, I can often bring my art to the people and have many times succeeded at hosting shows in places that aren’t typically music venues. Furthermore, Iowa is filled with artists and art-lovers alike, so while there are so many great artists currently working in Iowa, the market is far from over-saturated.

What is one thing you would change about the artistic field in Iowa?

With respect to those who are currently working to address the critique I’m about to make, I’d like to see my fellow Iowa musicians be more present in all parts of the state. For instance, I know that many bands from Des Moines will take the time to drive to Chicago or cities in Minnesota to perform, but don’t come to Dubuque often enough. The same can be said of bands from Dubuque. Furthermore, while I’ve seen years of effort in support of local and regional music from talent buyers in Dubuque, such as Aaron Hefel of Counterpoint Productions, I believe that Dubuque is far behind in supporting the overall network of musicians across Iowa. When I see the roster of performers for most festivals in Dubuque, they don’t tend to feature very many Iowa artists. While I want to see bands from Chicago performing in Dubuque, I want to see more bands from Des Moines and other parts of the state. Many cities in Iowa are doing a great job supporting their local musicians, but I’d like to see the statewide network grow much stronger.

What’s coming up next?

As I will be focusing on writing and recording my third studio album over the coming year, I don’t have many dates booked at this time. I usually do a big hometown show in Dubuque around Thanksgiving and this year it’s looking like it’s going to happen on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Venue TBD.

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