Two of the most powerful fundamental elements of any culture are music and food. The Bohemian is a café and music venue in the heart of the Midwest, so we celebrate our distinctive regional culture and cuisine. We refer to this geographical area as the Central Mississippi River Region.
Here at The Bohemian, we celebrate of the flavors and sounds of the heartland.
The Bohemian is situated in the heart of our nation. Our historic building is in the core urban neighborhood where the Cedar River flows through the City of Cedar Rapids. The Cedar merges into the magnificent Mississippi River at the Eastern Border of Iowa.
The Mississippi and its thousands of tributary rivers, streams and creeks provide the nourishing life blood of flowing water that feeds the loamy, fertile soil of the Heartland. This immense living system is the most fertile land mass on the planet. A very rich culture of music and cuisine pours forth out organically of this base reality of living fertility.
Body nourishing foods and soulful, pulsing, rhythmic music rise up naturally out of this rich and culturally diverse environment. We value the authenticity of life in the Heartland.
A person can leap over a few stones to cross the small stream of the Mississippi at its source as it flows out of Lake Itasca in Minnesota. As this grand river flows downstream, it gathers the rains of spring and snows of the Midwest winter as it swells to several miles wide in places.
The watershed of the Mississippi gathers in the waters of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. The St. Croix River, Wisconsin River, Cedar River, Wapsipinicon River, Iowa River, Des Moines River, Rock River, Illinois River, Missouri, Ohio River, and the Arkansas River all flow into the massive Mississippi.
New Orleans is 2,220 miles downstream. 100 miles below New Orleans the Mississippi widens out into a vast delta as it flows on out into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans was settled with a rich gumbo of African, Caribbean, French and other European cultural influence. This blend of cultures gave birth to some of the zestiest food and a new musical form that expressed the joy de vivre of this unique American City. Jazz is the consummate American art form.
New Orleans is the motherlode of American music. The roots of jazz sink deep into the Mississippi delta as rich veins spread up river into other cities of the American Heartland; Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago all embraced jazz as each locale found their own unique ways to express the jazz idiom. In New Orleans, African call and response slave chants were accompanied and augmented by European instruments such as the piano, strings and brass horns. Handmade gourd instruments with a stringed neck that originated in Western Africa evolved into the five string banjo that provided syncopated rhythm in early ragtime jazz. Jazz rose up as an inter-racial folk music, just as the rich Creole cuisine of New Orleans blended influences of African, Caribbean, Amerindian, German, Italian and Irish immigrants of the region. The jazz and food of this region are a living celebration of our common human experience.
Language is the root source of human culture. Etymology is the scientific study of the origins of the words that make up a language. The word “jazz” was first recorded as a word in the English language in reference to music in 1913. Jazz is the anglicized version of the Creole patois word “jass.” Jass is defined as strenuous, enthusiastic and lively physical activity with sensual innuendo. An earlier influence was the African/Mandigo word “jasi” to describe the rhythmic energy and physical drive of dance forms that originated in the Congo. Early reference to the word’s meaning is found in J.E. Lighter’s monumental Historical Dictionary of American Slang. The English/French glossary in this tome defines Jaser or Jazer as a common slang word in southern states with a sensual connotation. Great Jazz captures the syncopated and rhythmic pulse of life. As life itself, Jazz is always changing and evolving. Jazz is so varied, it is sometimes hard to define…so just stay cool, relax and enjoy it. Jazz musician J.J. Johnson captures the essence of jazz in this insightful quote; “Jazz is restless. Jazz music bends and moves, incorporating new sounds, new styles, various beats and rhythms. Poetic, right? What can I say; I just love jazz whatever it is.”
As one of the oldest cities in the USA, New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company. As human settlement moved north up river, new settlers were also arriving from the east as they sought out new opportunities in the states that were forming in the Midwest and West. Iowa became a state in 1848. The food and music of the Mississippi River Valley took on a growing range of character and nuance as diverse ethnic groups and cultures settled cities to the north such as Memphis, Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, St. Louis, industrial cities in Ohio and Scandinavian influenced settlements in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There is literally a world of food influence in the central US corridor of the Mississippi River Valley. This gives us a very wide pallet to draw from as we create the art, music and food that make up the experience here at The Bohemian. At the Bohemian, we define both our food and music styles as “roots Americana”, as it is experienced in the heart of our nation. It is authentic to our own place in the world. Music, Art and Food are a deeply intertwined whole experience at The Bohemian. A pleasant evening spent at The Bohemian involves all of our senses. We invite you to “Live Bohemian.”
When we consider the inspiration for the music and food at the Bohemian in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we start at the Mississippi Delta in New Orleans. We then take culinary and cultural cues from other river towns as we move on up north to Iowa. Various musical forms such as Blues and R and B and Rock and Roll grew out of the jazz traditions in these Northern cities. The midwest cattle industry and packing houses in Kansas City and Chicago stimulated new approaches to barbecue and smoked meats. Kansas City is known for rich, zesty sauces on smoked meats. In Memphis, the preference is for a dry rub of an array of spices, ground pepper and salt. The flavors, sights and sounds that we celebrate here at The Bohemian emerge directly out of the primal energy of the rich soil, the nurturing rivers and the diverse peoples that make the Mississippi River Heartland their home.
When you walk into the welcoming doors here at The Bohemian, we invite you to relax and just feel good. Let the food nourish your body as the music, art, conversation, poetry and the good company you find here feeds your soul. Let the Good Times Roll. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
The Richards family has had eight years of experience with managing iconic restaurants in New York City. In Stone City, Iowa we operated a legendary music venue for 8 years in the 1980’s that drew in exceptional jazz, blues, folk and R and B musicians who stopped over at our place on their way to big city performance venues. During our 8 years with this effort, 4 Grammy winners graced our small stage among scores of other very talented artists. We are combining our extensive family experience with food and music at the Bohemian in the New Bo District here in Cedar Rapids.
As we open The Bohemian for business, we will schedule one live music event each week. As crowds grow and then by customer demand, we will add to our musical event calendar.
As noted, New Orleans is the motherload of authentic American music. The music gumbo at The Bohemian will always serve up plenty of Hot Jazz/Fresh Food. Our music presentations will include the other veins of American music that flow up the Mississippi River Valley; Blues, R and B and Roots Rock. Occasionally, we’ll mix a little country and rockabilly into our musical stew.
We’ll embrace our historic midland roots as we also celebrate new innovations in musical Americana. We preserve history in this iconic old building, but we also hope to write some new history as we go forward with the unique artistic, social and culinary experience at the Bohemian.
Over the years we have seen distinctive styles of music make a mark on the map in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and New Orleans. St. Louis gave us the rockin’ sounds of Chuck Berry. Across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Ike and Turner burned up local road house stages and then set the world on fire. Chicago churned out Blues and R and B legends to numerous to list here. Further into the upper Midwest, Barry Gordy assembled amazing talent to produce a whole new world of music with his signature Mo Town Sound. Prince put Minneapolis on the musical map in the 1980’s as his blazing guitar solos and provocative lyrics kept his fans dancing on their feet in The First Avenue Club. Iowa’s own Everly Brothers defined early Rock and Roll.
Music that rises up from the people is by its very nature innovative and rebellious. Real music is the soul calling out for identity, expression of freedom and respect. The music industry, art world and fashion types on the East and West Coast like to pat themselves on the back as the hip locations where new things start. The actual truth is that authentic artistic expression that emerges out of the heart, soul and sweat of common people have driven the emergence of most new musical forms in America. This has happened in abundance in the central Heartland…from Jazz in New Orleans one hundred and twenty-five years ago to more current electronica house music and rap taking root with disenfranchised youth in the collapsing industrial economy in Detroit. Each generation of youth find new ways to take up musical instruments in the garage or in a basement or back room to create the sounds of the next generation.
Music industry magnates on the East and West coast then often co-opt, capture and commercialize real music from real people that was first heard on the streets, local clubs and front porches of the Heartland. The Mississippi River Heartland has always been fertile in food, music and art. We carry on this indigenous regional fertility of expression here at the Bohemian.
As a free and open society, Americans always find new ways to sing, dance and create to express the joy and pain of our shared human condition. The living sound track of life is always shifting, growing, reaching back for old influences and reaching forward for new forms of expression. You will find that experimental and evolving pulse of life here at The Bohemian.
Let the Good Times Roll. Laissez le bon temps rouler!