Everything you need to know about Ames music

Dylan Boyle

When Des Moines’ Slipknot exploded on to the heavy metal scene, music journalists and industry representatives predicted Iowa would soon be to metal what Seattle had been to grunge in the early 90s. Although Iowa and Des Moines never became the new cultural center of heavy metal, the indie music scene in Iowa is growing at an exponential rate, and Ames’ scene is truly at the forefront of the movement.

While some students may feel a trip to Minneapolis, Omaha or Iowa City is a required to see great live music on the weekend, a short walk from campus to The Space for Ames, Headliners or the Maintenance Shop will reveal that phenomenal live shows do exist in flyover country. The scene thrives on a devotion to local culture, collaboration, open minds, eccentricity and artists’ shared love not only for the music, but also for the scene they proudly represent.

11 Artists You Have to See Before Graduation (In no particular order.) 

The Poison Control Center

The Poison Control Center has defined the Ames music scene for the last 10 years. The band’s performances – featuring stage somersaults and Guitarist Patrick Fleming often hanging from any rafter in reach – have become legendary events. Along with bringing a Pavement and early Who sound to the stage, Poison Control Center has always been Ames ambassadors, promoting the scene wherever they go. 


Take one part Townes Van Zandt, a dash of klezmer and add some gypsy punk, and you might just get something similar to Mumford’s sound. The band’s live shows combine driving, catchy melodies with deep singer-songwriter lyrics, with often theatric plots playing out throughout the performance.

The Snacks

There are cover bands in any college town, but few can boast the repertoire of The Snacks who, quite literally, cover everything. The two-man drum and keyboard act is known for filling any audience request – from “Girl from Impanema” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” to Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” and Jay Z’s “H to the Izzo.”

The Anytime

For the pop-punk fan, Ames band The Anytime brings a Rocket Summer-like dance grove and a polished stage presence for a high energy show. The Anytime have released two EPs so far, and spend their time managing the Lost and Found Lounge on Welch Avenue when not on stage.

Matt Woods and the Thunderbolts

Despite Blues on Grand in Des Moines closing, blues music is still alive in central Iowa. Guitarist Matt Woods combines the Chicago blues sound with R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough-influenced Mississippi hill country blues for a diverse boogie experience. Woods shows a mastery for slide guitar work and his extended jams will please any blues aficionado.

The Workshy

The jam band scene is alive and well in Ames with bands like The Workshy and newcomers The Sun Company bringing funky improvisational grooves to the stage in true Jerry style.

Radio Moscow

Face-melting licks and powerful, driving blues rock have defined Radio Moscow’s sound for years. The Story City trio fronted by shredder Parker Griggs produces a Hendrix-style 60s psychedelic sound. Moscow spends most of their time touring internationally now, but makes several stops in Ames every year. The band is currently working on its third album and had success with the second when Radio Shack put on tune in a commercial featuring Lance Armstrong.

Shaun Billz

Hip-hop and rap is often scarce compared to indie bands in Iowa, but Shaun Mathis, a.k.a. Shaun Billz, has been bringing smooth rhymes back from his native Chicago backed by tracks he produces himself.

Bootytronic suite

A collaboration of artists “devoted to the art of moving butts,” Bootytonic is Ames most well-known DJ group, laying down dance tracks at least once a month at Project 20/20 and other venues around Ames and Des Moines. 

Christopher the Conquered

Following in the footsteps of Poison Control Center, Chris Ford and his band bring the Ames stage presence to live shows with Ford conducting the horn section – The Black Gold Brass Band – Frank Zappa style from his piano stool. CtC’s piano driven rock songs showcase Ford’s powerful soul voice and witty songwriting.

Leslie and the Ly’s

Known for her massive collection of sweaters, Leslie Hall may be the most eccentric act to ever come from the Ames scene – and one of the first big acts to put Ames on the map. Hall combines eclectic hip-hop rhymes and unusual stage antics in one of the most fun live shows you’ll ever see.


Ames has a variety of venues throughout the community, appeasing the tastes of almost every music fan.

The Space for Ames

Located in Campustown, The Space for Ames is a community venue aimed at promoting local music with all age shows. The Space is meant for the enjoyment of the whole community, allowing any local band to book shows there.


Zeke’s, another community space located west from campus on Lincoln Way, offers a variety of shows to all-age audiences.


Iowa State’s own Maintenance Shop has a long history of great music – Buddy Guy and Junior Wells have performed there in the past – and gives students access to a variety of touring acts and bigger bands.


Several bars in both Campustown and throughout Ames host acts on the weekends for the 21+ crowd. Headliners in Campustown has become the best place to find metal in Ames, as well as other genres. Project 20/20 has become a premier dance club. Venturing away from Campustown, fans will find Mother’s Pub hosting blues acts like Matt Woods, singer-songwriters and cover bands. On Main Street, DG’s Tap House is a prime stop for many regional jam bands and local acts.

Coffee shops

Ames wouldn’t be a college town without the occasional singer-songwriter performing acoustic music one of the many coffee shops around town. Stomping Grounds in Campustown hosts artists almost every week and Café Milo in West Ames hosts local musicians every Friday and Saturday night.

Getting involved

To say the Ames music scene is welcoming would be an understatement. Unlike other music cities, like Nasheville, the vibe in Ames is not one of competition, although there are many unique and talented bands. The best way for students to get involved in the local scene – either as a musician or as a volunteer helping put on shows – is attending and meeting other musicians at open mic nights. 

Many resources for aspiring musicians also exist within the Ames community as well, from music stores like Rieman Music and BRG Music on Main Street to music studios like The Spacement, Alexander Recording Kompany and Pinnacle Records.