Iowa musicians share the stage at Songwriter Showcase


Sara Routh is a Des Moines native who started writing music nearly 30 years ago.

Iowa musicians Sara Routh and J. Jeffrey Messerole first met at an industry meet up at Golden Bear music studio in Des Moines. They will be working together for the first time at the Songwriter Showcase on Tuesday at The Goldfinch Room in Stephens Auditorium.

“This is going to be quite a baptism with respect to working together, creating a friendship and forging a professional relationship for the first time right on stage,” Messerole said.

For nearly 30 years, Routh has been living her dream of writing and performing folk music around the world.

“It’s the best feeling ever, I mean, besides giving birth to a child,” Routh said. “What’s it like, eating the best food you’ve ever eaten? What’s that feeling like for you? I can’t really put it into words, but it’s all exciting and joyful and can be emotional and sad.”

Her entire life, she has been surrounded by people who want to see her succeed in her music and bring support when she travels.

“My parents are musicians, and I’ve just always been around music and it was just my passion,” Routh said. “I’m lucky enough to be one of those kids that knew the direction they wanted to go in.”

Routh started writing songs about people she observed, making up stories of people passing by she found interesting.

When struggling with writer’s block, Routh turns to life experiences, finding it more difficult to write when she is only feeling happy. With this, Routh has had to increase the vulnerability expressed in her live shows, adding an extra layer of passion to the way she performs.

“The number one peak is being able to connect with my audience and when they come and talk to me and say that one of my songs has touched them in some certain way,” Routh said. “I’ve won awards, but those awards just sit on a shelf and they don’t talk to you and bring you joy, except for in that moment.”

Balancing being a mom of three, partner and musician has been a difficult task for Routh throughout her career. While her main priority is always family, her music and parenting are both full time jobs. Finding childcare while she has a show has been a struggle for her at times, often having to bring them with her.

“It is definitely difficult, finding time to hustle and find the gigs and book the gigs and meet the people and do the social media. While in the back of my head, it’s like, ‘Okay, what’s for dinner?’ or ‘I gotta get my kids to school.’” Routh said.

This balance is something Messerole has also had to master, as he is raising a four-month-old son with his wife.

J. Jeffrey Messerole has been writing and performing his own music for the past 12 years. (Courtesy of

“I’m fortunate enough that I have enough work that I don’t have to be working every weekend,” Messerole said. “I’m a stay-at-home dad, so Monday through Friday I’m at home with my son — for the most part — every single day, all day long. And that’s been really great to forge a bond with him.”

By working mostly at night, Messerole is able to spend most of his son’s waking hours with him.

Starting performances in Des Moines 12 years ago, Messerole was surprised to discover what the city’s music scene was really like.

“There’s a lot fewer [musicians] than you might anticipate out of a city of its size,” Messerole said. “I feel like there is a small group of people that are a great audience, that are great listeners. But by and large, I think it is kind of difficult to play in some of these spaces because I don’t think original music is as much a priority to a lot of people as songwriters would hope it would be.”

Messerole started writing music three years prior to his performance debut. The memories of driving with his dad, listening to Jim Croce tapes in his pickup, taught him how impactful music can be. Messerole was able to cry to some songs and dance to others, and he found Croce’s range inspiring.

After getting his first guitar in college and listening to original songwriters, he discovered his passion for writing and performing his own music.

“It’s one of the best feelings on Earth,” Messerole said, “especially as an original singer-songwriter that people really connect and can be captivated by what I’ve made is really a great feeling.”

Routh and Messerole will take turns performing their original songs at the Songwriter Showcase. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are available online.