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ITA keeps bands truckin' through Q-Cs


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Varnaline is one of the groups booked into the area by ITA.

People always are grousing about there being nothing to do in the Quad-Cities, but how many do anything about it?

Pete Toalson and Miranda Lange backed up their beefing by forming the Independent Truckers Alliance.

Let that name drain into your grey matter and your cerebral cortex might fire up pics of burly, flannel-shirted diner gourmands with Deere caps screwed onto their thick heads.

Wrong. ITA (with a name that ``just sounded interesting'') promotes concerts dedicated to bringing savory underground music to the area. They may not have anything to do with 18-wheelers, but they've had a mighty convoy of hip rock bands truckin' through the Quad-Cities.

Indie darlings Space Needle, Boyracer, Varnaline and The Rachel's are among the close to three dozen acts that have made a stop here, much to the delight of local music fans who otherwise would have to travel to Chicago to see them.

Mr. Toalson and Ms. Lange once were those fans -- and still are -- which is what spiked them to form ITA.

``We got tired of having to drive two to three hours to see shows,'' Mr. Toalson said. ``A collection of us were throwing around the idea (to start ITA) in the summer of 1994, just because there was nobody else doing this. We felt there was no place to see any music of relevance around here.''

After a lot of talk came quick action. A few calls to record labels and booking agents started the ball rolling. By July 1995 they booked their first show, featuring Hammerhead, at Stickman's, where Mr. Toalson was a DJ.

It was a pretty low-key affair. The gig mainly was advertised through fliers and word-of-mouth. The bands stayed at the pair's house, and after the show the couple took them to dinner. The crowd was decent, but not huge. Not much has changed since then.

What is different, Mr. Toalson said, is that he and Ms. Lange have become better at what they do. They learned the hard way -- through repeated socks to the wallet -- how much to pay bands and how much to spend on advertising.

They've scrambled, and still do, to find places to hold the dates that won't break them. ``We try to make them all-ages so that people under 21 can go, but that's not always possible because of cost,'' Mr. Toalson said.

They say they're still not totally slick, but they've progressed. Give them credit. Going from concert-goer to concert-producer has to be a bit of an adjustment.

``This has just been totally alien. It was difficult jumping into something that I knew completely nothing about,'' Mr. Toalson said. ``It's been difficult doing this and holding down full-time jobs, and we usually end up breaking even or losing money on shows, but it's worthwhile.''

``We both used to be really nervous in the beginning,'' Ms. Lange agreed. ``The first couple of shows we'd get everything together in the (contract) riders -- certain types of beer or food, towels, cigarettes -- and bands would show up and wonder what the stuff was for. They didn't even know it was in their contracts. It was kind of funny.

``Also, it was kind of strange having people staying at the house, but we're used to it now,'' she said. ``I'm sure for the bands it's hard to adjust, too.''

Fortunately, they have been spared the angst of dealing with infamous stars known for trashing hotel rooms, guzzling drugs and running up room service bills.

``The bands we get are actually very normal, cool people,'' Ms. Lange said. ``The band we were really worried about were (legendary punk band) the Cows. They've got this reputation as being really wild and destroying hotel rooms and stuff, but they were the nicest people. They wanted to go shopping at the Salvation Army. We ended up staying up all night talking to them, and they were really cool.''

It's also funny trolling around the area with the musicians, especially those dressed contrary to the conservative wardrobes of most area denizens.

``It's weird. We'll be sitting in the middle of some restaurant with some band, and people will be looking at them funny because they're dressed unusually or something, and we'll be like, `Uh, they're rock stars,'|'' Ms. Lange said.

In its short existence, ITA has garnered enough of a reputation to lure fans and bands to gigs. Booking agents now think of the area in a new light. But that's a mixed blessing. Some bands they are approached by aren't what they're looking for, and estimating attendance is a crapshoot.

``We can never predict which shows are going to go over well and which ones aren't,'' Ms. Lange said. ``There are people that come to every show, regardless of who it is, and we really appreciate that. But there are some times that we're calling up friends the night before a show begging them to come to make sure there's going to be a crowd so the bands aren't insulted.''

Part of the uncertainty is that none of the bands ITA hosts get airplay on local radio (with the exception of KALA-FM, particularly during Ms. Lange's show from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays). That makes it difficult to promote shows and to gauge a band's popularity.

However, for all their travails, the ITA duo has had a definite impact on the Quad-Cities, giving local music fans some great shows.

``The coolest moment was the whole Trans Am concert. They were just astounding as a band,'' Mr. Toalson said. ``They'd been more of a surf rock band, and it was at our show that they decided to be more of an experimental band. They had a DJ spinning and stuff like that. So the people who were at that show got to see them take a whole new musical direction.''

ITA plans to keep on truckin' in the groups, hoping to build up the local scene to where it can support the shows. Then they will have met their goal -- giving the Quad-Cities a more diverse entertainment pool.

``There's already a lot of great things going on here that people just don't know about,'' Mr. Toalson said. ``If people spent more time focused on the area and doing something tangible to change what they don't like, instead of complaining about it, then this would be a much cooler area.

``Don't spend your time talking about how much things suck; take action, and do something to make things better.''

Hey, it's worked so far for ITA.

-- By Sean Leary (February 2, 1998)

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