The Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series fun continues tonight with an intimate home studio performance featuring Iowan country/blues/folk/punk fusion sensation William Elliott Whitmore. Tune in to see why this 2019 Levitt AMP Earlham Music Series fan favorite packed more than 750 people into Earlham City Park last summer during the city’s inaugural Levitt AMP Earlham Music Series—the largest crowd the park had ever held! Tonight’s new virtual show will be filled with energy and heart, much like Earlham itself.
One-square mile of small town charm
Situated in an idyllic, rural setting about 30 miles west of Des Moines, the historic community of Earlham is home to 1,450 people where residents get to enjoy the pace, camaraderie and charm of a small town. Nostalgic and vibrant, this one-square mile community is home to both families who’ve lived there for generations and newer transplants seeking that “small town feel”—including many who work in Des Moines and reside in Earlham.
Nearly five years ago, three local women decided to launch Chicks with Checks, quickly recruiting 24 women to bring a simple concept with a large impact to life. Operating as an all-female giving circle, Chicks with Checks pools their funds to directly and intentionally support their community in creative and meaningful ways. Today they’ve grown to 55 women who meet quarterly. And to date, they have donated about $120K to local projects. “In Earlham everybody wants the best they can have for theirs and for others too. And I think Chicks with Checks embodies that,” explains longtime Chicks member Sue Ramsey.
Whether Chicks is funding a new Little League scoreboard or ensuring a school nurse has the supplies needed to provide high-quality care for students, the female giving circle aims to make life a bit better for all those who call Earlham ‘home.’ Chicks puts small town values into practice and aims to instill those values into future generations. The way Chicks actively builds community shows youth the importance of “taking care of your neighbors and knowing your neighbors,” explains Chicks founder, Connie Terry. “You have to know your neighbors well enough to be able to figure out what their needs are in the community.”
Chicks with Checks believes that towns of any size can and should thrive. Instead of focusing their attention on growing their population, they set their sights on growing opportunities that would improve quality of life for those in Earlham and the surrounding rural communities.
‘AMP’-ing up the momentum in Earlham City Park
In 1978, a concrete platform was put into Earlham City Park, a lush underused greenspace in the center of town, filled with potential. The platform lay the physical groundwork for the future stage that Chicks with Checks would help bring to life decades later. While the idea of a permanent stage had surfaced many times, it had never gained enough traction for the project to get off the ground. When the Earlham Lions Club brought the idea of a bandshell to the team five years ago, Chicks eagerly agreed to partner with them. With a lot of hard work and “a little stick-to-itiveness” the two community groups secured the $21K in donations and grant funds (and in-kind labor support) needed to construct the beautiful permanent outdoor stage that stands there today. To maximize the impact of this communal investment, Chicks began offering small free concerts each Sunday in June. These weekly gatherings drew steady regular crowds, reflecting the community’s need for more shared experiences, beyond popular high school sporting events. When Terry came across the Levitt AMP grant opportunity in 2018, the Chicks realized that it aligned with everything they stood for and was essentially everything they were already working toward in Earlham City Park, albeit on a larger scale and with a more intentional focus on showcasing a diverse range of artists and music genres. They decided to apply and received an outpouring of community support right from the start. Having the smallest population did not stop Earlham from securing the most votes during the Levitt AMP public voting period (for two years in a row!).
The launch of the Levitt AMP Earlham Music Series in 2019 proved to be an exciting next step in the community-driven effort to invigorate the underused Earlham City Park. Few community events have drawn residents of all walks of life in the same magnitude. Terry explained the power of giving everyone an “opportunity to be a part of this same experience that they can all talk about the next day” in Earlham and the surrounding small towns. It’s a lively environment that fosters connections among community members, artists and local businesses—like Rescued Junk, a local pop-up shop that sells vintage and handmade goods, which sets up a weekly photo booth; and the local grocery store, which serves up delicious weekly delights out of its food truck each week. The series creates a small town “fair feel” completely free of charge.
The fact that residents no longer have to drive to Des Moines to hear a high-caliber concerts is a point of pride. “We deserve to have these experiences in small towns,” Terry says. “I’m a big believer in small towns across our country, not just in Iowa. And people in those communities deserve a high quality of life.” And that is exactly what she and the Chicks are aiming to do with free Levitt AMP concerts, creating a welcoming and accessible environment for everyone that steps onto the lawn. Levitt AMP Earlham concerts draw together music-loving residents of all generations—from the 80+-year-old crowd to the kids running around the lawn. Located in the heart of the town, the park is geographically accessible, and the team intentionally makes an effort to ensure the concerts can be enjoyed by those of all abilities—from easy curbside parking to providing a sign language interpreter during concerts. In thinking through ways to make their music series as accessible as possible, the team jumped at the chance to create a more welcoming environment for the local Deaf community by providing licensed American Sign Language Interpreters for every show. This proved to be a meaningful and enjoyable layer for concertgoers of all hearing abilities.
With COVID-19 altering our ability to gather in large groups, Levitt AMP Earlham concerts have been put on hold this year, however the team is looking forward to bringing free, live music back to Earlham City Park in 2021. In the meantime, if you live in Earlham, keep your eye out for some exciting “pop-up surprises” that could involve the ever-so-popular “I like it, I Levitt, I want some more of it” branded T-shirts that adorned Earlham Levitteers last summer. The Chicks are actively strategizing ways to provide direct community support where it’s needed most.
Tune in for an exclusive home concert with a Levitt AMP Earlham fan favorite
Join viewers across the nation tonight for William Elliott Whitmore’s exclusive live concert recorded in his home in southeast Iowa. You will see why this honest, wholesome and thought-provoking music resonated with so many Levitt AMP Earlham concertgoers last year. This local singer-songwriter/banjoist/guitarist/drum-stompin’ artist has delighted audiences across the globe with his powerful country, blues, folk and punk fusions. And he is sure to do the same tonight. In the same vein of providing free and accessible in-person concerts to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, the Levitt AMP Earlham team has once again teamed up with a sign language interpreter for tonight’s virtual show.
Tonight’s virtual concert shines the spotlight on this caring community and celebrates the strides they have made to build a community ripe with opportunities to enjoy the transformative power of free, live music. Visit levittamp.org/virtual at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT!