Eight is looking great for the annual Dawn and On Festival, returning for its eighth summer to Rock Island’s Schwiebert Park on July 8.
The all-day fest’s lineup this year will include The Big Wu, Jon Stickley Trio, The Dawn (go figure!), Strange Neighbors, The Scarlet Goodbye, Running Man, Avey Grouws Band, CJ Parker, and Jason Carl And The Whole Damn Band. Gates open at 11am and acts will start hitting the stage at 12pm. Presale tickets are available online now at bit.ly/DAO23Tickets and will also be available at select retail locations.
Founded in 2015, Dawn and On is a fun-for-all, homegrown music festival featuring the area’s best local and regional talent, according to festival co-founder (and Dawn band leader) Sean Ryan.
“It’s honestly a very family-friendly day full of great music and local vendors,” Ryan said. “We have the park full of families throughout the day and then when the sun goes down the light show starts!”
“From rock to jam to bluegrass, you’ll find all of our bands highly danceable and indescribably fun,” its Facebook page says. “Our goal is to bring all the magic of the multi-day music festival and condense into one highly affordable day right in your own backyard.”
And it all started with a general idea to bring a bunch of bands together for some fun times and great music.
“Our first year was 2015 at North Shore Inn in Moline,” Ryan said. “We as a band had been playing a couple outdoor shows there for a year or two at that point and I remember calling the owner to book a July show in February that year. I had been thinking about expanding the show to include a couple other bands along with The Dawn. The thought of a ‘festival’ wasn’t on my mind whatsoever at this point.
“After our conversation I reached out to a couple of other friends’ bands in the area and booked the show,” he said. “At some point shortly after that I started getting messages from many friends hearing that we were throwing a one-day festival and then wanting to bring as many friends’ bands in as possible. So as this continues it’s starting to become an actual one-day fest.
“My good friend and Dawn and On partner, Mike Mathews, and I, starting talking about the initial branding of DAO,” Ryan said. “Mike is definitely the guy who brought the festival brand to life. We patched together an unplanned one-day festival with all of our friends and now here we are years later!”
Mathews originally pushed for the festival name “Dawnaroo” and was unanimously outvoted, Ryan said. “That was the approach the first time – it was just a fun thing; it wasn’t gonna be an annual deal,” he said.
“We’re all just having fun. My biggest thing is getting on stage, and I like to look over at these people on stage with me,” Ryan said. “When I smile, do they smile back?”
In addition to the live music, Dawn and On brings in some of the area’s most talented arts and craft vendors, a variety of delicious food and snacks, premium craft beer and a few surprises along the way. The festival draws around 1,500 each year. That’s gone up since 2019, the first time it was held at Schwiebert Park in downtown Rock Island.
With its roots in jam music, the festival’s lineup features local and national performers and remains diverse with a mix of rock, funk, bluegrass and folk bands.
Is Ryan surprised at how it’s blossomed?
“Looking back at this point as we’re going into year eight it is honestly crazy to me how much it has grown and continued to be supported by our fans and the local community,” he said. “I’d have to say that between continuing to support local artists and local businesses and giving back a part of proceeds each year to a local charity our community has showed up for us!”
As the event has grown, and the crew have become more experienced in putting the gig together, it’s become not just bigger, but better, and at least a little smoother to assemble.
“As years go by, we definitely have a decent process formed,” Ryan said. “At this point we usually start planning within the first couple months of each year.”
With that, the parameter of available bands has also expanded.
“When the festival started we only had local acts but as the fest has continued to grow we are able to bring in some regional and national acts, which helps to grow the event,” Ryan said. “With that said though, I very much try to use that popularity of the event to continue to support local acts. Although there are fewer of them nowadays, the bigger bill gives all of us local bands more notoriety by being on a festival bill with larger bands.
“We also try to build the lineup to be eclectic as much as possible,” Ryan added. “We usually try to book a few local bands, one or two bluegrass acts, a larger jam band headlining act and one or two bands that wouldn’t normally be on a jam festival lineup.”
The Dawn in 2017
What act is Ryan particularly excited about this year?
“I’m a huge fan of The Big Wu so that is a special one for me,” he said. “I’m also excited about Scarlet Goodbye, which features Dan Murphy from Soul Asylum and Golden Smog.”
Is it a relief to actually get out on stage and finally play the gig after all the effort putting it together?
“It’s a whirlwind of a day but at the end of it I very much enjoy taking the stage with my friends and just letting loose!” Ryan said.
Ryan said he’s hoping to continue the fest until at least the 10-year mark, and that he’s still excited to put it together and add in fun elements of the show as a performer.
“This year is special for me because for The Dawn set we are bringing on quite a few special guests,” he said. “Garrin Jost, who played bass in the band for years until around 2014/2015; Kerry Tucker, who taught me my very first musical note and has been my biggest mentor and inspiration since childhood; and CJ Parker, who is a work colleague and one of my absolute favorite musicians coming up in our scene today.”
You can check out those acts and more, as Dawn and On shines on Rock Island July 8. For more info, you can also RSVP to the event page to keep up to up to date with all the latest festival news and announcements: bit.ly/dawnandon2023