Making a Scene… “Shameless” James ‘JR’ Ronan / Dance and Stay Young (DASY)

The following is part II in a series entitled “Making A Scene” from the Fall 2014 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine.
Part I – featuring Tanya Gertz & the Luther College Center Stage Series can be found here.

Interview by Benji Nichols


The elusive, James ‘JR’ “Shameless” James Ronan.

Inspire(d) caught up with five different leaders in the Driftless Region who have been helping make amazing performances happen in venues large and small. From fine art performances, to rockabilly queens, to alcohol free rock and roll, and the Blues, these are the people who truly make it happen. Hats off to these fine folks and the amazing people that work with them to “make a scene” – say thanks the next time you see them (just look for the wizard behind the curtain – or more likely running around making it all happen!). Better yet, buy a ticket and go see the shows!

Shameless” James Ronan – Dance and Stay Young – DASY

DASY support live music poster colorizedIn the past 25 years, James “JR” Ronan has had one mission: promote and support live music. Blues, rock, reggae, rock-a-billy – you name it, DASY has touched on it in some way. A music-lover to the core, Ronan has helped bring countless regional and national acts to Northeast Iowa, including 14 Halloween shows with the Dustbowl Blues Band. From being the partnering force behind McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita nights – bringing great roots music to Twin Spring Road every Saturday night of the Summer season, to having a huge hand in preserving Iowa’s ballroom culture, and promoting the Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Ronan is shamelessly committed to “the scene.”

He’s claiming to be hanging up his promoting shoes with a 25th Anniversary DASY blowout this October 11th at the Inwood Ballroom in Spillville – featuring “Blue Mississippi” – a conglomeration of the rock & roll hall of fame founding members of the Blue Band as well as the Mississippi Band. Other artists like Paul Kaye and the Blues Cartel and Lew Klemish will also be on the bill. If you know Shameless James, you know he won’t be able to sit still for long, but the word is out that this is (a­­lmost!) it for DASY. See you on the dance floor at the Inwood October 11th!

How’d you get into presenting events?


‘Shameless’ with the legendary Dogs – reunion tour L to R Erik Burg, J. Ronan, Jody Koenig, Ole Torvig, Mark Stumme. Photo: Tracey Martin Stummer

I got bit by the bug early – helping other people out. John Matter, Ear Food Magazine out of La Crosse, the radio stations – there weren’t that many venues, and artists needed and deserved to be treated well. So on Halloween 1989, I put the Dustbowl Blues Band in the Highlandville School House – costume show, the whole deal. They were my “good luck band” for 14 years in a row with Halloween shows. Highlandville, The Elks, Matters downstairs and then upstairs when it grew. But the name came from when I was just a kid, 10 or 12. I remember standing on the dance floor of a ballroom – and seeing “Dance and Stay Young” up on the wall. It stuck. “DASY”, shortened, didn’t come until later – but it seemed right. Dance and Stay Young – that’s how it started. Quality and class acts – that’s what I’ve always looked for.


Do you have a most “exciting” live moment?

The biggest highlight of the last 25 years was Canned Heat at the Inwood – I tried for months to put that together and didn’t get anywhere. Finally I got through to Skip Taylor and it clicked. There’s also a whole book’s worth on Commander Cody at the Inwood in 2007. Bringing David Honeyboy Edwards to Decorah – twice – is right up there too. He loved playing at Chase the Adventure – said it reminded him of the places he started out in the south. That’s also how I met Paul Kaye, who’s come back several times and is playing on the show October 11.

If you could present one show with anyone in the world – past or present – who would it be?

I’d love to see Tony Joe White come to Northeast Iowa. I saw him play on Beale Street for his birthday – just him and his drummer BoomBoom – and in Iowa City once years ago, opening for Richie Havens. He just doesn’t get out much anymore – doesn’t have to I guess.

What are you excited about in the near future?dasy 25th poster

Oh man, I’m excited about the Blue Mississippi show at the Inwood in Spillville. The Inwood is great – a lot of new life being put into that room. And I’m working on bringing some of the Matter’s nostalgia back to the Inwood – its just too bad that Matter’s is gone. But there are a lot of memories from there and we’re focusing a lot of energy on the Inwood now – it’s such a neat place. Most of all, though, I just have to thank the bands, all the local music lovers, and the countless businesses that have supported these DASY shows over the years. They’re the real reason any of this has happened – I can’t thank them enough for 25 years of Dancing and Staying Young!

Making a Scene… Tanya Gertz / Luther Center Stage Series

This is the first of the 5 part series, Making a Scene – from our fall 2014 magazine.
Written/Interviews by Benji Nichols

CFLWe all know how great seeing a live performance can be, whether at a regional performing arts center, or your neighborhood tavern, but we don’t always think about the countless folks literally behind the scene, making those moments happen. Of course there are the performers, their support crew, audio and lighting techs, publicity folks, bartenders, door staff, and so many others. But what about the people who are at the helm of deciding who and what shows to bring to our region?

Inspire(d) caught up with five different leaders in the Driftless Region who are making amazing performances happen. From fine art, to rockabilly queens, to alcohol free rock and roll, and the Blues, these are the people who truly make it happen. Hats off to these fine folks and the amazing people that work with them to “make a scene” – say thanks the next time you see them (just look for the wizard behind the curtain – or more likely running around making it all happen!). Better yet, buy a ticket and go see the shows!

Tanya Gertz – Luther College Center Stage Series 

Tanya GertzThe Luther College Center Stage Series has anchored the touring performing arts in Northeast Iowa for decades. Since 2005, Tanya Gertz has been the Director of Campus Programming, rounding up staff to juggle hundreds of events moving through various spaces each year. The 2014-15 Center Stage Series kicks off September 13 with The Intergalactic Nemesis, and continues September 25 with the tap-sensation Rhythmic Circus. San Jose Taiko brings the beat October 4, and LA Theatre Works presents “In the Heat of the Night” October 24. A special primer concert with The Awful Purdies focusing on local food and farming will take place Sunday September 14 at Seed Savers exchange – the discussion after this show will be part of a theatrical production from the Working Group Theatre on the Center Stage Series this coming Spring entitled “All Recipes Are Home (April 11, 2015). There’s way more fun, Center Stage Series show info, and online tickets at:

How’d you get into presenting events?

I have been presenting events in this big, whole-hearted way since I started at Luther. However, looking back, I should have seen the possibility long ago as I was often in leadership roles for special events at my high school and college. When I had very few funds in Chicago, I saw everything I could that was free and then all the theatre I could by volunteering anywhere that would take me!

Do you have a most “exciting” live moment?

A few years back, the dance company Diavolo was at Luther. They had this big ship-like set element and there was a moment a dancer intentionally flew off it and the entire audience gasped. It was pretty wonderful to experience that as a presenter – helping to create such a dramatic moment that everyone was connected.

If you could present one show with anyone in the world – past or present – who would it be, and why?

Oh, this question! I care first and foremost about the experience and gifts of each artist to our series. But if I had to choose, it would probably be some kind special gathering of great artists like Dolly Parton, Joshua Bell, Aretha Franklin, Martha Graham, and some young inspiring folks with them like Abigail Washburn and/or Time for Three (who have been here)! And, then once we’ve all had our hearts filled to the brim with great art and our faces lit up with joy, they would come out and greet the great people in our audience!

What are you excited about in the near future?

I am in love with the new series and the energy of it! I am very excited to have San Jose Taiko here andSan Jose Taiko offer not only the evening performance, but also a show for our local schools and multiple workshops in town and on campus. I love that they are the longest-running taiko group in the US, and that the artistic director is a woman. And, though it is next spring – I am unbelievably excited about our premiere of All Recipes Are Home… grown from the stories of the land, food, and farming in Iowa with the setting being at a Decorah family farm.



Chef on the Block: Winona’s Boat House

Chalkboard_WebIntro by Benji Nichols • Photos by Emily Kurash

Winona, Minnesota is a town rich in river history (that’s the mighty ol’ Mississippi in case you were wondering.) One of the winding sidetracks of that history includes the boathouses of Latsch Island, a small community of residents who live in floating homes just across from downtown Winona. You could say they represent a mindset, as such, of river life – living a little more intentionally, and holding a true sense of place. If you take those ideals, add a couple of entrepreneurial business partners, an empty building in Levee Park on the banks of the Mississippi, and great food and drinks, you get Winona’s Boat House.

With a rotating blackboard menu of whatever inspiration has hit daily, and a fun, worldly-yet-simple regular menu, the food can take you both around the world and right back home. The craft beer selection is great, and word on the street is that brunch – served Saturday and Sunday – is a total winner. Tip: Don’t leave without ordering a mimosa…and/or a Bloody Mary! From their regular menu, check out a (according to photographer Emily) “damn good” buffalo burger (pictured) or the chef favorite, the Boat House Lucy, along with pommes frites (including all the amazing sauces possible), or (another Emily favorite) tasty panko fried crab cakes. And any of the delicious desserts, of course!


Second to the food, is the ambiance of the place. And they’ve got boatloads (groan)! The wrap-around patio facing the river equals summer night perfection. Amazingly, the Boat House crew has figured out how to enclose that same outdoor space, making it an almost year-round dining area, complete with a cozy stove and fun décor. But we don’t have to think about that right now – it’s summer! And it’s finally nice! So get out there and enjoy the weather, grab a cold beverage and great food, and soak in scenic vistas of the mighty Mississippi.


MimosaWebName: Lyon Smith
Age (if you’re willing): 42
Restaurant: Boat House
Number of Years Cooking: 30

Formal training or live-and-learn?
Live and learn, that’s how we do it at the Boat House! We change with the seasons and always try and keep fresh, local ingredients and keep our menu interesting. Boat House would be considered rustic cuisine, with fresh, local ingredients, and beer of course. The kind of food you would expect if you were to visit a real boathouse on the Mississippi River.

What’s your earliest or most significant memory of cooking or being cooked for?
Hiking through the Bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley and gathering Morel mushrooms and trout fishing in the streams. Frying them up in a cast iron skillet with butter, salt and pepper with asparagus when in season. We still use that recipe; of course we get our trout from a local trout farm for the restaurant.

Why did you decide to become a chef?
Out of necessity. We love to cook and create! We live in a rural area and try to create interests in different tastes. A fusion of cultures and styles of cooking is combined to create delicious, adventurous choices for our customers.  Naturally, we started experimenting and learning out of sheer curiosity too!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
The best thing I have ever made is probably the Boat House Lucy, which is a half-pound of ground beef with local Wisconsin cheese curds stuffed inside of the burger, caramelized onions, arugula, garlic aioli, and tomato on a Kaiser roll, topped off with truffle oil and served with fresh hand cut fries. People have told us it is the best burger they have ever eaten.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Once, while making curry, I used cream de coco, instead of coconut milk, it ruined the curry, needless to say.

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
Authentic Japanese Ramen!

What’s your favorite…
Ingredient: garlic
fish tacos with guacamole
Cookbook: “Daniel Bouley: East of Paris: The New Cuisines of Austria and the Danube”
Random (or not so random) kitchen tool: cast iron skillet
Vegetable: endives
Fruit: apple