“TURN UP THE MUSIC. DON’T LET IT STOP.” Damon Dotson’s “Lake Affect” has become one of the most unique concert experiences in the country, and it takes place right here in Iowa. His incomparable voice matched with unsurpassed songwriting creates an unforgettable experience and an instant personal connection with the audience. “Lake Affect” takes that experience to the next level. The Carlson Group sat down with Damon to discuss this iconic event.
How is Lake Affect an expression of you as an artist ultimately?
I always try to say Lake Affect is more of a feeling than a music event…although I realize those two generally go hand in hand. Music evokes feeling. The feeling we as musicians, and even myself as spectators creates a feeling of beauty, grace, and excitement. It’s a feeling of being together in one common cause. If I had to say it…that is what I would like my music to express as well. I love that about music. Between music and sports, nothing else can bring people of all walks of life and beliefs together in unity. It’s so powerful!
How did you dream up this event?
I believe I was at Captains Getaway…just thinking…you know what…it would be pretty amazing to try to have a concert on the water…on a barge. The area is so beautiful, and the music is so universal; how cool would it be to try to merge them into one event. The very first Lake Affect was drastically different from what it has become today. The first one some 15 years ago was actually in front of The Central Emporium. We had one sponsor, one barge, ran our sound production, had no merch, no coozies, and almost nobody in attendance! Fast forward to today, and we have more than 20 incredible sponsors, thousands of coozies, lifeguards, a full sound production crew, a giant LED video screen, and it’s hard to put a number on the attendance…but it’s definitely more than the first one, haha.
What are the biggest challenges in pulling off a water concert?
Planning the schedules of the different production crews, bands, and volunteers. One of the biggest challenges is space limitations. Typical concerts have almost unlimited stage space as well as storage space for cases. It’s a unique set of circumstances, but I am very fortunate to work with some amazing crews and barge operators. This show takes a great team and working together to make it happen.
What do you hope people experience when they listen to your music?
Music can be the internal photo book to a specific time in someone’s life. Someone may hear a certain song…it takes them back to that memory. Hopefully, some of my songs can bring people to a happy place. Unfortunately, life just isn’t always happy though…and if my music can somehow help someone heal from a loss or a rough time that is quintessentially the power of music. Music heals sometimes where words simply aren’t enough.
What is the favorite verse you have ever written?
Hmmm….probably from a song of mine called “Wounds to Heal.”
“Never forget where you come from
Never forget who your friends are
Cuz it takes time for some wounds to heal
and everybody needs some place to shine.”
What makes the connection to the crowd at Lake Affect different?
The energy radiating in the bay on the day of Lake Affect is truly unlike any other show I have ever played. We all realize collectively…woah…this is unique…and woah…this is fun.
What are a few of your most memorable moments on the stage (barge,) during your set?
One thing that has always been a constant…not only at Lake Affect but when my mom is at a show…she inevitably will get up and dance on stage and completely steal the show. It has been a pretty special feeling to have both my parents out there during Lake Affect which is held in the bay that my parents raised my brother and I. It brings new perspective with every passing year. My mom and dad did so much for us to be able to enjoy the lake and all that Okoboji has to offer. It will always be my home.
We’ve had someone propose and get engaged on stage!
One year Captain Morgan made his way onto the barge with the Morganettes. I was like…wait….I remember the first Lake Affect…and now this? It was so fun.
How did Honky Tonk Woman come to be?
Over the years, when Mom and Dad would be at my shows, it would come to that time of night where mom was just ready to get up and do her thing with us on stage. Honky Tonk Woman always seemed like a fitting jam for my mom. It’s become a tradition at Lake Affect. People seem to know when we play Honky Tonk Woman…Damon’s mom is getting on stage and will get the biggest applause of the day. It’s memories like this that will live forever for me and I don’t take them for granted. Having both parents out there for almost every single Lake Affect has been one of my most cherished memories of the entire life of the event.
Memorable performers to take the stage with you at Lake Affect?
Jason Walsmith of The Nadas played a solo show a few years in a row. One of my favorite bands, GB Leighton played the 10th Annual. The Pork Tornadoes also played the 10th Annual which of course was an amazing show. There’s generally a section where my buddy Jeff Carlson gets up and brings the house down with his rendition of some 90’s rap. It sets the day off on a whole new level of fun.