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The Scarlet & Black

True Grinnellian: Richard Berman

A native of Grinnell, Richard Berman, otherwise known as “Richie,” has spent his entire life in small-town Iowa. And according to him, nothing much has changed—besides the music scene that is.

Berman works at Sam Berman & Sons, his family’s scrap art and metal processing facility, but is probably better known for his lifelong involvement in the local and regional music scenes. He was first exposed to the budding local music scene when, after graduating high school, he decided to remain in Grinnell and help his father run the family business.

One of Berman’s first shows was seeing The Ramones perform in Darby Gymnasium in 1980. A year later, he travelled to Alpine Valley in Wisconsin to see the Grateful Dead.

“That was a life-changing experience—it was the scope of the audience-band interaction and the involvement of fans. It was a way of life,” Berman said.

After his initial taste of the music scene, moving forward, Berman began to spend the next two decades travelling around the area to see a fair amount of live music. Doing so eventually became a hobby as well as a means of socializing.

Consequently, he became largely involved in The South Skunk Blues Society, a local organization committed to increasing exposure to blues music by putting on shows in the community. However, his interest in music was certainly not limited to the blues genre.

“I would go to see a lot of regional bands in the Iowa City area who were really quite talented and they were fabulous, which made me think [at the time that] some of these bands needed to be showcased in Grinnell,” he explained.

Therefore, in order to broaden the scope and exposure of Grinnell’s music scene, during the mid to late 90s, Berman actively took part in booking bands in town. A popular venue for performance was the “Down-Under Pub,” a defunct bar that was located in what is now the downstairs of the Prairie Canary.

“During the period of time when a lot of talented artists from the Iowa City area were coming to town and were playing, a lot of people were entertained, and it was pretty good, raucous fun. I loved it,” said Berman, who believes that the late 90s was a prime time for the music scene in Grinnell.

Although Berman’s involvement in the music scene has dwindled down after starting a family, he continues to stay up-to-date with the local and national music scene. Part of what Berman misses most is the social aspect of making friends with performers and other music-lovers.

To Berman, the days of music concerts and booking bands now belong to the past. As a father of three young daughters, he finds himself reflecting on how the setting of Grinnell has changed since he was a child. Growing up in the 70s, Berman drew many comparisons between life in Grinnell then and now in a physical sense. Back in the day especially, it was almost inevitable to go out into town and not expect to run into neighbors.

“There was kind of this ‘Leave it to Beaver’ mentality where everybody knew their neighbors further out and as kids, we were allowed to roam multiple blocks from home by the time we were seven-years-old,” Berman said.

The overall atmosphere of Grinnell in the 70s was what Berman described as “American Graffiti”, with loud, souped-up cars squealing the roads at night. However, according to Berman, the people in the community resembled characters in the film, “Dazed and Confused.”

Despite these differences between Grinnell then and now, Berman believes that Grinnell retains a sense of intimacy and tight-knit community.

“Sometimes there are times when anonymity is a wonderful thing, but there are other times when still that recognition and knowing people [intimately] like that is a special thing to have in your life.”

Spending his entire life in Grinnell has allowed Berman to view the changes that have taken place around him in the community, but he finds it nearly impossible to reflect on how he is viewed by others. Thankfully, Berman does not worry too much in that regard:

“There’s a Todd Snider song by the title ‘Alright guy’. Hopefully, people think I’m that kind of guy.”


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  • S

    Seth '97Jul 28, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Glad to hear that Richie is still going strong! Solid guy. And yes, the late 90s were a special time!

  • C

    CrosbyApr 14, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Also, note that, at the former Down Under, there was a giant mural along the north wall. Richie’s likeness was a prominent feature of that mural.