Proving Des Moines is NOT boring

10 or so questions from Ben Gran: Bonita Crowe, owner of The Grapevine

Bonita Crowe is a dynamo. She and her husband Keith run The Grapevine, a unique music venue offering an intimate setting where people can drink wine and listen to live music performances from local musicians and national touring musicians. She’s also a booking agent and manager for several local musicians, booking gigs throughout Iowa and around the country. She also tours the country singing harmony for Iowa singer-songwriter Chad Elliott.

Bonita CroweI recently interrupted Bonita’s busy schedule to ask her a few questions about why The Grapevine is such a great place, and how it helps keep Des Moines NOT boring.

1. Tell us about the Grapevine and how it helps Des Moines “not be boring.” What is unique about the Grapevine and how does it compare to other places around town? Is there anything else quite like it in Des Moines?

The GrapeVine offers personal wine education along with a unique experience to remember. We bring wine tasting and buying to your home or corporate event. We also offer private concerts “paired” with wine, in an intimate listening room setting, featuring some of the most acclaimed artists in the Midwest and around the country.

2. How did you and Keith get started hosting concerts? I thought you started out wanting to sell wine and do wine tasting parties?

Keith and I became owners of The GrapeVine in 2007 (I started the company with a friend of mine in 2006).  We only focused on educational wine tastings until we met singer/songwriter Chad Elliott in 2008.  Chad introduced us to the “house concert” concept (a private concert where the hosts invite friends to listen to live music in their home) and we immediately hosted two back-to-back concerts featuring Chad. Our guests loved both concerts, and the intimate setting to enjoy live music, so we immediately decided to start hosting private concerts in our small office at The GrapeVine.

3. This is kind of a “second career” for you, isn’t it? I’ve known you for a few years now, and I remember when I first met you, you used to work at a corporate job with my then-fiancé/now-wife, and you came to the courthouse with us to be our witness when we got our marriage license. We’ve all come a long way since then, haven’t we? I’m a comedian and you’re touring the country singing with Chad Elliott. What was the question, again? Oh, right. “Second Acts.” Can you talk a bit about what advice you’d offer to other people who are thinking of making a big career change, especially to something more “creative?”

We sure have come a long way since then! The best advice I can give regarding life and pursuing your passion is to go after your dreams and do what you love so you will always love what you do! And, most importantly, live life with no regrets. Financially, it’s been very difficult and both Keith and I have had to make a lot of sacrifices. But, it has definitely been worth it and I’m very excited for what the future holds.

4. You tour the country singing backup vocals for up-and-coming singer-songwriter Chad Elliott. What are some of your favorite places you’ve played together, in Des Moines, in Iowa, and beyond?

Well, in central Iowa, it’s definitely The GrapeVine…I love performing in a true listening room where people are there to hear the music in a quiet setting. In other Iowa areas, I love performing at Byron’s in Pomeroy, a truly magical experience, and Prairie Blue Creative Arts in Jefferson, another true listening room. Outside of Iowa, some of my favorite venues that I’ve performed at with Chad are Red Hook Bait & Tackle in Brooklyn, NY, Aunt Annie’s in Avon, MN, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville, TN, B.B. King’s Blues Club in Nashville, TN, Moonlight on the Mountain in Birmingham, AL and The Oak Center General Store in Lake City, MN.

5. Who are some of the most surprising “gets” you’ve booked at the Grapevine? Which musicians were you most surprised were available/interested to play at the Grapevine?

We love all of the artists who’ve performed at The GrapeVine…their enthusiasm and support of what we do is wonderful! Some of the bigger acts we’ve featured are Dan Navarro (Los Angeles, CA), David Olney & Sergio Webb (Nashville, TN), Dave Moore (Iowa City, IA), David Zollo (Iowa City, IA) and 2-time Grammy nominee Matthew Santos (Chicago, IL). We also host several fantastic artists on a regular basis who have a big draw in central Iowa…Bonne Finken (Des Moines, IA), Daphne Willis (Nashville, TN), James Biehn (Des Moines, IA) and, of course, Chad Elliott (Coon Rapids, IA).

6. Who are some of your favorite musicians to see play at the Grapevine?

All of them! It’s a special treat when I’m able to attend a concert at The GrapeVine.

7. In addition to running the concert venue, you also sell an impressive selection of wines. What have you learned about wine that you didn’t know before, as a result of running the Grapevine? What are two cheap wines (under $10) that you’d recommend? 

I’ve learned to appreciate something about every bottle of wine I taste. I enjoy it all…from the delicate sweet whites to the big bold reds. And, I absolutely love sparkling wine. Two wines under $10 that I recommend are Clos du Bois Chardonnay and Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, both from California.

8. Other than the Grapevine, what do you think is the most underrated/”under the radar” place in Des Moines’ entertainment scene?

Coda Lounge. Live music is featured every Thursday evening. Nice, intimate setting…friendly staff.

9. What advice would you give to a young person just about to graduate and go out into the working world?

Be open to new possibilities, build good relationships and network all you can…it’s truly not about what you know (like it or not), but who you know.  And, especially in today’s job market, the “who you know” is priceless.

10. The music and entertainment business can be tough – lots of competition, lots of rejection, hard to get attention even if your work is really good, hard to get people to turn out for shows… How do you stay motivated?

I live for music…it’s who I am, it feeds my soul, it’s my joy…that is what keeps me motivated.

11. What are your biggest, most audacious goals for the Grapevine and for your work with the music business? (That you’d care to share.)

Keith and I love helping musicians and supporting live music. Our goal for The GrapeVine is to continue to build a loyal following of customers who also believe in supporting live music. My personal goal with the music business is to continue to help musicians get their music noticed around the world…by performing, booking and marketing. Bringing joy to others through music…well, that’s one of the best feelings in the world!

Check out The Grapevine on Facebook for the latest concert announcements. Listen to Bonita sing with Chad Elliott here.

Ben Gran is a Des Moines writer and comedian. Now that he’s a father, he refuses to spend more than $5 on a bottle of wine. Follow Ben on Twitter and Facebook