Ames-based Strong Like Bear takes musical storytelling to Stephens Auditorium

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Members of Strong Like Bear pose in front of their band's name in lights on the sign at the Iowa State Center. Greg Bruna, Jordan Mull, Rachel Dudley and Bryon Dudley will perform on stage at Stephens Auditorium on Sunday. The concert is part of the iconic venue's Goldfinch Room series.

Strong Like Bear is returning to its singer-songwriter roots as it takes the stage at 5 p.m. Stephens Auditorium Sunday. The concert is part of Stephens’ Goldfinch Room series, which highlights the music of Iowa singer-songwriters.

“We are fortunate to have an abundance of talented musicians in Ames and throughout the state,” Tammy Koolbeck, executive director of Stephens Auditorium, said. “The Goldfinch Room gives singer-songwriters the opportunity to perform in a listening room atmosphere that celebrates the storytelling of the songs they have written.

“We’re excited that Strong Like Bear was interested in revisiting their earlier acoustic work and playing the Goldfinch. For this show, they will be playing on the iconic Stephens stage which is just a fabulous experience for our local musicians.”

Strong Like Bear’s last album was a stoner rock project released this summer, so the return to its earlier music has been an interesting challenge, band member Bryon Dudley said.

“We’re super excited to play it. We’re feeling a little bit of the pressure because that’s a really well-respected series and we want to be sure we bring our A-game to it,” he said.

Although stoner rock album “In The Future, Only The Rich Will Live Forever” had Strong Like Bear rocking out in gigs this summer, the band slowed things down during Maximum Ames festival of concerts, which was held in September in collaboration with Ames Pride fest.

Read about SLB's stoner rock album:Ames band Strong Like Bear holds album release party at Alluvial on Friday

The Goldfinch Room songwriter showcase will feature Strong Like Bear on Sunday at 5 p.m. at Stephens Auditorium.

During Maximum Ames, band member Jordan Mull was the lead singer for the night. Mull and Dudley started an acoustic duo years ago, Acoustic Spew, which in 2006 morphed into Strong Like Bear when Rachel Dudley joined on drums and Greg Bruna on bass.

“When we were getting the set together for Maximum Ames, we said, ‘Hey, these songs are so cool. I forgot how much fun they were to play,’” Dudley said.

For a while during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldfinch concerts were held on Stephens’ stage with the audience also seated on the stage at small tables. Bryon and Rachel Dudley attended a couple of those concerts, and Bryon talked about how impressive the view of the auditorium is from the stage.

“We were blown away,” he said. “Looking back and seeing all the seats in the whole auditorium, I kept thinking about all the shows I’ve seen from those seats. Like, I sat right there and watched Bob Dylan perform right here where I’m sitting now.”

Goldfinch Room concerts started in the listening room at Stephens Auditorium, and the performances are more than just concerts. They’re opportunities for storytelling. The audience gets to hear some of the stories behind the songwriting.

“I’ve got one song about growing up in Iowa,” Dudley, a Jefferson native, said. “It’s about growing up with my best friend in Iowa and how, as kids, the summers seem to last forever. You'd get bored and almost missed school. Then, as an adult, you don’t get summers off and you think: Why did I not value that?”

Even the band’s name has a good story behind it.

Around the time the band was looking for a new name, Dudley had an experience while he was at his full-time job.

Rachel Dudley, Greg Bruna, Bryon Dudley and (sitting) Jordan Mull are the members of the band Strong Like Bear.

“One day this new Russian guy came in. His name was Vladimir – the most Russian name ever,” he said. “I was talking with the maintenance guys when they got a call to help set up Vlad’s office. They asked me to help move a table that was really big.”

“We carried the table into this guy’s office and he said, ‘Oh, you should have come and gotten me. I am strong like bear,’” Dudley continued, flexing his bicep, then pounding his fist to his chest, showing the actions of the Russian. “He was a huge guy with a deep voice. And the way he said it, I just burst out laughing.”

Shortly after that experience, during band practice, Dudley told his bandmates the story and they immediately said, “That’s great. That should be our band name.”

Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available at the door on the day of the show or in advance online at www.center.iastate.edu.

Doors will open 45 minutes before showtime. Audience members are encouraged to wear face masks while in the venue. Stephens Auditorium will have beer, wine, soda and water available for purchase.