Robin & Linda Williams

Robin and Linda Williams performed at the Maintenance Shop, Feb. 17, 2016. Robin and Linda are known internationally for their folk style music and songwriting. 

 

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on April 26, 2017. Information regarding dates, times and ticket prices have been updated accordingly.

In 1974, many things happened that influenced U.S. history and culture. Former President Richard Nixon resigned after Watergate, “Happy Days” premiered on television and Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth’s record for the most home runs in Major League Baseball.

Those were events happening on the national scale, but here at Iowa Sate, something big happened too, as the Maintenance Shop officially opened at the beginning of that year.

Robin and Linda Williams: Over 40 years in the Maintenance Shop

Robin and Linda Williams performing at the Winnepeg Folk Festival in the early 1980's. 

Fast forward to Oct. 24 of the same year, when Robin and Linda Williams performed three shows over the course of a weekend. These performances would mark the first of many for the husband and wife duo at the venue. 

Before playing in Ames and meeting Linda, Robin had toured as a solo act. But after seeing Linda sing for the first time, he said they gravitated toward each other.

“You could tell she had something special, she was good,” Williams said. 

Robin’s act as one soon became two, as the couple married in 1971 and eventually began touring together.

“It was the music that brought us together, and we’ve been playing ever since, making a living at it,” Williams said. 

Their relationship and partnership led to many musical ventures, including playing at the Grand Ole Opry and on Prairie Home Companion. They have also released many albums and have had several of their songs recorded by numerous artists.

But in the early days, Robin said they played many gigs on college campuses, and it was their booking agency that led them to the M-Shop right after it opened.

“Whenever it was a new venue, the agency would always send us,"Williams said. "We were the guinea pigs.” 

The first show looked a lot different compared to how performances go down in the M-Shop today. Williams recalled a stage having to be brought in before they played. Plus, around noon, the duo had to play a short teaser advertising the show to members of the Iowa State and Ames community. Williams said that their short promotional set worked and people came out to watch.

“We got crowds, and we’ve had crowds ever since,” Williams said.

Since that initial weekend, they have always made it a point to stop in Ames and play. Some years the M-Shop comes to them, while other times they go to the venue about the gig. The feeling is mutual; manager and adviser of the Maintenance Shop Jim Brockpahler said they love having Robin and Linda as part of their lineup.

“I always enjoy working with them, and we hope to bring them back for many years to come,” Brockpahler said. 

According to Brockpahler, the duo has played 48 shows during the course of 44 years. They have been back almost every year since 1974, and the audience has returned as well.

Williams said that he has visited with people who have returned to see the duo in the M-Shop again, sometimes years after seeing them for the first time. Some who were at the very first Robin and Linda M-Shop show have even returned in recent years.

But that is not to say there are no newcomers. Brockpahler said new audience members are present each year.

“It’s nice to see what we do seems to resound with people,” Williams said about the reception.

The M-Shop and the duo have a unique tie to each other. Brockpahler believes the two have a closely intertwined history. In fact, a piece of Robin and Linda is a part of the venue greeting people as they walk in.

“When you come in the M-Shop and you’re coming down the ramp from the front door, there’s a picture of Robin and Linda right there,” Brockpahler said.

The Maintenance Shop has traded its own history with Robin and Linda as the two were given a commemorative brick in 2000 for playing there for 27 years. Plus, in 2014, they played a special show honoring the venue’s 40th anniversary.   

During all of that history, of course, there have been modifications made to the inside of the M-Shop. Williams recalled numerous changes to the venue, including the sound booth’s installation, a redesign of the walls for better sound reflection, the bar going up and the stairs turning into a walkway.

One thing that has changed during Robin and Linda’s career has been the way they live as musicians. When they first started playing at the M-Shop, Robin said the road as a touring artist was sometimes rocky.  

“We were living three months ahead," Williams said. "We’d be playing [at the M-Shop] in April, and we’d have gigs in July and nothing after that. The bottom could’ve fallen out anytime.”

Since then, Williams said things have gotten better. Now they live out a life with music right alongside.

“Now we’re not worried about our next tank of gas," Williams said. "We’ve had a life in music. We still have a real nice life in music."  

Robin and Linda have made their mark at the M-Shop, and the venue has given right back to them. Williams said that playing at places like the one on Iowa State’s campus gave him and his wife the confidence to keep going in the music industry, as the two of them saw the impact their music had on people.  

“The music business has a way of weeding people out," Williams said. "One of the main things it will do to you is that it will make you feel insignificant. Places like the Maintenance Shop really gave us the confidence to know what we were doing was worthwhile and that we should continue it no matter what.”

When the duo closed out the Maintenance Shop's spring semester concert series in 2017, they had high hopes.

“We’ll try to close it down in big style," Williams said. "We’ll have a good night.”

Robin and Linda will play at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Maintenance Shop. Advance tickets are $15 for students and $20 for the public. They can be purchased at Midwestix.

Robin and Linda Williams: Over 40 years in the Maintenance Shop

Robin and Linda Williams will perform in The Maintenance Shop on Thursday at 8 p.m. 

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