Elray's Live & Dive features the best live music & entertainment from all genres & styles along with some amazing drinks in Downtown Iowa City! Follow us on social media for the latest & greatest happenings at 211 Iowa Ave! 21+ at all times to enter. Food available from our neighbors at Players Sports Bar and Grill. Order through your phone and they'll bring it right to your table! You are also welcome to bring in food from any of our amazing downtown neighboring restaurants to enjoy at Elray's!
Contact MrElray@elraysliveanddive.com for music booking.
Contact Bret@ElraysLiveandDive.com to host your next private party at Elray's. We have a great setup for you to enjoy your next birthday, happy hour, or celebration for any occasion!
A little story about the man behind the myth of Elray's Live & Dive
Elray has been social distancing his entire life. He comes from a long line of men that never spoke to each other. Silence & distance passed down from one generation to the next like a badge of honor. Elray was once asked what he wanted for his 5th birthday, it took him until his 15th birthday to finally answer. While he had little use for that Lincoln Log set set when he finally got it, he continues to use his words sparingly throughout his adult life. It’s as if he believes that each life has a certain amount of words that can be said out loud before you return to the earth from which you came. Each one must be marked, measured and used strictly for purpose. So how did this man of few words that treasures solitude & distance become one of the underground’s most influential songwriters and open a live music bar built around social gathering & celebration? Those paradoxes are what defines the life of Elray and has always blurred the lines between fact, fiction & myth to those that have studied his life’s journey.
Elray was born and raised in an Iowa town surrounded by cornfields & silos. Like many other small Iowa towns, their community schools were defined more by the hyphens in their names than the number of its students that left for success. Even as a young boy, Elray was more likely to be found with a guitar than completing his school studies or his chores on the family farm. The self-taught musician knew more chords than words and used his guitar to communicate his emotions. It’s unsure if he made it to his high school graduation, or if he ever actually attended school since there are no records of him anywhere. His family has since disappeared from those fertile rolling Iowa fields after losing their land futilely trying to grow oranges in Iowa while the rest of the state flourished with the more suitable choices of corn & beans. This family trait of defying social norms has influenced Elray since birth and can be seen throughout his music. It can also be seen throughout his life with a continuous against the grain lifestyle and decision pattern that keeps him from ever becoming truly mainstream.
His small town, too small to even enjoy the luxury of a slice of Casey’s pizza, could not hold his attention much longer. When he turned 18, Elray left Iowa for Nashville, drawn more by the outlaw sounds of Haggard & Jennings than the rhinestones & publishing deals of Music Row. He silently studied & imbibed in the beer drenched songs, tattoo shops & peep show parlors of a Lower Broadway from a different time perfecting his sound in his head. He spoke softly but carried a big guitar in those days. Literally a big guitar, his home made ‘Big Chaz’ guitar made from the wood of an oak tree from his family farm was much bigger than the standard size and produced a booming sound when played. This Iowa bred loner, smoking more than talking, carrying a home-made oversized guitar while hanging out at the honky tonks, drew more laughs than gigs in his early Nashville days until fate stepped in and gave him his first big break.
Hanging out alone in the rain soaked alley outside the Ryman one night, a voice boomed out from the famous auditorium’s side door ‘Can you play guitar son? We seem to be one short due to a slight misunderstanding with the local authorities. If you got the time , three chords, and the truth then you should join us onstage tonight.’ With a nod of his well worn hat, Elray walked through that side door and into the next phase of his life & career.
Nashville, never one to let a trend go to waste, was awash with outlaws & outlaw music. He had found a home and fit right in…..or so he thought. Funny thing about music outlaws, some still care about fame, chart positions, and record deals. Elray however, had lived his life truly outside boundaries and had no desire to change. After bursting on the scene with a rugged sound and a string of local hits, Music Row was ready to capitalize on this authentic outlaw with one similar sounding song after another.
Elray had grown weary of the sound though and wanted to go even more minimalist in his major label debut which led to the ill fated ‘Sounds of my Sleep.’ The ambitious four album set consisting of 8 hours of Elray sleeping was recorded live at his home studio and released to much acclaim & hype with a major marketing push by the record label. Unfortunately, the public found little appeal in this kind of silence only occasionally interrupted by an unknown sound or some slight snoring. The monumental failure resulted in the bankruptcy of the label and the closing of multiple record stores that had anticipated selling millions of copies of the young man’s debut. Adding insult to injury, the unused vinyl was recycled and turned into Donnie Osmond albums which were quickly snapped up by an adoring public. A scandalous naked and inebriated appearance on Hee Haw further sealed Elray’s fate with the music industry. His time in Nashville and his brief turn in the spotlight was over.
While his contemporary outlaw musicians live out their success on the highway, Elray lives on the county roads with just himself, Big Chaz, and a desire to perform. Living gig to gig with no booking agent, Elray often shows up unannounced to play bowling alleys, dance halls, and honky tonks to confused audiences & venue owners unsure of how he got on stage but willing to give him the gas money to get him to leave for the next one. While life on the road isn’t for everyone, it was made for Elray.
A brief surge of interest in his hard to find early works along with his hit ‘Hold My Hat, I Might Be Sick’ being sampled in a top 40 dance song led to a small financial windfall for Elray and a new chance at success. Interested in living beyond pocket change from tip jars, Elray instructed his only friends to invest his new found wealth in a live music bar in his home state of Iowa. ‘Just don’t make it too fancy’ and a Western Union account number to send his profits too were his only words.
If you happen to be out one night and see a man in a well worn hat plugging his guitar amp in next to you while the business owner asks who he is….sit back & enjoy, you might just have a front row seat listening to the live sounds of Elray. Maybe one day, he'll even find a way to his own stage and appear Live From the Dive in Iowa City!
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