A rock concert celebrates Burlington’s Mac Coffin Jr.

Fame can be an elusive animal.

Folk-rock star Bob Dylan is 81 and still on the road.

But Dylan never played Burlington Steamboat Days, and that wasn’t Mac Coffin Jr’s fault. As vice president of entertainment for the annual riverside event, Coffin tried to bring the iconic folksinger at Steamboat Days, but Dylan’s schedule never synced with BSD’s June period.

Coffin was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Dylan has yet to be elected.

The concert

On Saturday, Coffin will be honored at the 10th annual fundraising concert for the Burlington Chapter of IRRMA at Catfish Bend. Featured artists are Leaving Abbey and Richie Lee and The Fabulous Fifties. Ralph Kluseman, inducted in 2022, is a featured guest; he is president of the IRRMA Hall of Fame and Museum.

Sponsored by local businesses including Coffin’s Frank Millard and Co., the event honors 2022 Southeast Iowa Hall of Fame insiders Paul Miller, Tom Nelson and the Capitol Theater.

Both musicians and theater were inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over Labor Day weekend at Arnold’s Park in West Lake Okoboji.

The Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association annually inducts musicians, bands, DJs, ballrooms, and others who have made significant contributions to rock and roll music in the state. Since its incorporation in 1997, more than 450 places and organizations and more than 1,900 individuals have received this honor. Inductees must have a minimum of 25 years experience in the music industry.

Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Paul Miller and Tom Nelson will perform with Leaving Abbey on Saturday at Pzazz at the 10th Annual Fundraising Concert for the Southeast Iowa Section of the 'Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association.  Both musicians were inducted into the IRRMA Hall of Fame over Labor Day weekend at Arnold's Park.

Miller and Nelson

Paul Miller’s musical career began “around the age of 8” when he took piano lessons; he later played trumpet in the Danville school band, but playing bass became his calling in 1974 when his band manager bought the instrument for Miller to play in the high school cheer band .

Tom Nelson is best known as the guitarist of the Rocks trio. He started playing in small clubs, bars and high school dances in 1974, when he was 15 years old. He performed in the Iowa and Illinois area until 1980 when he became a full-time road musician, playing venues from California to Florida.

Both musicians are current members of the rock band Leaving Abbey.

“For me, it’s a good thing to be inducted,” Nelson said last winter. “I’ve played with so many great musicians. I’ve been on the road for about eight years, and I’ll tell you what — playing with the musicians that we have here in our backyard is all the experience. It has been a real honour.

The Capitol Theater

The Capitol opened in 1937 in Burlington with a screening of Mark Twain’s classic, “The Prince and the Pauper.” The venue was both a movie theater and an auditorium for live performances. It was refurbished at the turn of the 21st century and will soon undergo another transformation with the addition of a recording studio, bar and improved performance range.

An IRRMA Southeast Iowa Museum was opened on the second floor a few years ago and will remain after the renovation.

“The VIP Lounge – the upstairs area above the entrance, concessions and ticket office – is now a permanent satellite museum of the IRRMA Hall of Fame,” the Capitol’s executive director said. Theatre, Tammy McCoy. “Work is underway to create cabinets and displays that will rotate periodically. In addition, the Capitol will also honor IRRMA Hall of Fame recipients by hosting concerts for IRRMA Hall of Fame performers. IRRMA.”

Max Coffin, President and CEO of Frank Millard and Company, Inc., Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at his office in Burlington.  Coffin, a longtime Burlington Steamboat Days supporter, served on the board for 30 years, 2017 being Coffin's final year as Vice President of BSD Entertainment.

Mac Coffin

Local businessman Mac Coffin Jr. served as president of Burlington Steamboat Days in 1997 before taking on the role of vice president of entertainment, a position he held until his retirement in 2017.

A backstage community man and longtime owner of Frank Millard and Co., Coffin had a reputation for throwing big parties. He put Burlington on the national stage during his tenure by bringing world-class stars to town including Blake Shelton, Alice Cooper, Martina McBride, Keith Urban and many more.

“I don’t know how many people know what Mac has done for the local music scene,” Miller said. “He was huge in a very quiet way. Burlington live music fans owe a lot to Mac.”

The last year for Steamboat Days was 2018; the 2019 festival was canceled largely due to a disagreement between potential Coffin successors, and the deathblow came in 2020 with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coffin died on March 17, 2022. He believed until the end that Steamboat Days would be resurrected.

“It seems like a wonderful way to honor a man who has done so much for our community,” said Diane Sanders, IRRMA regional representative in southeast Iowa.

She said Coffin’s musical legacy in his community and his dedication to the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association is why he received his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

“Mac provided music to our community for over 30 years and was a huge supporter of the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association,” Sanders said. “He found it exciting to be in the Hall of Fame with Paul McCartney.”

Remember Mac Coffin

Here’s how other Burlington musicians remember Coffin:

Gary Richards, 2018 HOF inductee: “Mac was a lover of live musical performances. He wanted the people of Burlington and surrounding areas to share the celebration with entertainment and family events. Personally, I respected his point of view, as he was also involved enough to invest in the national live musical entertainment world, local or national, Mac was known.

“As a musician, you would realize that having a fan like Mac, you should definitely have a good band and play your best. Work harder to play your best, because you play for the best. Generosity Mac’s dedication to the Burlington community, his love for Iowa’s music history, his endless efforts to support live music…which is exactly why he received the Spirit Award. Well-deserved.”

Jon Billups, Mayor of Burlington: “BSD would have folded the tent in the mid-90s if not for Mac; the effort and resources they put into resurrecting the event were incredible. The overall investment they made in greater Burlington will be felt for ages. generations.”

Andy Avery, 2015 HOF inductee: “Mac was the reason the music stayed alive nationally in Burlington. He was so supportive of us guys around here too. I was honored every time he came out and saw me sing. He also threw great parties. !”

Brad Deery, BSD and IRRMA sponsor: “Mac was a great resource for me as a longtime sponsor of Steamboat Days. There was great trepidation about spending a lot of my advertising budget on ‘certain riverside bands’, but Mac made me understand the powerful community appeal that BSD had, and by following its example, Deery Brothers became a lifelong sponsor. Mac brought top-notch music to Burlington. Yes, it sure was riverside bands – Willie Nelson, Kid Rock, Alice Cooper. Thanks for the ride, Mac!”

Carlos Capdevila, future HOF inductee: “I learned so much from Mac, not only about finding and booking bands, but also how to deal with them and their managers, especially on show days.”

“As an artist, the ‘business’ part of music has never been my thing, but working for many years with Mac, sitting in the same room 12 hours a day during the festival and watching it manage all aspects of the event, it really made a huge impression on me. I’m very grateful and lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Mac. I miss him a lot!”

Mac Coffin Jr. has a thing for the Mississippi River and the Great River Bridge Thursday, July 26, 2007 in Burlington, Iowa.  His family business, Frank Millard Company Inc., installed miles of electrical wires in the new bridge and had connections to the building of the old MacArthur Bridge.

Concert details

The 10th annual IRRMA fundraiser will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Catfish Bend Event Center, 3001 Winegard Drive, Burlington. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance through Player Services or online at catfishbendcasino.com. Eight-person VIP tables are available by calling (310) 750-2499.

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