Last year was a landmark year for Daytrotter.com. It was the 10th anniversary of the website — an almost impossible feat for any website, let alone a music site that calls its home the Quad Cities (almost the farthest place in the country from any location considered a music capital). Their intimate sessions with bands — usually those at the beginnings of their careers — have elicited unique, oftentimes magical and revelatory performances.
The formula was simple: live to tape and limited to two hours, which guaranteed there wasn’t a lot of introspection or second guessing. These sessions posted with iconic illustrations of the bands. The site started as a three-way partnership that included Sean Moeller, who handled most of the PR and booking the acts, engineer Pat Stolley and illustrator Johnnie Cluney.
Illustration from Daytrotter Downs poster
Looking back at 2006 there weren’t a lot of standout sites dedicated to music on the internet, and most of them have since been shuttered. Daytrotter.com could easily have disappeared as well, if not for a deal with Wolfgang’s Vault in 2008 for majority share in the website — which had the benefit of keeping the small staff on a payroll and a budget to continue to create the unique recording sessions they were known for as well as promoting live shows in the area.
Stolley parted ways with Daytrotter around this time to pursue working in his own studio, futureappletree, where he would lend a hand recording sessions for Daytrotter when their schedule became busy.
In 2016, Daytrotter.com also moved from their original offices in Rock Island to their custom-built-out, multi-purpose space in Davenport on 4th and Brady. This space doubles as a live music venue with full bar service as well as a state-of-the-art recording studio (with the welcome addition of climate control — during the hot Midwest summer at the Rock Island space, the window unit A/C mounted in the wall in a hallway needed to be shut off to prevent the hum showing up on the recordings!). The live space was officially christened with the first Daytrotter music festival — a two-day event called Daytrotter Downs (named in tribute to the Quad City Downs race track).
In August 2016, Moeller announced he was leaving Daytrotter looking for new ventures; replacing him as the booker for the tapings and live shows was Benjamin Crabb, a local scene regular whose history of booking and organizing shows in the area made him a natural fit. Crabb was also an extended member of the Daytrotter family — he is in the Multiple Cat with Stolley, a band that has also included Daytrotter production/venue manager Andrew Barkau. Crabb quickly picked up the reins and continued filling the busy schedule in the studio and live space.
I talked with the team at the beginning of February — less than a month after Stolley re-joined Daytrotter as lead engineer and a week after the lineup of the sophomore Daytrotter Downs festival was announced. Stolley brought with him Ian Harris, his protégé from futureappletree, to help with the busy schedule. The team — now made up of Stolley, Harris, Barkau, Crabb, Cluney and marketing director Paige Underwood — was passionate and energized for the opportunity to continue the legacy of Daytrotter, but also to refocus on some of the fundamentals that had shifted from the early days.
First on the agenda for the new team was a return to the original vision of the studio sessions.
“I think that when people think of sessions, they think of how Daytrotter did them … the artwork, to tape, with care to the actual sound of it,” Crabb said.
Stolley added, “This studio wasn’t doing tape for a while, for a variety of reasons — so we’re bringing that back.” There also used to be more of a focus on encouraging unique performances — getting the bands to try new approaches to their songs. The site used to have essays about each band, which they moved away from in the last few years. Crabb says they want to bring that back, too.
“We want to talk about the uniqueness of our approach more going forward,” says Stolley.
The addition of the performance space and bar has turned Daytrotter into a live showcase for bands. If they are in town for a session on the weekend, Daytrotter has the option of booking them for a gig as well. The Quad Cities have always had small clubs and big venues like the Adler and the Capitol; Daytrotter provides a nice mid-sized room.
“My goal now is to get the word out to the Quad Cities that there is already a lot of really cool things happening,” Crabb says. “What is it going to take for people to look at the Quad Cities as an entertainment center?”
“For Downs, I’m focused on getting the word out to the towns in Iowa, like Iowa City, Cedar Rapids,” says Stolley, “Getting the word out to people [who] might never consider it. Especially like 10-15 years ago when people wouldn’t come to Davenport for any reason.”
The team made it a priority to add regional bands to this year’s lineup, including Mountain Swallower, SIRES, Halfloves, Chrash, Middle Western — as well as headliner Pieta Brown.
This is in addition to an exciting roster of national acts, like Chicago indie darlings Ne-Hi, the reunion of seminal math rock/post rock band Joan of Arc, Ohio soul band Durand Jones & the Indications and the haunting violin and vocals of Gaelynn Lea, to name just a few.
More than 47 bands will perform over the two days of the festival, March 3-4. The shows will be spread between Daytrotter and the Redstone Room. Two-day festival passes are $55 in advance, $60 at the door. Single-day passes are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Tickets and the full event schedule are available on the website.
I asked if they had any parting thoughts about the changes at Daytrotter. Cluney, who spent most of the interview listening and working on his next pen-and-ink masterpiece for the website, looked up and said, “It’s fun again!” and smiled. Everyone agreed.
Music has had the power to deliver life-changing moments for Michael Roeder. A few of those have come from Daytrotter.com shows. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 216.