Exploring music venue Codfish Hollow Barnstormers ahead of its first festival


Codfish Hollow Barnstormers — Friday, Sept. 9-11

Photo by Zak Neumann
Photos by Zak Neumann

In 2009, Sean Moeller of Daytrotter had the idea of bringing his favorite up-and-coming bands to barns in the Midwest (initially) as a kind of a road show, similar to the “Caravan of Stars” tours of the early 1960s. The Daytrotter Barnstormers brought notable bands like Dawes, Delta Spirit and Justin Townes Earle to some really great barns and to audiences who might not otherwise get to see acts like these. The bands loved the unique venues as an alternative to the bars they normally would play, and one barn in particular — Codfish Hollow — stood head and shoulders above the others. Tiffany and Shawn Biehl embraced the opportunity to host the bands and provided a level of hospitality that made shows there as special for the bands as they were for the crowds. They host the bands at their home and, with the help of volunteers, feed them and give them a place to hang out.

When Moeller decided to scale back, he still kept Codfish Hollow on the docket for shows — which is how it came to be that Counting Crows would play there for the “Barn on the Fourth of July” show in 2012. Adam Duritz was a follower of Daytrotter and friends with Moeller. When he saw the videos of his friends in Dawes playing the barn, he was determined to play there. The almost three-hour show has become something of a legend. The barn was packed to the rafters, and at one point a power transformer blew, requiring the electric company to rush out and repair. It was the last night of their tour, and Duritz walked around the grounds leading up to the show and posed for pictures with fans. The venue allows for a much more intimate experience for bands and the audience.

In the time since, countless bigger names have made their way to Codfish Hollow: Conor Oberst, the Baseball Project (with Mike Mills of REM), Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Tallest Man on Earth, Jenny Lewis, Norah Jones, the Mountain Goats. Shows encourage the bands to experiment more than they might on other nights, collaborations between the bands are commonplace.

The trek to Codfish Hollow might be daunting if you didn’t grow up in Eastern Iowa. Highway 64 out of Maquoketa is your typical twisty two-lane road, and one on which, when I was growing up, it was rumored that the Jackson County Sheriff didn’t have radar, so we always drove like idiots. The sign just outside town on 288th Avenue/Codfish Hollow Road says “barnstormers” with an arrow directing you. Once you see the sign where “Pavement Ends”, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

More signs beckon you to “Keep Going — You’re almost there” as gravel dust kicks up and you drive through the previous car’s dust. Finally, as you crest the last hill, you come to an intersection and the tents, cars and campers in the repurposed cow pasture, where you will need to park. There’s not enough space down by the venue, so Marvin and his John Deere 4020 and wagon will cart you down the twisty path.

The barn itself is long and cavernous, decorated with lights across the roof leading up to a sizable stage. The original hay conveyor extending down the roof serves to display many of the custom hand-carved, painted and wood-burnt plaques made by Dave Long for each show. The shape of the roof lends itself to sending the sound all the way to the front of the barn. There are hay bales stacked on the sides to provide a minimal amount of seating, though they always quickly become where people stand for a better vantage to view stage.

The old farmhouse on the property houses the gallery and is kind of an extended work of art in itself — one that shows the progress of time and nature on the structure. With every concert, the house shows evidence of a little more of that progress. Tiffany Biehl shows her own work in the gallery, as well as that of other artists. She is known for her decorated cow skulls, which she displays at the end of the fenceline from the barn.

Now the venue is gearing up to host its first festival: GARP. The event kicks off on Friday, Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. and runs through Sunday, Sept. 11. Guided By Voices are headlining, and the weekend is jam-packed with local and national acts, including the Rentals, Cory Chisel and the Refugee All-Stars, Peter Wolf Crier, Margaret Glaspy and Chrash. Tickets are $30–120.

Editors’ Note: The ticket prices for this event have changed since issue 205 went to print. The prices listed in this article are correct.

Mike Roeder helped bring the first two Daytrotter Barnstormer Tours to Bellevue, IA in 2009 and still shakes his head in disbelief that he saw Dawes with 20 other people. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 205.

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