Five questions with: Tiffany Biehl, Codfish Hollow


Wake Brewing -- Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. -- $25-30

Baby Garp

Schwiebert Riverfront Park -- Saturday, Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. -- $50

Tiffany Biehl, owner of Codfish Hollow. — venue photo by Zak Neumann, collage by Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Maquoketa music venue Codfish Hollow is renowned regionally and nationally for its iconic experiential events, starting with a tractor ride across the property from the parking to the barn. Musicians love the hospitality there, too, as much as audiences love the performances.

Like many venues across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Codfish Hollow for over a year. As audiences and performers alike began making their way back to some sense of normalcy over the summer, there was hope for performances in the barn as well. But then the Delta variant hit with a vengeance, and owner Tiffany Biehl had to start making hard choices. In conversation with promoters and artists, she began canceling her August slate of shows. September shows are being shifted to new venues to better accommodate audiences safely — Waxahatchee will now perform at Wake Brewing in Rock Island, Illinois on Sept. 9, and the pared down return of the Garp festival (Saturday, Sept. 11) has been moved to Rock Island’s Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

Biehl answered a few questions for us via email about the tricky position she and other venue owners are in at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campground at Codfish Hollow on the first night of the Turnbuckle Comedy and Music Festival. Friday, May 26, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

When you started making decisions about canceling August shows, did you experience a bit of déjà vu? How difficult were these choices as opposed to early pandemic?

Our decision-making process can be described as “fraught.” No one is more excited about resuming live music shows than we are! Not only is it our sole business, we consider the musicians, artists, vendors, volunteers and patrons our family. We cannot wait to welcome everyone back and we’ve spent the past year trying to tweak the barn and our processes to safely do so. To have it all come to a screeching halt is more disappointing than we can express. 

Over the past couple of months we came together with some of our core team and also reached out to band management, our booking agent and the security team who regularly work our shows. We took a lot of things into consideration but what it boiled down to was making a decision that aligns with what we stand for — and that is our commitment to our community, our Codfish Family. We are serious about keeping everyone safe. 

As of this email, your September shows are still on the schedule. What’s your firm guideline for making ongoing decisions?

Honestly, it is a week-to-week process. Not only are we monitoring COVID infection rates and hospitalizations locally, we have to consider that we draw attendees from a two-to-three hour radius and sometimes more. That is part of what makes this such a hard decision. Our actions have a far-reaching impact, and we just can’t feel good about holding a show when we know some will suffer afterward. 

Add to that, we are constantly touching base with each band’s management team and weighing their concerns and restrictions. We have seen Ani DiFranco cancel her show in Minneapolis hours before they were set to go on when they discovered one of their team had been exposed. You are seeing this happen with other bands and many venues recently and we know how painful and difficult a decision it is.

We are hopeful to hold shows that are scheduled, but it will be decided on a case-by-case basis. We are really sorry for the inconvenience that causes folks. 

What sort of things have artists asked of you as a venue to adapt to COVID-19 needs and realities? Or are you finding that your restrictions exceed theirs?

We’re seeing a range of requests and criteria ranging from showing vaccination cards, requiring masks inside the barn and even requests about our ventilation inside the barn. Most are mandating that we limit backstage and greenroom staff to only those who are absolutely necessary and requiring them to be vaccinated.

We have purchased our weight in hand sanitizer and have added mobile washing stations. We have a plan for cleaning high-touch areas and have passed this expectation on to food vendors. We have also made improvements to our green room area for both security and “raccoon-management.”

We really have found that we are in alignment with most of our artists’ requests.

Our decision appeared to be a little ahead of the curve venue-wise which obviously made us a target for some — let’s call it “feedback,” but for every negative comment we received, we were also shown support and understanding.

Some have even donated their tickets to support us and we saw an uptick in merchandise orders. We really have the best supporters!

How have these challenging decisions affected your relationship with both audiences and promoters?

As we mentioned, our decision was seen by some as divisive, which is unfortunate. We did not do this to create division. Our decision was made because we want to keep people safe. We do not value making money on a show over the possible negative impact on the most vulnerable in our communities. Generally, our promoters are happy that we’re taking steps to protect everyone.

The audience has been pretty positive. For those who are frustrated, we think it is primarily driven by disappointment because everyone wants to see a return of live music — and so do we! We just have to do it in a way that we feel is responsible and keeping everyone — EVERYONE — safe. 

What’s your greatest hope for the future of live music? What do you think we’ll see from performers, from audiences moving forward?

Man, that’s a tough one. Everyone wants to see a return to “normal.” We don’t know exactly what that looks like but we do not feel that vaccination records are going away anytime soon — nor are masks. No one wants to have to wear them inside a hot barn, and that is one of the considerations we are taking into account as we consider how this year’s season proceeds.

We really want everyone to stay safe, wash their hands and get vaccinated if they can. And most of all, check in on and love one another. We can’t wait for everyone to gather soon. So soon.

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