Glowsticks in the Barn: Built to Spill Plays Codfish Hollow

Built to Spill plays the Codfish Hollow barn --photo by Tod Foley
Built to Spill plays the Codfish Hollow barn —photo by Tod Foley

It was Justin’s late model Prius, so he drove and I took shotgun, leaving the back seat for Ashlee. I turned on the radio as Justin adjusted his phone’s GPS to plot a route to Codfish Hollow. Justin kept us within the legal limit as we traveled east on 80, then north on 61. An hour into the trip, the benefit of our delayed start became apparent. The highway overlooks a valley. We saw shadows grow past the rolling hills, highlighted by the scarlet and coral glow of a sunset. It was the type of vista photographers slaver over with hues cameras refuse to truly seize.

On departing 61, we were thrust into darkness. A bonfire blazed beside a lonely house. Gravel crunched under wheel. We hearkened to the monotone drone of the smartphone guide as we skirted curves, down hills, through overhangs of trees that only occur on the roads less traveled. Stars invited our gazes upward into the night’s soft blackness.

Eventually, our headlights reflected back a field of cars. We entered the gate, passing a line of concertgoers and revelers straggling out from cars and tents. We found a nearby parking space and headed straight for the conveniently located port-a-potty, grateful for the lack of a line. Walking back, we saw that we were just in time for the tractor, which hauled patrons from the field to the venue itself. We went down a hill, around a curve, and saw Codfish Hollow displayed: a fire blazing near a small structure labeled “tickets,” the barn, behind, allowing rainbows of light to pour forth from the door. We walked to the right of the barn to the concessions and procured a few adult beverages from a good selection of wine and Iowa craft beer. The concession stand was meat heavy, although the black bean tacos I chose were better than I had expected. On entering, we paused to check out merchandise, before admiring the interior.

The barn is a cozy space, warmed by rib-like beams that support the roof and cross beams that arc parabolically up the walls toward the middle. These beams are simply lit with white lights that illuminate the whole of the space without distracting from the stage lights. Benches along the side of the wall are provided for the weary between sets, and for the shorter statured to stand upon during the show. The sold out show was full without feeling crowded, and the tall ceilings permitted enough of the cool night air to prevent one from feeling stifled.

I’d watched Built to Spill’s performances in Iowa City, and they played masterfully once again. Doug Martsch peered out from the hood of his sweatshirt, a trim gray beard framing his jaw. Small colored spotlights streamed from the sides of the stage, highlighting the puffs of what must have been vapor that spurted upward from the mesmerized crowd. The band’s powerful guitars muscled into our consciousness, creating magnetic fields and arranging sound waves to draw us in, deeper.

Each song stretched intricately outward in a powerful embrace. The sound was clear, and the volume loud enough to drown out occasional conversations without being overwhelming. Glow sticks were thrown about, allowing the illusion that the lights on stage had been alchemically transformed by the music to become solid form. After over two decades of music, the band could incorporate crowd favorites and their newer work in a seamless flow of joy.

After ninety minutes of almost nonstop music, the band left the stage and we left the barn. The tractor once again ferried us through the darkness, delivering us at the lot. We stopped off once again at the port-a-potty and beheld the omnipresence of the star-filled sky before entering the car, heading back to Iowa City, brains brimming with the sound and color of a truly delightful performance. 

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