Letter to the editor: The magic of Codfish Hollow

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Against Me! performs in the barn at Codfish Hollow. Thursday, July 26, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

By Chad R. Cooper

All that is majestic about music and the Midwest is manifested in an unassuming barn in Maquoketa.

You’ll find it off 288th Avenue, along Codfish Hollow Road. A wooden sign will guide the way.

Watch where you step in the cow pasture parking lot. Choose whether to walk the gravel path or ride on a tractor-drawn hayrack driven by a man named Marvin. Arrive early and secure a coveted hay-bale spot along the wall and near the stage (like my girlfriend and I always do). Then spend the next few hours getting lost in music.

For many reading this, Codfish Hollow is already an established institution, but this piece isn’t meant to be revelatory. Consider this a nod of appreciation. A moment of gratitude. Thankfulness in written form. Because I’ve traveled to music festivals around the region and have seen hundreds of shows in dozens of venues across the country, but nothing quite compares to Codfish.

Photo courtesy of Chad R. Cooper

The round barn has its roots in music: Arnold Stamp celebrated the completion of the barn in 1954 with a dance. The structure would spend the next 55 years as, well, a barn. That’s until July 25, 2009: the date of the first Daytrotter Barnstormer concert. Since then, the venue has played host to more than 50 shows and hundreds of bands.

During a recent night featuring indie band Dawes, my girlfriend and I walked the winding path back to our car listening to the encore while peering up at a clear sky speckled with bright stars. Crickets provided backing harmonies. That scene is commonplace at Codfish.

Live music always reinvigorates me. It’s partly due to my continual fascination with things I can’t do: I’ve never played an instrument, save for a few fumbled attempts at strumming a guitar, but seeing art play out before my eyes is a B12 shot for my creativity. I can think of no better venue to enjoy that experience.

So as another summer draws to a close, I turn reflective on another season full of music at Codfish. It brings me back to the thought I had within minutes of the first show I saw at the venue in 2015: This is much more than a barn; it’s a musical sanctuary. And it’s right here in Iowa.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 250.

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