The Codfish Hollow barn has been referred to as the crown jewel location of the
Barnstormer tour, and it’s easy to see why. Concertgoers pulled cars into a large meadow,
and then waited in droves by the gate. After a few minutes, a smiling, coveralls-clad man
pulled up in a tractor, and encouraged everyone to hop into the raised wooden bed he
pulled behind him. On the bumpy road down to the barn, we passed a hand-painted sign
that beckoned: Barnstormers, this way. Then we pulled into sight of the venue, a complex
of beautiful wooden buildings with lovely peeling paint.
The Codfish Hollow Barn, Maquoketa, IA.
Ra Ra Riot was performing informally by a bright red barn, recording some kind of
music video with horses and farmers as props. People stood around and gawked: there
was something wonderfully surreal about watching the band play literally unplugged,
beyond stripped-down. They had no amps or microphones. Horses sidled up to snuffle
their acoustic guitars.
The barn that was to house the show had a unique swell to the roof, like the fin of a
large fish. Standing inside the massive wooden structure while it was empty gave was
a little like being Jonah inside the whale. This reviewer had thought that the Codfish
Hollow referred to a creek, maybe, or a cave—after all, the famous Maquoketa Caves
are just down the road. But standing there, pre-show, I wondered if the barn’s unusual
shape hadn’t earned the name through its resemblance, from the inside, to a giant hollow
Like the West Liberty Barnstormer (4/27), the Maquoketa crowd was hugely eclectic.
The guys from Free Energy take it all in beside a group of little girls.
Pearly Gate Music frontman Zach Tillman kicked things off, and it was the one act of
the show where the sound was strangely garbled. His set didn’t have the power of his
transcendent performance at West Liberty.
Nathaniel Rateliff performing with members of Delta Spirit and Pearly Gate Music.
From there on out, though, the sound was pristine. Nathaniel Rateliffe was next.
His recent In Memory of Loss is a collection quietly devastating folk songs, and like
Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, the album is stronger for its mostly spare, guitar/voice
instrumentation. Live, though, the songs were aided by electric guitar, upright bass,
drums, and harmonica, and they had even more kick. Tillman and Delta Spirit singer
Matthew Vasquez hopped onstage to split vocal harmonies with Rateliffe, and the stage
quickly became a party.
Onstage, Syracuse, NY-based Ra Ra Riot looked younger (prettier?) than the bill’s other
bands, but they were no wallflowers. Their set had not a dull moment. On song after
song, singer Wesley Miles’ voice jumped into the stratosphere: “we’ve got a lot to learn
from each other, we’ve got to stick together,” he sang on “Oh La,” and the crowd was
game. Bassist Mathieu Santos and guitarist Milo Bonacci’s asymmetric lines clamored
against each other, while warbling cello and violin gave the whole sound added motion
Delta Spirit played the last set of Barnstormer III, and they more than made it count.
They tore through the new songs to be released on forthcoming History from Below, and
went deep into their back catalog. Singer snarling and singing into the mic for all he was
worth, their three-part vocals were the best of the night. About an hour into the set, it
became an absolute party onstage. Members of the other Barnstormer bands, who’d been
hanging against the back wall to watch, stepped into the limelight, sending harmonies
up to the roofbeams. Daytrotter head honcho Sean Moeller got in on the action. Some
shirtless guy banged on a snare drum. And the band, bigger now by four or five times,
played and played on with everyone pitching in.
By this time, your reviewer was pretty blissed out on the music, the late hour, and the
BYOB, so the details are hazy. I think there was a Local Natives cover. A woman in
a wedding dress waltzed through the crowd with a man in a tux, each of them staring
into the other one’s face. There were probably 25 people on stage, eyes screwed shut,
swaying together, yowling harmonies like a choir in the throes of something holy.
The set went on over two hours, but, eventually, it had to stop. The night was
done, the tour was gone. We walked back up the dark hill in sweat-soaked clothes.
Barnstormer IV, where are you? I’ll be there.
Little Village review: Barnstormer III @ West Liberty (4/27/2010)