Photos by Aric Keil. Used with permission.
To get to Codfish Hollow, you first must get completely lost. Seriously, it seems to be a universal experience among event attendees at this place. Your GPS may send you somewhere 2 miles south, the signage is poor, and the road is gravel and winding. You’ll have a hard time believing that anything remotely hip can happen out here, where cattle outnumber people and seed caps are worn without any sense of irony. But, once you’ve found it, you become one of the inside cadre–like the lucky guests of a speakeasy–and then you can pass the word of mouth of how amazing Codfish Hollow is, and pass on how to freaking get here.
Codfish Hollow is the name of the family farmstead, and the barn has held more hay than music over the years. However, the current generation approached Rock Island’s Daytrotter to host their Barnstormer shows since 2009. Four amazing and successful events ensued, held in the barn on the historically preserved homestead. In order to broaden the Codfish Hollow experience, the family also holds concerts in the basement of their contemporary home. The basement is a more intimate space than the hayloft of the old barn; it’s a big rec room full of kitsch, mismatched furniture, and great tunes. The audience is invited to feel like a friend and relation, to make themselves cozy, grab a brew, and enjoy some hospitality and rock music.
Jeremy Benson, of Metuchen, New Jersey’s the Roadside Graves, opened the night with solo folk songs, admitting that he hoped, “that the following bands would pick us up”, because he was going to sing “only depressing songs.” However, he used his warm and full voice to tell stories that, although sad, were true and real. A few more of the members of the Roadside Graves joined Jeremy to close his set, filling in his sound with a solid rhythm and haunting keyboards.
Dubuque’s Kerosene Circuit played next, turning up the amps and filling the basement with twangy rock. Boasting a three-guitar attack like the seminal Drive-By Truckers, Kerosene Circuit plays loud, gritty roots music. Their vocals have swagger and just enough enough slushy drawl to sound more like the Delta than their home on the northern reaches of the mighty Mississippi. Jon Eagle’s drums and Erin Hedley’s bass provide a powerful drive, while Aaron Hefel, Matt Hohmann, and Roger Benz take turns shredding solos on electric guitars. Kerosene Circuit plays hardworkin’ rock, somehow both dirty and pure.
Minneapolis’ 4onthefloor expand upon the traditional drum kit by giving each of the four musicians a bass drum and pedal, from which they draw their name. They play straightforward, loud rock n’ blues that leave you breathless afterward, like bad beer and good whiskey. Gabriel Douglas’ voice is as wild as his bushy beard, and he sings songs with gravity and abandon. Chris Holm plays tight bass lines, James Gould rips on the guitar, and Mark Larson keeps this rhythm overload honest with his solid drumming. 4onthefloor’s music is about stomping feet on drum pedals, playing guitar ’til your fingers are raw, and wailing out the pitfalls of love and life. Meanwhile, the audience wonders what hit them as they shake their hips and end up singing along to a drinkin’ song like “Testify Your Love.” According to Gabriel, all their songs are drinkin’ songs.
The Roadside Graves warmed up with a jam based upon–of all things–“Chariots of Fire”, and then progresses into the dense, rootsy folk-rock that is their hallmark. Their songs match the simple, brutal honesty of punk music with the twangy aesthetic and retrospective viewpoint of country and folk. They have written a cycle of songs inspired by “The Outsiders”, and they feel it important to include at least one song from the perspective of the Soc, the insiders of the classic film. John Gleason’s voice is vulnerable and honest, like Adam Haworth Stephens’, and draws the listener in to pay close attention to the stories he tells. The Roadside Graves’ music is rooted in traditional American sounds, but is upbeat and original. They closed the night with an impromptu acoustic set in the middle of the floor, culminating with 4onthefloor busting their bass drums back out while the audience surrounded the musicians, everyone dancing and singing along.
The Biehls’ basement at Codfish Hollow is a glorious mashup of national Indie artists in what feels like your grandparents’ rec room. It has both scene-makers and regular, good ol’ folks, and the amazing revelation is that, here in Iowa, both are actually the same people: good folks trying their damnedest to kick ass and still make it to work the next day. John of the Roadside Graves put it perfectly: “It’s pretty rare; you play shitty bar after shitty bar. But, here, you guys care, and that means everything.”
Codfish Hollow will be host to the final night of Daytrotter’s Bartnstormer IV tour on April 30, 2011. The show will feature Sondre Lerche, Guards, The Romany Rye, Keegan DeWitt, ARMS, Mike and the Moonpies, and Hands, all playing in the heirloom barn. If you can find your way, come on down to enjoy a rip-snortin’ good time with some of the best up-and-coming artists in this great country. If you can’t find your way, give me a holler and realize that you’re not the first–or the last–person to get lost on the road to glory.