- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

CODFISH HOLLOW, Iowa (AP) - Codfish Hollow is tucked away in the rolling hills of Nowheresville, Iowa.

If you weren’t looking for the barn-turned-music-venue, you would drive right past the handwritten sign, poking from the side of the road: “Barn show, turn here!”

Ask anyone who has been to a concert at Codfish Hollow, and their face will light up with the details - the long drive without cell service, the three-mile gravel path, the tractor ride with a guy named Marvin, the cow pasture that serves as the parking lot, the beauty of the farmland and the people, and the way the music bounces off the wooden walls of the century-old barn near Maquoketa. They wear their experiences like a badge of honor.

Over and over again, they’ll say this: To get it, you have to experience it yourself.

To the experienced, there are two types of people in the Quad-Cities: Those who have been to a concert at the Codfish Hollow Barn and those who haven’t - yet.

“Maybe people have seen photos or heard stories, and they think they know what it’s going to be,” Sean Moeller, founder of Daytrotter, told the Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1NA3nd4 ). “But there aren’t many words to describe it. I still get chills coming around the bend, seeing the land and the barn and all the people. It feels like something that is made up … something surreal, like it’s too perfect.”

To him, and the roughly 600 people who fit inside the barn for a show, it feels like a place that shouldn’t exist or a place that shouldn’t thrive.

But it does.

Tiffany and Shawn Biehl say their barn was born to host music.

It’s been in Tiffany’s family since her great-great grandfather came to Iowa from Germany in 1871. When a round of construction was completed in 1954, Tiffany’s grandfather held a barn dance to celebrate.

“So the barn really had music in its bones from the very beginning,” Tiffany Biehl said.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009. The barn was being used to store wagons. It was full of hay, and cows were kept underneath in the stalls.

“It was just kind of sitting there, waiting,” she said.

It waited until Moeller started looking around for a barn that would hold a few Daytrotter concerts. He stumbled upon the Biehls’ address.

Two weeks later, music returned to the barn.

Today, Codfish Hollow has hosted more than 130 acts including Norah Jones, Counting Crows, John C. Reilly, the Local Natives and Built to Spill. It’s expanded beyond anything Moeller ever envisioned.

And the Biehls aren’t exactly sure why the barn has become what it is. It might be the quality of bands, the land, the free parking and camping or the beer.

“It’s like a feeling that there’s something almost magical happening,” Shawn Biehl said, “something bigger than yourself and beyond words, but still very human and connected.”

Whatever it is, people say they never want to leave.

Those who know it well call Codfish Hollow the ninth wonder of the world. They say it’s like visiting another planet or going back in time. They say it’s the pinnacle of the live music experience.

And yet, plenty of people in the Quad-Cities have never heard of it.

Danielle Stowell, who lives in Dubuque and volunteers at Codfish, still gets blank stares from friends when she talks about the barn.

“The average person, who may not go to the trouble of regularly seeking out live music, has probably never heard of it,” she said.

She makes the 45-minute drive to get there for most concerts.

“You are surrounded by people who want to have a good time but are really there to support the music,” she said. “That’s not always the case in your average bar or music venue in a city where anyone walking by can just pop in.”

A lot of people throw out the word “magic,” but maybe they mean free of worries. The Biehls are not without worries, however, encountering ticket scalpers, the noise of the crowd overtaking the music and bad weather. But usually, the Hollow remains a bubble of goodness.

“Nothing really bad can happen here,” Moeller said. “It’s like this place where you’re not on your phone, and you’re never unhappy, and you’re transformed into this good mood - and that’s the kind of place you want to go back to.”

The best music cities are marked by at least one venue that truly stands out. Denver has Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Austin has Austin City Limits, Nashville has the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. As a band, playing these venues means you’ve arrived.

For the greater Quad-Cities area, that venue is Codfish Hollow.

“I don’t even think that’s an opinion anymore that there’s nothing better than this,” Moeller said. “It’s just that destination place.”

A destination venue is something that could make the Quad-Cities the next big stop, Moeller said.

“You need a big arena and those small bars and mid-size venues,” Moeller said. “And then you need a wow factor.”

Each venue, the Redstone Room, RIBCO, Rozz-Tox, the iWireless Center, the Adler Theatre, the Daytrotter venue and others, serves a purpose, said Jake Lyle, who is in a Quad-City-based band called Condor & Jaybird.

“Something as cool and unique as Codfish Hollow gives us a whole lot of street cred,” he said. “It’s an example of why we’ve become this budding scene.”

When Lyle thinks about that scene, he offers up this analogy: “It seems like we’re trying to start a lawn mower, and it sounds like it wants to (start) for so long. Now it’s finally starting up.”

If it’s a show day, Tiffany and Shawn Biehl go through a long to-do list of chores to make their home fit for 600 guests.

They send out a Facebook post with reminders - bring an umbrella, jackets and cash, print out directions - like parents getting kids ready for a field trip.

Same goes for the bands.

“For so many artists, when you’re on the road and you’re trying to get through it, you’re looking for those shining posts in the journey,” Moeller said. “Codfish Hollow has become that place, and it’s largely because of the Biehls.”

Just ask Nathaniel Rateliff, a singer who has toured with The Lumineers and counts Codfish Hollow as his number-one place to perform.

“Red Rocks is second only to Codfish Hollow,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot of venues you really want to find a way to make it back to.”

He often tries to find a way back because of the Biehls.

“They just open up their property for the sake of music,” Rateliff said. “You don’t find a ton of people who are so welcoming and almost like family - it makes you want to put on a good show.”

In the vast landscape of music venues, that could be the secret. After each show, even if they forget the band’s name, there’s always a new crop of Codfish Hollow fans who drive away ready to relive the details and tell their friends.

“When you leave, you immediately want to tell someone about it, because anyone who hasn’t been is missing out,” Moeller said. “You leave, and you’re like, ‘Who can I tell about Codfish Hollow now? Who doesn’t know about it yet?’”


Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com

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