“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.”
Denver is an Island. It will take a band 8 hours to drive the vast seas of the plains to get to the next major city outside of the Front Range. Touring is a noble effort and affords a possibility for bands to get their music out to the world. It is also a floating party covering thousands of miles and a chance to get out of town for a few days.
Touring can wear you down: The daily regimen of sitting in a van for eight hours within a few feet of the people you will be spending the next two or three weeks with, subsisting on truck stop food, and sleeping on floors or cramming into a hotel room. It's exhausting work, but that 40 minutes on stage really does make it worthwhile. Locking in with your band mates, winning over a crowd that most likely has never heard you before, and maybe selling some records at the merch booth all make it worth the effort.
Outside of those fans you connect with (or don’t) at shows, there are those unforgettable people and venues that keep you on the road no matter what. People whose selfless generosity and active belief in live music make it possible to drive the endless highway miles connecting tour stops. They invite you into their communities and remind you that it is worth it to live out of a backpack for a few weeks at a time. That lugging a drum set to the venue, even if the stage is upstairs and the hallways are narrow, does have a purpose. And yes, it is possible to wedge yourself between those narrow walls while carrying a bass drum and negotiating amps and guitars lying in your way.
One of those champions is Sean Moeller, who has been running Daytrotter in the Quad Cities since 2006. Their website (www.daytrotter.com) has posted thousands of unique sessions recorded by artists from indie luminaries like Bon Iver, Alabama Shakes and J Tillman (before he christened himself Father John Misty) to acts as diverse as Country royalty like Kris Kristofferson and Charlie Louvin to hip hop giants Doomtree and Macklemore, who have traveled to Rock Island, IL and now their new digs in Davenport, Iowa.
Artists who have been lucky enough to receive an invite from Daytrotter get not only the opportunity to record a session that will be heard by a large national audience, but also the validation of a music industry curator that helped launch indie artists to a larger national profile and has the ear of music legends. Denver artists have been soundly supported from Daytrotter’s HQ in Davenport. Two artists from our town, Kitty Crimes and Natalie Tate, have been asked to play Daytrotter Downs, their first music festival. Good work rewarded.
In Vermont, Doug Hacker and Caroline Schneider recruited their whole family to put on the audience-and-artist-friendly “Billsville House Concerts” series. When we played there, Kai, their youngest, manned the door while their oldest; Ethan ran sound for the show. Audience members brought a vegetarian potluck feast and we all ate together—band, audience and host—before the set. Every song was well received, and we spent hours after the show talking to guests and finishing the leftovers. Billsville offered us (and every artists who play there) a place to stay in their home and sent us back on our way the next morning with a full breakfast and a few ultra rare beers (including the legendary Heady Topper from Doug’s personal stash) for our next stop.
There are dozens more living rooms, barns and warehouses out there for an adventurous band. Scandinavia in Emeryville, California, Val’s House in Chicago, Yorkville Illinois’ Summer Solstice Festival, and Codfish Hollow Barn in Iowa are all off the beaten path but worth every extra mile it may take to get there.
To get to Codfish Hollow you have to drive 3 hours west from Chicago or an hour north from Davenport to Maquoketa in rural eastern Iowa. Directions include taking a “hayrack down to the barn with with Marvin.” Tiffany and Garp have built a music oasis where despite its remote location the barn regularly sells out with enthusiastic music fans. To be given access to that community is to have “made it” in music.
After a delirious show at Codfish Hollow, one that included watching Delta Spirit serenade a newlywed’s first dance, I wandered a dirt road past a full field of cows to get back to the main house. The band I was with was camping in the front yard, and I needed to find my tent. When I looked in the window of the house Tiffany waved me in to have one last drink and some food and to watch the last holdouts from the show play music at the kitchen table for some friends. It was like coming home, like being part of something bigger. Sitting in a farmhouse kitchen at 3 in the morning surrounded by this extended family of musicians and music lovers, what more can you ask for on the road?