My Vacation - a Weekend Away

What a whirlwind week/weekend I had! I took some time off from “local”, but caught some regional acts along with the big names.

My week started Wednesday evening at Codfish Hollow where I saw the Conor Oberst and the Felice Brothers. The Felice Brothers opened the show, and I had a front-row spot. However, I made the mistake of leaving my spot during the break and never made it back to the front of the stage for Oberst. It was a sold-out show, and they really packed in close, everyone wanting that front-row experience.

All barn shows are special and magical – that’s why I am there for every show. But… Oberst was just a warm-up for the big adventure. I had acquired a press pass for the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover at Waverly, Iowa. All of my energy and anticipation were focused on the upcoming 4 days.

Thursday morning, Local Scene blogger Jacqulyn Darin and I loaded up her little car and headed for Waverly. We arrived at noon, and among the earlybird campers, we unpacked the car, set up our tent and took off to explore the town.

Thursday evening there was live music on the stage in downtown Waverly – every stopover has a street fest associated with it, and regional musicians are generally selected to play on the street fest stage. In this case, there was live music scheduled Thursday night, Friday afternoon and late evening, and Saturday morning and late evening.

We headed downtown in advance of the scheduled music. There was a shuttle bus running people part of the way, to the head of a bicycle/walking path that led across the Cedar River and downtown. We joined the growing crowd and wandered the street fest, stopping into the local shops and enjoying the music coming from the stage. There was one band from the Pacific Northwest (Joseph) and several local acts, including Beverly and the Accordion (I never met Beverly, but the apparently all-male band was very good!) and Dylan Sires and Neighbors (Dylan has played in the QC before). They really rocked the fest and drew a big crowd.

I had hoped the street fest lineup would include at least one band from the Quad Cities, but was sad to see it did not. We have several bands here that have played smaller festivals and could easily have been a good fit with the choices that were presented.

Friday was sunny and warm, and there was more street fest, but we paced ourselves, knowing we had a full night of music. They opened the gates, and we joined the masses heading into the festival. My first order of business was to find someone with stage security – I had been told when I received my pass that I should ask at the stage what access I had. We quickly learned that I would be allowed in the pit with the other photographers. They would call us in – we would shoot for 3 songs, then be ushered back out.

The Very Best opened Friday’s show. I love these guys! Their music is a blend of fun genres, with a little African tribal music added in for good measure. It makes you want to dance! In fact, I found it difficult to stand still while attempting to shoot during their first 3 songs.

Difficulties with a memory card sent me scurrying to the car (where my computer was locked in the trunk) to dump my back up card, so I missed my 3 song window for Blake Mills. I took that opportunity to get something to drink before Dawes set. When the call came to enter the pit, I was ready. I wasn’t necessarily ready for the wave of emotion that struck when my favorite band took the stage. There were a couple of moments when I forgot about the camera in my hands. Oddly enough, I’ve been five feet from Taylor Goldsmith with a camera – and even met him and chatted briefly – but something about being in the photographer pit when the full band played was breathtaking. Call this a bucket list moment.

I’ve never seen My Morning Jacket in concert, so the Friday headliner was a pleasant surprise. Not only was it easy to jam to their music, they had a photogenic stage presence and beautiful light show. Good jams are part of what makes photography fun for me. They help me clear my mind and see things differently.

Early Saturday morning a storm rolled in – luckily, Friday morning Jackie and I had discovered a church just a short walk from our end of the campground, which was offering showers, coffee, internet access and electricity for charging devices. They offered to let us park in their lot – a very good thing, since when the rain hit Saturday morning the campground parking became a giant mud pit. We high-tailed it to the church (our new base of operations) and made it before the heavy rains hit. This gave me time to catch up on some photo work, and then we were there for showers as soon as the rain slowed. The boy scouts were offering pancakes in the basement, so we got breakfast while we were there as well.

Just as we were preparing to head down to the festival grounds for the 2 PM opener, another small storm rolled through. We heard the announcement that they were holding off on the first band, so we parked ourselves in the tent for this one. By the time we realized the storm was over they were starting the music, so I missed out on that 3 song window again – this time it was Son Little. I did enjoy the rest of his set though – he’s a very talented blues artist and I hope to see him gracing a Blues Fest stage in the near future!

Saturday afternoon while waiting for the 3-song “cattle call” at the photographers’ gate, I whiled the time away visiting with various photographers – one was from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, another from Waterloo. Some were students at Wartburg. The most interesting of those conversations was with Rachel from Indianapolis. She is a blogger and concert photographer – I asked her “so you drove all the way to northern Iowa to cover a festival?” Well – not entirely.

It seems she had a bucket list item of her own to check off, and along the way to Waverly she was able to do just that. Unbeknownst to us regulars this writer/photographer visited Codfish Hollow for the first time on Wednesday. Her bucket list item? Codfish Hollow itself. How fortunate that Oberst landed at Codfish Hollow in the same week she was already planning to attend the Gentlemen of the Road festival just down the road in Waverly.

She proceeded to tell me about this magical place she had discovered in Iowa and about the wonder of absorbing it all for the first time. I listened with the heart of someone who knew exactly what she meant. Then I told her why I believe Codfish Hollow is so special and magical. Hopefully she’ll be back our way, and I'll be watching for both her photos of Codfish Hollow and of GOTR.

The rest of the afternoon was dry, but thanks to the heavy rains Saturday morning, the photographers’ pit in front of the stage resembled a mud-wrestling pit. By the end of the second set, we all had muddy legs, but I don’t really think any of us cared at that point. The second set of the day belonged to Jeff the Brotherhood. This rock band from Tennessee came out shirtless, and by the end of their set, the sun had escaped the cloud cover. Their hard rock sound was so different from the rest of the day’s acts, but very welcome.

The Maccabees, a rock band from London, took the stage next. Though they were rockers, their sound was lighter than that of the Americans before them. They were still enjoyable and proved to be a good listen.

When a girl in a tie-dye shirt and striped leggings steps on stage with a baritone sax, you have to wonder what you’re in for. Rubblebucket turned out to be a fun, punky, ska-ish romp. The horn section also doubled as backing vocalists and choreographed dancers, while the lead singer was all over the stage. The bassist had his own show going on as well.

Remember Peter Max? Well, it seems Jenny Lewis is reviving his pop art in her set and suit design (or at least it resembles Peter Max work). While her band rocked, Jenny barely broke a sweat in her cool white /rainbow blazer and white pants. She treated us to a little guitar and some keyboard before she took the microphone in hand and stepped to the front of the stage.

What is there to say about the Flaming Lips that hasn't already been said? This is the peak of visual music performance. Not only imaginative in visuals, the Lips' songs take imagination to another level as well.

Finally we come to Mumford & Sons, our hosts for the weekend. As the music built and the lights came up, I couldn't help but feel inspired. This is another band that blends just the right music with lyrics of depth. Once again I found myself in awe, all but forgetting I had a camera in my hands and work to do.

You can enjoy more of my photos on my photography Facebook Page here:
or the entirety of the Gentlemen of the Road album on my Flickr page here:

Now... back to our Local Scene!