PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Jessica Lea Mayfield, Crash, and Ark Life Play Central Iowa's Best-Kept-Secret Venue

There's no bar, no restaurant, ballroom or theater. But between the silos and stars sits the music venue equivalent of the Enchanted Kingdom.

Jessica Lea Mayfield + Crash + Ark Life

City: Biehl Farm, Outter Maquoketa, Iowa
Venue: Codfish Hollow
Date: 2014-09-19

There's a gem hidden within the rolling cornfields of East Central Iowa. Nestled within a hollow, far removed from any city lights on the outskirts of Maquoketa (population 6000) sits the wonderfully obscure and ornately fashioned Codfish Hollow music venue.

Arriving in Maquoketa, one ought to practice pronunciation while following the GPS off Highway 62 North to the unassuming 35th Street. Don't be alarmed when the paved road gives out to gravel two miles later. When your GPS goes blank, just follow the hand painted signs past verdant cropland through territory marked primarily by the cicadas screaming lament. You'll doubt yourself, but shortly you'll spot the columns of dust thrown up by like minded gentry. Arrival at the Biehl farm means you're still not there. After parking the car, meet Marvin, a farmhand to three generations of the landowners. He'll give you a ride in the wagon pulled behind a John Deer to the venue proper.

Codfish Hollow is like no venue you've ever been to. The concert hall is a converted barn built in 1954 by Arnold Stamp, grandfather to current owner Tiffany Biehl. Without benefit of wifi, road, or running water, Codfish Hollow is powered almost exclusively by word of mouth. The Americana Music Fest might be taking place in Nashville, but it is here you'll find the heart and soul of the genre.

Host to a variety of specialty concerts, tonight's show was a collaboration between Codfish Hollow and local sessions-man Sean Moeller. Moeller is something of a local celebrity, but perhaps known better nationally as the driving force behind the Horseshack Daytrotter recording sessions. Unfamiliar with Daytrotter? Your favorite bands aren't. The former reporter lures dozens of high-profile touring acts to his studio on the banks of the Mississippi every year. What's more odd is these groups don't record with Daytrotter after gigs in the Quad Cities. Rather, acts like the Lumineers, Iron and Wine, Shovels and Rope, and Vampire Weekend come out to the studios in Rock Island specifically to record for Daytrotter, and quite often before they break.

Ark Life

First on the lineup for the night: Ark Life. This Denver-based five piece makes both kinds of music, country and western spliced up with just the right amount of youthful energy and rocking licks. Guitar oriented rock of all types has been delivering diminished returns for some time now, so it's interesting to see Ark Life's Jesse Elliot combine the vocal emotion normally reserved for soul with a generous heaping of 'La La La's' from the all female string rhythm section. There's new life in Americana yet.

While Ark Life's execution was spot on, the venue's acoustics may have played a larger role in the richness of sound. The bell shaped design of the walls creates a sonic environment better known in vaulted cathedrals. But as opposed to the sound bounce mayhem reflected by stone, the barn's porous old wood took the edge off the amplification's bite. The audience was but a conduit, like a pick-up placed inside the hollowed body of a guitar.


Ark Life's working-man flannel rock was the perfect fit for the near capacity, mature, and not yet overly-buzzed crowd. It would be with Louisiana's Crash that the real intoxication begun. Better known as the drummer for Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Crash might contain all the elements necessary to become more than a side act. Freed from behind the kit, Crash's stage presence is similar to the frantic mellow drama of fellow former skins-man Father John Misty. He paces the stage interacting with the band almost as often as the audience. Utilizing the entire scope of his register, Crash accentuated every rise and fall of mood with sweeping gesticulation. The group's sound is far more blues-based than psychedelic, though the odd drug reference surfaced repeatedly throughout the night. The onstage antics were more than effective to incite fervor amongst the audience, never more so than by bringing members of Ark Life back to the stage for the closeout number.

Headliner Jessica Lea Mayfield has led something a charmed career. The pretty twentysomething singer/guitarist's first album was produced by the Black Key's Dan Auerbach. Since then, she's gone on to open for a litany of who's-who national acts as well as headlining her own tours. Her brand of searching, bashful-eyed balladry has a decidedly nineties interior feel. It often seemed as if Ms. Mayfield was holding back. At every rhythm heavy crescendo one expected a vocal assault to match the music's vigor, however the modest singer rarely peaked her own delivery. Though enjoyable, the booze sodden crowd was left running on fumes from the up-tempo mania of Crash and may not have reciprocated equal energy for the talented young Mayfield.

What doesn't relate through this narrative is the surreal experience of a show at the Codfish Hollow grounds. Its really the best of both worlds where festival atmosphere meets club intimacy. There's no police, price gauging or the hustle amidst throngs. There's one stage and a capacity of about 300 people. The crowd is composed primarily of good ol' boys, hipsters, little kids, and working squares. There's no bar, no restaurant, ballroom, or theater. But between the silos and stars sits the music venue equivalent of the Enchanted Kingdom. It's a place where ultra-modern acts converge against the pastoral ideal of a better age that never was.

It sounds incredulous. Just another example of hyping by an obscure critic, yeah? But the scene way out there in Maquoketa isn't hipper-than-thou. Like anything precious, you just have to dig to find it. The Counting Crows, who have sold 20 million albums, have played here. So has Nora Jones. Ark Life, Crash, and Jessica Lea Mayfield may not be this year's mega-festival headliners, but you can bet your ass that they along with other Codfish Hollow performers will be in your news feed soon—that is, when everybody else catches up.

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.