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Big Story: These 'tour angels' give musicians a place to feel home while on the road

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The show’s over, so Manisha Virdi leans against the bar, sips a whiskey drink and waits for the right moment to introduce herself to the band.

She’s not waiting to get their autograph or buy a CD. She’s waiting to tell them her address and hand off a key to her home.

It’s something of an after-show routine for Virdi, who regularly lets touring musicians crash at her Davenport home.

“Sometimes it’s someone you’ve known for a while and sometimes you just met them five minutes ago,” she said. “And then, they’re at your house.”

Hosting musicians, who are also often strangers, comes with the obvious intricacies: She keeps her beer fridge and liquor supply stocked. She sometimes stays up too late on weeknights. Her snacks get eaten. Every now and then, she wonders if she should worry about someone stealing something, though they never do.

But none of that bothers her. Virdi is one of several Quad-Citians who offer traveling musicians a place to stay for a night or three. She loves the area’s music scene and wants to support it. She also happens to have a house with extra bedrooms.

“Music has always been an emotional part of my life,” she said. “Even if I’m technically by myself, there’s something about being in a crowd of people and listening to music that is always energizing and fulfilling and gives me peace.”

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Lolo sits on the couch Sloane Moeller, 10, while smiling watching Presley, 6, wrap herself up in a blanket at the Moeller home in Davenport Dec. 23.

The ways she sees it, musicians gift her something when they pour their hearts out on stages across the Quad-Cities. And she wants to return the favor.

“I know not every band can afford to burn $150 on a hotel room every night,” Virdi said. “A lot of them are just scraping by.”

A second home

When you let musicians sleep in your house and you see each other in pajamas, it might lead to strong, albeit unlikely, friendships.

That’s the case for Sean Moeller, a Davenport-based music entrepreneur, and the several musicians he’s booked to play in the Quad-Cities over the years. The husband and father of four doesn’t house musicians much anymore, except those he considers close friends.

One of those close friends is Lolo, a pop singer/songwriter from Jackson, Tennessee, whose given name is Lauren Pritchard.

Moeller, the co-owner of Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel, first booked Lolo to play a festival in Feb. 2016. She quickly formed a strong fan base in the Quad-Cities. And she and Moeller became fast friends. Each of the six or so times Moeller has booked her since, Lolo has stayed at his Davenport home.

“When she’s playing here, there’s no question where she is staying,” Moeller said. “We’re just good friends.”

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Singer/songwriter Lauren Pritchard, known as Lolo on stage, talks to Sloane, 10, and Presley Moeller, 6, while seeing their bedrooms for the first time since they've been rearranged, as their mom, Maggie, looks on at their home in Davenport. Dec. 23.

And, as Moeller said, that’s just what you do when a good friend comes to town: You take care of them. The two have stayed up late talking about the highs and lows while drinking cans of Coors. They’ve gone antiquing together. They rode out a tornado warning. Lolo has claimed Moeller’s 6-year-old daughter, Presley, as her best friend.

“(Lolo) really has made a second home here,” he said. “She’s not kidding when she says that.

“This business is way more personal than a lot of people give it credit for. If musicians like spending time here and like the people they meet, they’re going to tell their friends and they’re going to want to come back.”

Home-cooked meals and personal space

When he’s trying to book bands at the Raccoon Motel or Codfish Hollow, the barn/music venue in Maquoketa, Moeller often mentions he can hook them up with free lodging.

“It sweetens the deal if I say, ‘And I can probably find you a place to stay,’” Moeller said. “There are some bands that people assume are doing well, but they’re not buying hotel rooms. They have to find a place to sleep wherever they can.”

That’s where people like Virdi come in. She hosted her first band — Liz Cooper & the Stampede — in Oct. 2016 and it has been a consistent part of her life since.

“Sean will text me and say, ‘Hey, can so and so stay with you tomorrow or next week or whenever it might be,’” said Virdi, 41. “And the answer is always yes.”

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Maggie Moeller, center, sits with her kids, Dylan, 12, from left, Sloane, 10, Presley, 6, and Reece, 8, as they listen to Lolo perform at soundcheck at the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar and Raccoon Motel in Davenport Dec. 23.

After two years of asking her, Moeller is still impressed that Virdi, a practicing dentist with two kids, is always up for it.

“She has an incredible amount of trust in strangers,” Moeller said. “How many people are willing to do that? I think there has to be a serious appreciation for how hard it is on the road to do that.”

After several years of hosting musicians, Virdi appreciates what she can offer, especially home-cooked meals and personal space after long days cramped in a van.

“It’s emotionally rejuvenating for them to be in a home for a night,” she said. “They have a refrigerator and their own bed and they can have time to themselves. It’s not another night in a hotel room.”

'It's not happening everywhere'

Kyle and Maureen Carter have regularly hosted bands for more than a decade. Sometimes they sorted out the logistics months in advance. Other times, it’s spontaneous.

“Some musicians will ask from the stage, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a place to stay… could anyone help us out?’” Kyle Carter said. “There’s no hotline you can call for that. You have to just ask around."

“Or it might be after the set and we’re all chatting and they mention they don’t have anywhere to stay,” added his wife, Maureen. “So, we’re like, ‘Do you want to stay with us?’”

Situations like that are why musicians have called the couple “tour angels.” Musicians who have stayed at their home liken it to something of an oasis while on tour, Kyle Carter said.

“They’re looking for that break from the grind,” he said. “At a home, they’re able to unwind and regroup before they hit the road again.”

Kate Dale, another frequent host and director of entertainment at the River Music Experience, said she has asked musicians if they have places to stay in other parts of the country like they do in the Quad-Cities.

“They pretty much say, ‘Here and there,’” Dale said. “It’s not happening everywhere.”

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Kate Dale pets the family dog as she and her husband, Bret, show a bonus room where artists frequently stay at their home in Moline Jan. 2.

Dale said musicians notice — and cling to — the culture of hospitality here.

“It’s one more reason for them take a gig here,” Dale said. “They know when they come here that they’re going to be taken care of.”

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Postcards and other notes from musicians are shown on a cork board at the Dale home in Moline Jan. 2.

'If I couldn't be home today...'

When a musician feels comfortable in a town, it can breed moments of intimacy and honesty that aren’t found elsewhere on tour.

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Lolo applies makeup in the bathroom of the Moeller home in Davenport Dec. 23.

Take, for example, Lolo’s most recent show in Davenport. It was a sold-out holiday concert at the Raccoon Motel two days before Christmas. Lolo wore a fleece onesie adorned with colorful reindeer and a hat she borrowed from one of Moeller’s daughters. The room quieted as she walked up the steps to the stage and her fingers hit the piano. She smiled wide and said she couldn’t wait to scream songs at the crowd and spill some of her feelings about the past year. Then the music stopped.

“Can I be real with you all?” she said, taking a sip of whiskey out of a plastic cup. “Well, I know I can.”

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Lolo is greeted by fans and friends as she walks into the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar and Raccoon Motel in Davenport with Sean Moeller Dec. 23.

She got real. She told everyone that her mother’s best friend had passed away earlier that day; she got the phone call while driving to Davenport. Lolo described her as the kind of woman who loved to dance and party. So Lolo raised her cup and sang a song called “The Courtyard” in honor of her family friend.

“If I couldn’t be home today, I’m really glad I am here with all of you,” Lolo said from stage. “I really don’t think I could play a show today under normal circumstances.”

Everyone in the room raised their drinks as Lolo’s cracking voice sang the final words: “When I go, I don't want no tears at all. Every song we sing is gonna last forever.”

For Lolo, circumstances weren’t normal. The singer was hundreds of miles from her hometown of Jackson, Tenn.

Still, in her words, she was home. She had familiar faces in the audience and she would be staying at a good friend’s house later that night.

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Lolo performs at the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar and Raccoon Motel in Davenport Dec. 23.

And so she kept playing, at her home away from home.

This is my home

On a shelf in Virdi’s kitchen sits a half-filled black notebook, the seam bursting open because of stray pieces of paper and at least one CD.

Virdi has adopted it as her home’s guestbook. It chronicles visits from dozens of musicians.

Virdi flipped through the book one evening in December. She said she could spend hours looking through the unfinished poems, doodles of inside jokes, long and heartfelt letters and drunkenly-scribbled messages that make no sense.

“To have it in writing,” she said. “It reminds me about the moments we shared.”

Musicians wrote to thank her for her Midwestern hospitality, “solid hugs” and apologized for waking her up in the middle of the night.

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Manisha Virdi flips through her guestbook reminiscing at notes and drawings from various artists who have stayed in her home in Davenport Dec. 26.

The theme throughout the book was gratitude and thanks.

  • “People like you making touring possible”
  • “I love coming to Davenport because y’all make it feel like family”
  • “This was such a great to end our tour — with a good night’s sleep”
  • “One of my biggest wishes on the road is to find some amazing homes away from home and this by far granted my wish and then some”
  • “We will cherish the time we had here while we are sleeping in our dirty a** van”
  • “This is just to say I ate the plums in the icebox that you were no doubt saving for breakfast. They were delicious. So sweet! So cold!”

One entry, signed from someone named Sassy, sums it up this way: “Maybe you should rename this guestbook, ‘Love letters to Nisha.’”

The guestbook doesn’t tell every story: The long talks in her backyard; the meals and laugh-attacks shared; the time the drummer from a band named Langhorne Slim chipped his tooth and Virdi fixed it; how it felt when she realized Campdogzz, a band based in Chicago, had thanked her by name on their album jacket.

"It has become a huge part of my life," she said. "I've made connections with people I never would've otherwise."

A look through the guestbook reminds Virdi why she does this.

“I’ve always been of the mindset of, ‘This is my home and it’s open to you. Come share it with me,’” she said. “It feels incredible to think that just doing that can make an impact.”

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).