Before announcing Nathaniel Rateliff’s return to the Quad-City area, Sean Moeller guessed the show would sell out in five minutes.
It took 30 seconds.
For Moeller, Rateliff was an obvious choice to headline both nights of the second annual GARP, a two-stage music festival set for Friday and Saturday at Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa, Iowa. Moeller, is the festival's organizer and founder, as well as a Davenport-based booking manager and co-owner of the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel.
Rateliff played the third-ever show at the barn-turned music venue in 2010 and Moeller estimates he has booked the Denver-based musician 20 times in the area since 2007.
“From the first time I met him and saw him live, it was inevitable that I would keep having him back,” Moeller said. “He’s always been that performer that's just magnetic.”
It doesn’t hurt that Rateliff has become a full-fledged star as of late. After several years of releasing exclusively folk music, Rateliff’s breakout came in 2015, when he and his soul revival band, The Night Sweats, released its debut album and the accompanying hit, “S.O.B.,” raced to the top of the charts, pushed along by a standout performance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
Since then, the band has kept a heavy touring schedule, headlined major festivals and sold out iconic venues such as Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which has a capacity of more than 9,000 people.
So, Moeller said, a return to Codfish Hollow, which holds a maximum of 700 people, “was getting to a point where it wasn’t financially feasible" for the in-demand group.
“He and the band love it there; they’ve made no bones about it being their favorite place to play,” Moeller said. “They wanted to play there again and they were worried it wouldn’t ever happen again. The worry was, did they get too big for the barn?”
A special place
Moeller and the band struck a deal in which Rateliff will headline the Friday show with a folk set and Rateliff and the Night Sweats will headline the show on Saturday. In addition, Rateliff has signed on to help curate the lineup and perform at future GARP fests.
Amid his hectic touring schedule, Rateliff has been a champion for Codfish Hollow, which he last performed at in October 2015.
In a May 2016 story in the Quad-City Times, Rateliff said he favored the barn over Red Rocks. “There just aren’t a lot of venues you really want to find a way to make it back to," he said.
He owed much of that to the rural Iowa landscape, intimacy of the barn and the hospitality of barn owners Tiffany and Shawn Biehl.
“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."
John Taylor, of Cambridge, Illinois, who helped put on Codfish Hollow shows in its first years, remembers Rateliff's first show at the Maquoketa venue well.
It was his wedding day.
He and his wife, Stephanie, got married outside the barn on the same day Rateliff made his Codfish Hollow debut in 2010.
Back then, Rateliff wasn’t the headliner and tickets to Codfish Hollow weren’t hard to come by, he said.
“The first time we saw him there, it wasn’t really a big deal; not a lot of people had heard of him,” Taylor said. “But the next time, it was totally packed with people.”
But there was something special about the singer.
“We really fell in love with his folk music,” Taylor said. “His music is stark, but really dynamic. There are moments that are really stripped back and other moments where it’s really intense. It’s a roller coaster.”
Taylor also formed a friendship with Rateliff, and says he’s excited to see his “old friend” this weekend.
“When he was playing there, I think he was fed up with music,” Taylor said. “He had been trying for a long time to get traction and it wasn’t working. Then he decided to start this thing and spark some interest and it just worked. And then his life changed.”
Continuing to grow
The inaugural GARP, Codfish Hollow’s first-ever festival, didn’t come close to selling out last September.
But Moeller didn’t hesitate when planning GARP’s second round.
"It wasn't disheartening because I’m building something,” Moeller said. “I know in my head what I’m trying to build and that’s a region that is absolutely renowned for music.”
A step in doing that, he said, is forming relationships with up-and-coming musicians and continuing to book them.
“Nathaniel is the one I’ve been building the longest,” Moeller said. “He’s kind of the model of how it should go.”
Another step is continuing to grow Codfish Hollow.
This month marks the barn’s busiest ever with four concerts following GARP in September, including two that have already sold out. After that, only three shows remain for the barn's season.
By the way, you can still attend GARP. A limited number of grounds passes, which allow fest-goers access to the outdoor stage and the area surrounding the barn, are available for $30 at codfishhollowbarnstormers.com.
“We’re getting to a point where it sells out so quickly no matter what day of the week it is,” he said. “We haven’t scratched the surface of what we can do out there.”
For Taylor and others who have attended Codfish Hollow shows since the beginning, looking at how far the venue has come is “totally crazy.”
“It was literally a cow barn with no stage or no lights,” Taylor said. “It’s just grown and grown."
For Moeller, this weekend’s sold-out festival serves as the ultimate birthday party — and gift. As he turns 39 on Friday, he gets to celebrate by seeing one of his favorite musicians and another 18 acts that are on the lineup.
“I’ve said it before, but if Nathaniel played here every night, my wife and I would get a babysitter every single night to see him,” he said. “It’s everything I want out of music.”