Grey Area music festival grows into its second year outside of Iowa City

Source: Grey Area music festival grows into its second year outside of Iowa City

Zach Berg, Iowa City Press-Citizen Published 4:54 p.m. CT Aug. 7, 2018

Heading into its second year, the Iowa City farmstead-based music festival Grey Area is getting bigger. 

There are more bands performing on the stage built right onto the signature black barn that Tweedy’s Flat Black Studios calls home. There is more spots for people to pitch tents and stay for the multi-day festival. And there will be more entertainment options.

Maybe most importantly, festival organizer Luke Tweedy said, is more more people are expected to attend.

Part of the growth is because Grey Area is a known commodity now. Another reason is Tweedy and his wife Cortnie Widen, owner of the Iowa City clothier White Rabbit, have invested time getting the word out through both of their businesses.

The couple also have one of Iowa’s most respected musicians performing twice: William Elliot Whitmore. One of the foremost folk musicians in the state, Whitmore recently made headlines this April after he inked a deal with the celebrated Chicago music studio Bloodshot Studios. 

“Turns out that guy can draw a crowd,” Tweedy said of his cousin Whitmore, who has recorded at Flat Black through the years. “It’s all going to be bigger this year, the word of mouth is just stronger than our first year.”

Also planned for the festival are food trucks, carnival performers, a handmade craft fair and more. Camping will be allowed Thursday night with some DJs slated to perform.

Tickets for both days are $40 available at littlevillagetickets.com until 3 p.m. Thursday. Tickets at the gate are $50.

Whitmore will first perform at 10 p.m. Friday with the Austin, Texas singer Jenny Hoyston of Erase Errata. Together the two form the group Hallways of Always.

In 2006, Hallways of Always released their self-titled album. They have never performed live as a full band, but that will end at Grey Area this year.

Fusing styles of the two artists, their music blends electronica with acoustic folk style for a “heart-wrenching, touching and beautiful” sound, Tweedy said.

Whitemore will perform again at 10 p.m. Saturday with Middle Western, the rock band formed with Iowa City roots music mainstay David Zollo. They released their debut album “When Your Demons Are Underground and You’ve Got To Dig Them Up” in March.

Due to Whitmore’s new studio obligations, Tweedy said it’s likely that this could be Middle Western’s “last performance in a while.”

Alongside Whitmore’s bands are a series of up and coming Iowa City performers who Tweedy hopes the festival will serve as a spotlight for.

“To me, some of these artists can exist on a national stage. I feel like what a lot of these artists need is just some traction, some more opportunities,” Tweedy said.

Noting the splintering of the music industry after the downfall of the traditional labels and music stores and the rise of iTunes and Spotify, Tweedy sees the festival as a showcase for the acts.

“There are some bands that would be lucky to get 100 or 50 people at their shows. Here, they will be playing in front of 500 or more people. That’s huge for any artist.”

Local Iowa City acts will include: Anthony Worden and the Illiterati, Dana T, Dead Emperors, Commanders, Crystal City, Flash in a Pan, Good Morning Midnight, Jordan Sellergren, Karen Meat, Otros Outros, Sinner Frenz and The Spider Magnets.

“Iowa City has always been strong supporters of independent music, and that’s what I’m doing with this festival: supporting those musicians,” Tweedy said.

But Grey Area is far from just a local music festival. Tweedy is excited to see Anna Libera of Des Moines perform at the studio again.

“Their album was one of the most special records I made last year, it’s that good,” Tweedy said.

Another regional band is Dead Rider, a Chicago group and the only act that hasn’t recorded at Flat Black. But they still have very strong ties to the studio and area. The band’s lead singer and guitarist Todd Rittman has worked with Tweedy in the past.

Of course, Tweedy said there needs to be more than music to keep people around camping for multiple days.

All throughout the performances, the Eastern Iowa Circus Collective will be showing off their acrobatic and fire-twirling skills just to the side of the stage.

On Saturday morning, there will be an eight-vendor handmade crafts fair. Throughout the festival two vendors will be selling food, with one a wood-fired pizza vendor from the Quad Cities and the other being Wildwood Saloon, which is an Iowa City barbecue staple.

Though there’s expected growth between last year’s festival and this year’s Grey Area, Tweedy doesn’t want it to become too big. That’s not his goal.

“This is a prime example of what the best of Iowa — or the region — has to offer” Tweedy said. “It’s a positive vibes event. It’s not a claustrophobic event like Hinterland. There’s not thousands, there’s hundreds out here. It’s a little more intimate out here and I like that.”