Grey Area Music Festival: 20 local bands set to take the stage at new music fest

The festival was created by local recording studio

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The first-ever Grey Area Music Festival, taking place near Iowa City next weekend, is sure to be a “good vibes situation” with a “down-home Iowa” feel, if all goes according to organizer Luke Tweedy’s plans.

The festival, hosted by Lone Tree’s Flat Black Studios, will feature 20 bands plus DJs, acrobats, food trucks and other entertainment Friday and Aug. 19. Studio owner Luke Tweedy said setting up his first full festival has been a challenge, but he’s excited about the chance to build community among Iowa’s music lovers.

“It’s about as Iowa as you can get. It’s a festival at the back of a barn,” Tweedy said. “I say let your freak flag fly, and as long as everyone’s being positive, having good vibes … and respectful with each other, then there’s no problem.”

Tweedy, who has been recording music for decades, moved Flat Black Studios to a 10-acre lot just south of Iowa City last year. The festival will be held behind the new recording studio, which happens to be a refurbished three-story barn, he said.

Though not far out of town, the lot feels secluded and heavily wooded, Tweedy said, which was an important factor in his years-long land search because the natural setting eliminates some of the distractions of the city and, to Tweedy, feels “uniquely Iowan.”

Grey Area festival-goers can even camp in the woods, Tweedy said. There is no additional charge to camp there overnight.

Plans for Grey Area started coming together this spring, Tweedy said, but the idea has been in the works for years.

Iowa City Americana musician Brian Johannesen — who put out an album, Northern Town, recorded at Flat Black in May — said Tweedy has talked about organizing a festival as long as he has known him.

“He had such an awesome, huge vision for the place that at times, it was hard to imagine how it could happen (several years ago),” Johannesen said, adding that it has been exciting to watch Flat Black grow.

Only bands that record with Flat Black will perform on the stage Tweedy built behind the studio this summer, he said. The musical acts have recently released a record with Flat Black or will be releasing one soon, he said, and a few bands are even releasing albums that night.

With nearly 60 bands recording at his studio each year, Tweedy had ample talent to choose from. He focused on recruiting artists who, in his words, are “really giving it a go” by making an effort to play outside Iowa.

Tweedy also wanted to include a wide range of musical styles in the festival lineup. As he sees it, there are vibrant music scenes specific to various genres in Iowa – for example, a strong punk rock scene and singer-songwriter scene – but these musicians don’t often interact with artists of other genres.

“I felt like if I put (all the artists) in a big, intermingling melting pot of music, then maybe they could find value in each other and help start a musical community and build each other up,” he said.

Johannesen said this focus on local musicians sets this festival apart from others he has played. There’s camaraderie among the artists that record with Tweedy and his partner, Dana Telsrow, but it’s difficult to make it to everyone’s shows regularly, he said.

This will be a chance to support not only local musicians but also Flat Black, which has been key in the development of the Iowa music scene, Johannesen said.

All bands will have 40-minute set times.

“I told bands, ‘You can’t be meandering. You can’t be playing your filler tracks, just play the hits,’” he said. “If you don’t like somebody, blink your eyes and there will be somebody else playing on that stage.”

Arin Eaton, the Des Moines-based musician behind the band Karen Meat, said she’s looking forward to the fast-moving schedule.

At other shows or festivals, like Camp Euforia or Hinterland Music Festival, the standard hour or two-hour sets can feel long, she said. She said her band typically plays 20-minute sets.

“We’ve made it a rule for ourselves to always leave people wanting more,” Eaton said, adding that 40 minutes is enough time for people to get a feel for a band’s sound without getting bored.

In the interest of appealing to music lovers of all backgrounds, Tweedy scheduled more accessible and family-friendly acts – like Johannesen and Elizabeth Moen – for the afternoon of Aug. 19.

Louder, faster, more abrasive artists will play Friday night and Saturday night, Tweedy said.

“I record all kinds of music, and I support all kinds of music,” he said. “I also am realistic to the fact that (certain kinds of music are) not for everybody. People with 5-year-old kids might not want to listen to somebody scream from the stage.”

There also will be DJs between sets, aerial acrobat performances, a yoga class the morning of Aug. 19 , a bounce house, and several food trucks.

So far, working with local officials to get the necessary permits and licenses has presented the biggest challenge, Tweedy said.

Coordinating health and safety inspections, food permits and conversations with law enforcement, among other regulatory requirements while lining up musical acts, running his studio and making time for his family has been overwhelming, Tweedy said.

But he is confident that everything will fall into place by Friday.

“No matter what, I’m going to have a blast,” he said. “Everybody around is going to have a good time and enjoy some music.

If you go

What: Grey Area Music Festival

When: 5 p.m. Friday through the evening of Aug. 19

Where: Flat Black Studios, 5012 540th St. SE, Lone Tree

Cost: $25 in advance from LittleVillageTickets.com, $35 at the gate, free for children 16 and under

Details: There is no charge to camp on-site. All proceeds from the event will go to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. For more information, visit FlatBlackStudios.com.

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