Q+A: Grey Area music festival host discusses Iowa’s music scene and event planning

The originator of the Grey Area music festival, and owner of several Iowa City businesses, chats about his second annual festival, taking place this weekend.

Natalie Betz, Arts Reporter

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From longtime record-store manager to organizer of a music festival, Luke Tweedy is no stranger to the Iowa music scene. Aside from co-running a recording studio, Flat Black Studios, and clothing store, White Rabbit, with his wife, Tweedy will host the second Grey Area Music Festival this weekend.


DI: What prompted you to start the Grey Area festival?

Tweedy: I have been involved with music, booking shows, running a studio, designing album covers, show posters, and band T-shirts for years. I ran Record Collector as manager for almost a decade and worked for Kirk for 15 years. I play in a band myself. I used to help organize parties like this on my family farm in Lee County. Once I moved outside of Iowa City onto this beautiful wooded 10-acre plot, it seemed like the natural progression for my life to take. It didn’t hurt that my neighbor Jerry has Camp Euforia [another Iowa music festival] directly across the gravel road.

DI: Because this is the second year of Grey Area, are there any differences or changes being made from last year’s fest?

Tweedy We added a little more of everything. More bands, more DJs, more camping spots, a new RV/camper lot, larger sound system, etc. We chose a couple charities, RVAP [Rape Victim Advocacy Program] and [Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition] and are trying to make this the most positive, community-building, fun fest Iowa has to offer.

DI: How long does it take to plan?

Tweedy: All year. It is foggy in the beginning of what the lineup will be like, who the volunteers will be, how it will run, but over the course of the year, after dozens of conversations and hundreds of hours of planning and work and tens of thousands of dollars invested, it starts to come together.

DI: How do you decide who performs?

Tweedy: Well, first of all, this festival stage is literally attached to the back of Flat Black Studios, so if you don’t have a working relationship with the studio, I cannot put you on the stage. Between me, Dana T, and the couple other freelance engineers who work out of here, we record more than 60 records a year by the absolute top tier of Iowa and Midwest artists. William Elliott Whitmore, the Cool Kids, Elizabeth Moen, Middle Western, Sinner Frenz, Modern Life Is War, Closet Witch, Dana T, Karen Meat, Annalibera, and so many more all record here, so the pool to choose from and showcase is deep, varied, and plentiful. I am so extremely grateful, and lucky to be in this position. I do not take it for granted, and so I try to do the people who helped me to get here right.

My label co-owner, my wife, my bandmate, my main freelance engineer, and I all have conversations about who has worked here recently, who put out records, CDs, or downloads, who is out there playing shows, not just locally but touring, and really giving it a go. We make a list, then try to figure out a schedule. There are several bands I wanted to play that their schedule did not line up properly, so I will try again next year for them. There are only so many slots, and I wish they could all play. But with luck, as this festival grows, I might be able to add even more in the years to come.

DI: Is there a specific genre of music Grey Area seeks out?

Tweedy: Absolutely not. I want people to watch the folksinger, then see a rock band. I want an MC to perform before a bluegrass band. I want the grind band to play, then an electronic act. I love all kinds of music and can see value in all their talents. I want to help bring these artists and their fans closer together and see the talent and value in what each other are doing. If just the band, watch each others’ sets, they will have gained more than 100 new fans. If every member of every band has the ability to draw just four people to this showcase, the bands will be playing in front of 500 people plus. This is a big opportunity for some of these acts, others play to that size crowd and larger at most shows. It is good for everybody involved.

DI: Is there a music festival that inspires Grey Area?

Tweedy: Not exactly. I am trying to be Iowa’s most Iowa festival. It is on an acreage, with camping, surrounded by fields, attached to a barn recording studio. It is 90 percent Iowa talent. I am taking elements from Camp Euforia, Hinterland, 80/35, Mission Creek, Witching Hour, and Codfish Hollow. You can camp for free, we have a free yoga and Hula-Hoop class, a bounce house for kids, DJs, a circus, and more.