DAVENPORT, Iowa — 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 told the Quad-City Times . “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 travelling 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.”
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 favour.
“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.”
When you let musicians sleep in your house and you see each other in pyjamas, 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 February 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.”
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.”
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 October 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
When a musician feels comfortable in a town, it can breed moments of intimacy and honesty that aren’t found elsewhere on tour.
Take, for example, Lolo’s 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.”
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 honour 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, Tennessee.
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.
And so she kept playing, at her home away from 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.
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(asterisk)(asterisk) 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.”
Kate Dale remembers feeling nervous when the members of Ballroom Thieves, a three-piece rock band from Boston, knocked on her front door. It was a Monday night in December five years ago and Dale and her husband, Bret, were hosting the band for the evening.
“We didn’t meet them until they walked in the door,” Kate Dale said.
After playing a show in their living room, the band and the couple stayed up all night chatting.
Now, the Ballroom Thieves stay with them whenever they’re in town. And the Dales have hosted a slew of musicians since.
“It spiraled from there,” she said. “We now have this network of musicians who know they have a place to stay when they play a show in Davenport.”
Dale meets many of the musicians through her job as the director of entertainment at River Music Experience. When she is booking a band, she sends details about nearby hotels and often says, “And if you’re really looking to save money, we can probably find you a place to stay.” Then, she either offers up her house or refers to a short list of friends who have offered theirs.
Sometimes it’s not as planned out.
“There are situations where it’s after the show and they’re asking, ‘Do you know if anyone would let us sleep on their couch?'” Kate Dale said.
And they often say yes.
“Maybe that’s weird,” she said. “But not to us.”
When musicians stay at their Moline home, some go to sleep right away and others stay up hanging out for a few hours after the show. Sometimes they make breakfast together and play music and other times, everyone keeps to themselves.
“We always say, ‘Our house is your house,'” she said. “We want them to feel as comfortable as possible.”
As a result, Kate and Bret Dale have made lifelong friends who live across the country.
“When they come here, they always mention it feels like a second home,” she said. “It’s this whole little side family.”
It was over 10 years ago when Kyle and Maureen Carter started hosting touring musicians. They recalled when Daphne Willis, a singer/songwriter based in Nashville, “randomly asked,” if she could crash at their two-bedroom apartment.
“That was the first one,” Maureen Carter said. “And it established it being normal for us.”
Now, even when unplanned, hosting musicians has become part of the couple’s life.
They’ve hosted Caroline Rose, the members of Thelma & the Squeeze, the bass player from Incubus and another dozen or so bands.
“There’s a story for every one of them,” Kyle Carter said.
As is the case for other “tour angels” interviewed, the majority of stories are positive ones, liking making breakfast or going out for brunch at QC Coffee & Pancake House or listening to records or playing arcade games until the middle of the night. Sometimes, people are so exhausted they go straight to bed.
“First you see them on stage and then you get to see the human side of them very quickly when you have them at your home and cook dinner with them,” Kyle Carter said. “You get to know them as a person, not just who they are on stage.”
The Carters take care in leaving musicians with a good impression of the Quad-Cities.
“We want to make certain they hit the road and can’t wait to come back here,” Maureen Carter said. “That way, wherever go next, they’ll say they had a good time here. If that’s a tiny thing we can contribute, that’s good with us.”
“Sometimes people book tours around places because they have friends there or they had a good place to stay,” her husband added. “That’s no small thing.”
Above all, the couple has made good friends and memories by opening up their home.
“They are grateful to us and we’re grateful to meet new people,” Maureen Carter said. “It’s just fun at the end of the day.”
Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Quad-City Times
Amanda Hancock, The Associated Press